Brazil’s Affirmative-Action Quotas: Progress?

Brazil’s Affirmative-Action Quotas: Progress?

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Ibram H. Rogers, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
State University of New York, Albany

Brazil recently passed what was probably the most sweeping affirmative-action law in the modern history of higher education. While the livelihood of affirmative action in the United States is in the hands of the Supreme Court, Brazil now requires its public universities to reserve half of their admission spots for its low-income students and compels its institutions to diversify significantly.
Yes, Brazil instituted what was firmly resisted by liberals and conservatives in the post-civil-rights-American push for affirmative action—quotas. The law comes after Brazil’s Supreme Court in April unanimously upheld the racial quota at the University of Brasilia, enacted in 2004, reserving 20 percent of its spots for black and mixed-race  students. The Law of Social Quotas will most likely face a challenge in the courts but, based on this earlier decision, it seems likely to stand.
The law forces the nation’s superior and largely free public universities to assign spots according to the racial makeup of each of the 26 states and the capital. Lawmakers and educators know that will lead to a surge in diversity in states with large black or mixed-race populations (well, surge may be putting it mildly). Officials expect the number of black students to jump nearly sevenfold, from 8,700 to 56,000.
The law gives public universities just four years to ensure that half of their entering classes come from public schools, which low-income students disproportionately attend. (Middle- and upper-class students, who are more likely to be white, typically attend private elementary and seconday schools.)
The law is nearly universally popular among Brazilian lawmakers. Only one out of 81 senators voted against it last month. President Dilma Rousseff signed it into law on August 29. Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told The New York Times he is “completely in favor” of quotas.
“Try finding a black doctor, a black dentist, a black bank manager, and you will encounter great difficulty,” Da Silva said. “It’s important, at least for a span of time, to guarantee that the blacks in Brazilian society can make up for lost time.”…

…For scholars of race, Brazil and the United States present a fascinating contrast, despite some similarities. The United States and Brazil have the two largest populations of people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere. A slight majority of Brazil’s 196 million people identify as black or mixed-race. Like in the United States, many of these black and mixed-race people are subjected to forms of racism that prevent access to higher education. Unlike in the United States, however, denial of this reality is not a problem. There is a vibrant national mainstream discussion of racism, and new dynamic legislators and laws to undo its effects…

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