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.