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June 1st, 2009
Brazil in Black and White
Themes and Video Segments

Karrinny Cristine Rodriguez da Silva
photo credit: Liana Fraifeld


EDUCATION: Even though Brazil sees itself as a colorblind society, racial discrimination is a fact of life there. The country is attempting to remedy this through affirmative action programs like the one at the University of Brasilia, a prestigious public university.

GLOBAL ISSUES: Brazil is trying to promote racial equality by implementing American-style racial quotas at the elite, federally funded University of Brasilia. The program is controversial, since racial identity is often ambiguous in Brazil — and an appearance-based test determines whether college applicants are considered black or white.

ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY: Brazil is using educational quotas to try to improve economic opportunities for its lower class citizens, who are largely of African descent. However, the policy has provoked criticism from several groups, including those who think it will increase racial tensions because of reverse discrimination.

LEGAL ISSUES AND PUBLIC POLICY: Prior to the quota, the University of Brasilia was 98 percent white, even though whites make up 50 percent of Brazil’s population. The government seeks to rectify this with affirmative action laws.

Iolanda Pinto dos Santos
photo credit: Liana Fraifeld


Segment 1:  Seventeen-year-old Josie de Souza is one of almost 23,000 students taking this year’s entrance exam for the University of Brasilia. She hopes to be one of those admitted under its new racial quota system.

Segment 2: Iolanda dos Santos and her family moved to Brasilia from a poor region of northeast Brazil.  She is currently undecided whether or not she should apply to the university under the racial quota system.

Segment 3:  To participate in the University of Brasilia’s quota program, applicants must do something most have never been required to do — identify themselves as black.

Segment 4:  The University of Brasilia’s affirmative action process is about to enter a crucial week. Students who have identified themselves as Afro-Brazilian must pose for a photograph that will be evaluated by a secret committee. This panel will try to determine whether students look “black enough” to qualify for the quota system.

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