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News > Latin America

Brazil Commission to Judge Darkness of State Officials' Skin

  • Brazilian women protest against the coup government of Michel Temer.

    Brazilian women protest against the coup government of Michel Temer. | Photo: EFE

Published 5 September 2016

Defining "Black-ness" in a country with more African-descendants than any country outside Africa, and where miscegenation was the norm.

State bureaucrats who were hired or promoted under a contentious affirmative action plan passed by former President Luiz Inacio da Silva will now have to prove how dark their skin is to a commission created by the all-white coup government of Michel Temer.

Fighting Brazil’s Racism Takes More Than A Hashtag

Management Minister Dyogo de Oliveira justified the creation of a racial tribunal, decreed on August 2, as a means to address fraud by applicants for civil service positions and state university admissions who may have phenotypically white physical characteristics but self-identify as Black or brown–"preto" or "pardo" in the former Portuguese colony's byzantine census classifications for race.

The judges will exclusively assess the candidates' phenotype or “apparent physical features in order to check if they are illegally competing for positions reserved for Black people,” said the decree.

An affirmative action policy for state college admissions was one of the first pieces of legislation passed by Luiz Inacio da Silva, commonly referred to as "Lula" when he first took office in 2003. His protege and successor, Rousseff, went even farther, passing legislation known as the Law of Social Quotas, which requires that 20 percent of all job vacancies in the public sector be filled by an applicant who claimed to be Black or brown in an effort to address the country's historically staggering rates of racial inequality.

Therein lies the catch: With more Black people than any country outside of Africa, virtually every Brazilian claims an ancestor who is either much lighter or much darker, including former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who is, by all appearances, a white man, but boasted publicly of having a "foot in the kitchen," a Brazilian colloquialism for mixed ancestry and a subtle reference to the proliferation of Black maids in white households.

Lula and Rousseff's affirmative action policies led to a deluge of both complaints and lawsuits that blonde-haired, blue-eyed applicants were being admitted to colleges and hired for civil service jobs by claiming to be African-descended.

But in establishing a commission to determine race, less than a week after removing the mixed-race Rousseff from office on allegations of corruption that she, her supporters and international observers say is tantamount to a coup, the all-white Cabinet of the installed President, Michel Temer, confirmed that racism was central to their agenda.

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