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Determining Who Fits the Racial Quota

Determining Who Fits the Racial Quota

Tatiana Oliveira, a 22 year old student, has stirred up controversy in Brazil for being admitted to the Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM) under its quota system for Afro-Brazilians, and then dropped soon after.

The quota system requires 11 percent of admitted students to be black or pardo (roughly translated as mixed). Oliveira applied and was admitted to UFSM under this quota, as the daughter of a white woman and pardo man, and granddaughter of a black woman.

However one week into her studies, she was taken in for an interview with the director and the school’s affirmative action commission due to doubts about her qualifications. She was asked about her race and whether she had ever been discriminated against. Oliveira recalls:

“I said that I consider myself to be pardo. Less pardo than my father because of my white mother. I responded that I had never suffered from discrimination, and I chose to register under this quota system because it gives us pardos a chance to enter university.” (O Globo)

The director Jorge Cunha declared her to be unqualified for the school’s quota system, and effectively canceled her registration. He explains that to be admitted, “It is necessay to self-identify [as black] and…feel the effects of this condition in a society, in a culture.” In Oliveira’s case he argues, “She has never been discriminated against, she has never considered herself pardo, she considers herself lighter-skinned than other family members, and the first time she said the word pardo was in the admissions office.”

Oliveira’s mother Adriana retorts, “If the quota is for pardos, she is included… The announcement never said she had to suffer from discrimination.”

The purpose of a quota system or affirmative action program is to give opportunities to a disadvantaged group. If Oliveira says that she has never been personally discriminated against, then it seems unnecessary for her to receive a spot.

However the university fails to recognize systematic discrimination. Afro-Brazilians make up at least 50 percent of the country, yet they also make up 2/3 of those in poverty. They earn roughly half of what whites make, and hold less than 5 percent of government positions. Often, job ads will call for “good appearance,” code for light skin.

Racial quotas in Brazilian universities are relatively new. Because the population in general is so mixed and there has never been an institutionalized form of segregation, it is at times difficult to determine who is Afro-Brazilian or who can “pass” as one. UFSM seems to have deemed experience with discrimination as a criterion for Afro-Brazilian identity.

In the meantime, Oliveira and her family plan to fight for her spot in school by taking the case to the Federal Public Ministry.

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8 comments

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6:57AM PDT on Apr 22, 2009

The program Tatiana applied to was for pardos and blacks alike. She was accepted as a parda but rejected only when the school found out she had never suffered discrimination.
It varies by school. In the University of Brasilia they take a photo of the students so the administrators can judge whether they are Afro-Brazilian.
In Brazil those who are light skinned are not called black, but they can still be referred to as Afro-Brazilian.

12:41PM PDT on Apr 21, 2009

Someone very close to me is Brazilian and has explained to a certain extent that color is explicitly indicated in Brazil. Whereas here a lightskinned "black" person can self-identify including to scholarship/etc. authorities - in Brazil only a very dark-skinned person would be allowed to self-identify officially as "black" and anyone else would absolutely be challenged e.g. as trying to take something away from someone else who was truly dark-skinned. It is IMPORTANT NOT TO PRESUME WE KNOW ABOUT SUCH A CULTURAL SITUATION, THOSE OF US WHO ARE FROM THE USA - IT IS NOT THE SAME AS HERE. That doesn't mean Brazil is 'superior' in all things racial. But is DOES mean that USA citizens/etc. may "rush to judgment" without knowing what they are really talking about, in this case. (And, around the World, sadly we USA folks are all too well known for doing just that about folks and cultural practices in other countries. And, in our case, we're usually known for going to war in ignorance, as well.)
TO BE A WORLDWIDE CITIZEN ONE MUST EDUCATE ONESELF FROM THE SOURCE: FROM OTHER COUNTRIES - NOT JUST JUDGE FROM ONE'S EXISTING KNOWLEDGE BASE.

8:56AM PDT on Apr 21, 2009

I think it would be hard for her to know if she had been discriminated against personally -- perhaps she has. If they have the quota, she should be able to use it.

7:56AM PDT on Apr 21, 2009

I think the way you feel should be a right that every humanbeing no matter the color you are.
I would never ever marry a black person because I am not from that part of society and we just don't think the same or act the same if that is wrong so be it but I don't think so.
I have so many black friends and I always will and they are wonderful but that doesn't mean I have to marry them or go to bed with them.
When it comes to schools the blacks shouldn't get in because they are black they get in because the deserve and earned to go to that school.
Whites try to go to a lot of colleges but are unable to get in because they couldn't pass the tests.
That is the way all people should be be them black or white.
I am sick of the black card being used for all the things they want no matter if the earned it or not.

7:32AM PDT on Apr 21, 2009

Well, she needs to apply again - this time, she can answer yes to the discrimination question!
Quotas are supposed to give those who are marginalized a chance against those who can afford to pay but don't.
In TX we had something called the 10% rule. The top 10% of each graduating class were given scholarships to different colleges. The rich people were unhappy, because often their children were not in the top 10% - so they hollar discrimination against the rich...Go figure.

4:30AM PDT on Apr 21, 2009

This is just the sort of thing that fires 'racism'. The only qualifications for being accepted into a university should be academic - the rest is irrelevant.

9:15AM PDT on Apr 20, 2009

Quote = racism for me, and are saying that black people is inferior and need of the quotes to enter in a university. Only are rising racism.
Note: In brazil the most part of the people is "pardo" or "black".

8:46AM PDT on Apr 20, 2009

There is a difference between racial and religious bias. Although I don't approve of any of this, it seems that people judge Jews as racists when it is their religion that they are fighting to preserve.

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