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Two Brazils (2:39) Excerpt from film "Brazil in Black and White", September 2007
Two applicants to the University of Brasilia come from very different socioeconomic backgrounds. They discuss the new admissions program that will make use of racial quotas.

Country: Brazil

South America Brazil map

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Guiding Questions
  1. What are the visible differences between the living conditions of the two students?

  2. Why do you suppose the young man thinks that there is little poverty in Brasilia? Does his view seem to be accurate?

  3. Does similar economic inequality exist in American cities? Do you think government should play a role in trying to equalize economic differences among its citizens?
Background Essay
According to 2007 statistics, Brazil has the highest rate of income inequality in Latin America, and the 4th highest in the world. The worst of Brazilian poverty can be seen in the favelas: shantytowns on the outskirts of cities that are filled with violence, drugs, and crime. Although 1/3 of the poor in Brazil are white, 2/3 are black or mixed race, showing a clear correlation between poverty and race in Brazil.

Black Brazilians and African Americans in the United States face many similar challenges. For example, Afro-Brazilians are not equally represented with other Brazilians in higher education, law, medicine, government, and business leadership. To remedy this pattern of injustice, Brazil adopted the use of affirmative action. Affirmative action is the encouragement of increased representation of women and minorities in schools and jobs.

Racial inequality in Brazil is centuries old. Between 1551 and 1830, Brazil imported more slaves than any other South American country (4.5 million) and only abolished slavery in 1888, later than any other country in the Western hemisphere. Slavery defined Brazil in many ways:

  • Slaves maintained African religions, cultures, and languages, forging a unique Afro-Brazilian culture.

  • Most white settlers immigrated alone, leading to substantial, generally tolerated interracial relationships and a high proportion of mixed-race children.

  • After slavery was abolished, racial segregation was not legally imposed. However, emancipated slaves faced stiff competition for jobs from European and Asian immigrants.

  • Brazil became a highly diverse mixture of people of various European, native, African, and Asian origins.

Until recently, Brazil prided itself on being a "racial democracy." However, advocates of affirmative action argue that this "racial democracy" is a myth. Afro-Brazilians have typically attended lower-quality public schools, where they were poorly prepared for the national university admission exam. They generally have poorer health and housing, lower wages, and fewer years of schooling, than white Brazilians.

Affirmative action in Brazil's universities began in 2003 when the prestigious Universidade do Estato do Rio de Janeiro announced it would reserve a specified number of its places for black students; other universities and national legislation soon followed suit. As of 2007, the racial quota system for Brazil's universities specified that 20% of places for incoming freshmen would be reserved for Afro-Brazilians. Overall, the beneficiaries of these policies have outperformed the low expectations of affirmative action opponents.

Since 2003, affirmative action programs have expanded to include quotas for Afro-Brazilians, indigenous people, and women in politics and economic life in Brazil. Despite these developments, affirmative action is still highly controversial.

The people who come to try their luck here in Brasilia end up living out here in the slums.

They can't afford to live right in the city.

Every place is dangerous, but I don't like living here.

I don't feel right here.

17-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.

After I go to college, I want to specialize in business administration.

And after that, only the future can tell!

For me, getting into the university would be the start of my life.

And it's even better that it's a public university.

The tuition is free! Most of the people who try for the quotas are poor.

The people against it are the rich.

Brasilia is a new city. There isn't much poverty.

You don't see it in the streets.

The university entrance exam is six weeks away.

Rafael mendes also hopes to attend the University of Brasilia next year. He will seek admission in the general pool of applicants.

Because the University of Brasilia is very good, people come from all over Brazil to try and study here.

It just increases the competition.

I am going to study civil engineering.

Related Links
Brazil in Black & White on PBS.org

CIA World Factbook: Brazil

Library of Congress Country Study - Brazil

IBASE - Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analyses http://www.ibase.br/modules.php?name=Conteudo&pid=379

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