How Blacks became the majority in Brazil’s public universities and what it means for the country

Nii Ntreh December 11, 2019
For the first time in its history, Brazil has more black students in its universities than other ethnicities. Photo Credit: Black Women of Brazil

The Brazilian Geography and Statistics Institute (IBGE) has found that for the first time in its record-keeping, individuals who identify as colored – black and mestizo (mixed) – outnumber whites in the country’s universities.

The November 13 report known as the Social Inequalities by Color or Race discloses that 50.3% of university students come from the country’s almost 60% ethnic demographic.

The IBGE took into account information from the education supplement of the National Household Sample Survey, a government program started in 2016.

But the survey also showed that when isolated alone, the group that identifies solely as black still lag behind in admission rates at all levels of Brazilian education.

About 55.6% of Brazilian black or brown students have access to education and stay in school. This is in stark contrast to white Brazilians of whom 78% of stay in school.

For colored people, the percentage of those who fail to go through 11 years of education (from basic school to senior high school) has dropped from 30.8% in 2016 to 28.8% in 2018, a modest 2% of progress.

Among whites, this progress translates into 17.4%.

But the IBGE is crediting the overall improvement in access to education for black and brown Brazilians to the country’s quota system which guarantees places to disenfranchised and poorer groups.

Another reason has been attributed to the support and expansion of university programs.

Economic prospects for most Brazilians are usually based on one’s ethnic identity, a result of centuries of Portuguese colonization.

The concept of race in itself is problematic in South America’s biggest country. Although a majority of its black and brown people are descendants of African slaves, a lot of these people do not view themselves as a racial minority.

But writing in 2017, Justin Bucciferro noted that “Racial identity may be fungible, but the schemas employed in Brazil nonetheless correspond to real social divisions, shaped by ancestry as well as class.”

He adds that while the gains of colored people have improved in the last century, it was only in the last 10 years that the white-black gap was narrowed since 1960.

The nature of Brazilian wealth inequality is concretized in housing and economic opportunities. Many of Brazilian black people live in the ghettos known as favelas.

According to Oxfam, at the rate at which things exist, black Brazilians will earn the same as whites in 2089.

Brazil’s six richest men have the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the population; around 100 million people, the majority of whom are people of color.

The new numbers in the makeup of the student population in universities definitely point to the desired direction. However, this is not a harbinger of an immediate economic realization.

That will take intentional restructuring with due consideration for the challenges of race in Brazilian society.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: December 11, 2019


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