Why the Jobless in Brazil Are Disproportionately Black

Why the Jobless in Brazil Are Disproportionately Black

Why you should care

Because the world’s biggest importer of slaves still has a racial problem.

The workforce at software company Bematech in the Afro-Brazilian-dominated northeastern city of Salvador recently won a small victory. The firm, which is from the much richer, whiter south of Brazil, was ordered to pay $95,000 in moral damages after managers repeatedly humiliated and insulted Black employees.

Judge Lucyenne Amélia de Quadros Veiga condemned the company for allowing the racial “stigma of the slow, sluggish and loathsome Bahian” (Salvador is the capital of the state of Bahia). The stereotype originated, she noted, from white slave owners who sought to “disdain slaves who labored to exhaustion.”

Exactly 130 years after slavery was abolished in Brazil, Black and mixed-race workers still face major discrimination. According to a November 2017 report from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics:

Even though Brazil’s population is evenly split along racial lines, Black and mixed-race workers make up nearly two-thirds of the country’s jobless.

The institute’s Cimar Azeredo says the report lays bare the level of inequality, in this case for the country’s 12.7 million unemployed. “Among the many factors are a lack of experience, schooling and training of a large part of the [nonwhite] population,” Azeredo notes. “It is a historical process, which comes from colonization. Of course, much progress has been made, but we still have to go a long way to give the [nonwhite] population equality.”

Case in point: Employed whites earn on average $860 per month, nearly twice as much as nonwhites, who average $477 per month. Sixty-six percent of domestic workers are nonwhite, which is the same proportion of street vendors. “The equality in our society is not faced because it is baked into the history of our country,” says Daniel Teixeira, a lawyer and author on racial equality. Brazil imported 5 million African slaves, more than 10 times the number of slaves shipped to the United States.

The country has made strides in the past 15 years in decreasing discrimination in education and introducing affirmative action in universities, with Afro-Brazilian enrollment in higher education up 40 percent from 2001 to 2013. “But big employers still do not value diversity like the universities do,” says Teixeira. “We need to transform the organizational culture that still reflects the racism of our society.”

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Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Gramacho, the biggest open-air garbage dump in Latin American, is seen here on the day it was closed, May 31, 2012.

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A report by the Inter-American Development Bank on the 500 biggest Brazilian companies revealed that 95 percent of directors, 94 percent of executives, 90 percent of managers and 72 percent of supervisors are white. Afro-Brazilian women were even worse off, representing only two of 548 executive directors.

“Afro-Brazilian women make up a substantial part of the population targeted by corporate gender programs,” wrote Cida Bento, executive director of the Research Center on Labor Relations and Inequalities. “Yet their continued underrepresentation, so stark as to be accurately described as exclusion, weakens efforts to sustain improvements in diversity and advance social responsibility.”

The bank report inaccurately described Bento, who is Afro-Brazilian, as a man.

Back in Salvador, Judge Veiga added that the stereotype of Bahians, who are disproportionately Black, wanted only to party, lie in hammocks and drink coconut water, could not be allowed to foster. “Bahians,” she wrote, “like all Brazilians, are hardworking, resilient people with great adaptability.”


Numbers and factoids — fodder for your next cocktail party.