In operation since the 2000’s, the racial quota system for black, indigenous and brown people in order to facilitate the access to public universities, has been a very controversial issue to the Brazilian population. It is necessary, first, to understand how the admission process to public higher education works.
To be admitted into a public university in Brazil, candidates must participate in an open public exam called “vestibular” that usually happens once a year. It takes, often, one to five days. The vestibular can be compared to the SATs or an ACT in EUA. Candidates will be evaluated in the disciplines that are offered in school and there is a pre-determined number of candidates per spot, relative to the demand.
The racial quota system allocates part of the openings to black and brown people, and a smaller part to indigenous people (which represent only 1% of the Brazilian population). As the university admission system is very objective and impersonal, one may point out that it couldn’t be considered racially discriminating once it takes on account the knowledge and the score reached on a test. However, it is paramount to understand another factor that influences the existence of quotas: the black population history.
A major problem concerning racial inequality in Brazil is the fact that despite black and brown people representing 51% of the population of the country, 64% of the poor population and 69% of the indigent population is black. In absolute numbers, Brazil has more than 33 million black people living under poverty conditions and more than 15 million living under absolutely miserable conditions. That creates a situation in which most black people cannot afford private education and as the quality of public education in Brazil is awful, they end up not performing well in the vestibular.
The consequence of this bad performance is that only 2% of brown and black people have access to higher education, as opposed to almost 10% of white people. The racial inequality in education carries with it, income inequality. Of course, such inequality did not just spontaneously appear: an analysis of its roots is necessary. Namely, the way the black population has been treated over the years and a context which perpetuates racism.
Slavery in Brazil lasted for 388 years, making this country one of the last to abolish it in the Americas. The most obvious consequence of this fact was the exclusion of a big part of the black population from society. When the end of slavery was decreed, black people were abandoned, didn’t have access to education, and were discriminated against for a long time. The government, instead of investing in insertion politics of this population on the working class, preferred to hire foreign workers (Italians, Japanese, German, etc.). The violence, which also has its roots on poverty, is another result of the black abandoning approach adopted by Brazil. In Brazilian prisons, the black inmate population is much larger than the white.
Taking black peoples history into consideration, there is the argument that racial quotas are necessary to compensate, even though minimally, the situation of black representation and perpetuating racism. Racial quotas are affirmative reparation policies for a situation that has lasted for centuries and its main premises is that they shouldn’t be needed forever. While majority of the poor population (black people) wait for a solution based on the search for opportunities to which they don’t have effective access, they will stay the same way.
If black people hadn’t been subjected to slavery for centuries, they’d have access to the same social, political and economic rights as white people and the black, poor and miserable masses living in our country wouldn’t exist.