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Color problems in Brazil
Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2001

Amnesty International reports on violence in Para out look under:
This issue is edited to point out the skin tone problem!

Efu Nyaki is a Maryknoll sister who works with the Black Movement in Joao Pessoa, Paraiba .......In reality however, race in Brazil is a complex and difficult issue. Although most of Brazilians claim a mixed African, European and Indigenous ancestry, the weight of racism causes many to "whiten" themselves. Many "morenos" straighten their hair and search for lighter-skinned marriage partners. They often identify themselves and each other with terms that indicate a lighter skin tone, such as: moreninho, café, mulatto, bronziado, chocolate, jambu, moreno claro, moreno escuro, etc. Rarely do they describe themselves as "negro" (black). Even those who call themselves black often have a hard time convincing other Brazilians not to identify them as "moreno" or "mulatto". For many people, to be black is still an insult.

Skin color profoundly influences life's chances. According to a 1992 study by Carlos Hasenbalg and Nelson do Valle Silva, non-white Brazilians are three times more likely than whites to be illiterate. The numbers deteriorate even further at higher educational level: whites are five times more likely than people of mixed ancestry and nine times more likely than blacks to obtain university degrees. The patterns repeats itself in the work force, where, according to the government statistics, whites have access to the highest-paying jobs, earning up to 75% more that blacks and 50% more that people of mixed ancestry. Other socio-economic indicators are no less grim. Infant mortality statistics are almost twice as high for non-white children, and the vast majority of detainees in the country's crowded prison system are non-whites.

Not all of the consequences of racism can be neatly packed into statistics and charts. Effects on self-esteem are not so easily measured. At a recent reflection group of Afro-Brazilian women in João Pessoa, the capital of Paraíba, a woman named Cida painfully recounted the end of her relationship with Chico, a lighter-skinned black. The two had dated for several years without their color difference seeming to create any difficulties. When they got engaged however, Chico s family exploded; "This little blackie is going to pollute our blood. Go and find someone who will purify it," Chico s mother raged. Chico caved in and broke off the engagement within days. Two years latter, Cida painfully asked the group, "How can you tell me not to feel inferior because of my color?"

There are many examples and stories like Cida's. We could go on and on to show just how complex the question of racism is in Brazil.

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