This month 10 students were supposed to join me in Brazil for a study abroad course titled "Inequality, Race, and Gender in Brazil." The COVID-19 crisis made us change our plans. After the trip was cancelled we moved the course online and students could explore any issue related to race, gender, and inequality in Brazil. They completed various assignments, including a larger research paper reviewing the literature on a topic of their interest. After they were done with their research I asked them to write a blog post outlining the things they learned and some of the most intriguing aspects of their research. This is the second post of the series.
Before this class I knew very little about Brazil. Essentially, all of my knowledge stemmed from a few articles and shows that I had seen over the years. I knew that the primary language was Portuguese, the country was the largest in South America, the largest rainforests were located in the country, deforestation was a major problem, and there are some indigenous groups left in the country. This were just general facts that I knew but I had no in-depth information. I also had no knowledge about Brazil’s history other than it had been colonized by some entity from the East.
Thus, one of the most interesting facts I learned from “Brazil: A Biography” was that Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese and became the seat of the Portuguese crown. The king arrived in 1808 and the royal family did not leave Brazil until 1889 (Schwarcz, L. M., & Starling, H. M. M., p 180/353). Their reign had lasting effects that can still be seen today. The goal of the monarchy was for the country to prosper and be a powerful entity in the world. Due to this goal the Brazilian economy became a focus which led to the slave trade and racial inequality that still persists today.
Another fact I learned about Brazil that helped me form a better understanding of the country was the importance and prominence of slavery. Slavery began essentially upon the colonizers’ arrival to the country. The indigenous populations were exploited for labor and when their numbers started to decrease the importation of African slaves began (Schwarcz, L. M., & Starling, H. M. M., p 55). Slavery in Brazil, just as in other countries, created racial divisions. Even after the abolishment of slavery in 1888 individuals of African descent faced discrimination, prejudice, and inequality (Schwarcz, L. M., & Starling, H. M. M., p 335) . All of which are still issues today.
For my research, I used the information regarding inequality and race that was presented in “Brazil: A Biography” and combined it with my interest in the criminal justice system. Therefore, my research topic was on inequality within the prison system of Brazil with a small focus on race. I had previously done some research on mass incarceration within the United States and I had volunteered with ex-offenders at a center in St. Cloud. I also hope to become a criminal defense attorney so learning as much as I can about the criminal justice system in the United States and other countries will help me develop a better understanding of the systems and the individuals within them. Doing this research also allowed me to see what is working and what is not working in systems different from the United States and what could be changed or implemented here.
My research consisted of academic sources as well as multiple media sources. The academic sources helped to give me a base understanding of the criminal justice system, the structure of the prisons, and specific issues within the prison system. In Brazil there are many branches of government with a multitude of agencies and organizations within the branches. Criminal investigations are mainly handled by the Federal and Civil Police (Mendonça, A. A Brief Account., p 64). There are laws in place which regulate the actions of those working within the criminal justice system. The main law is the 1941 Code of Criminal Procedure which regulates the criminal procedure in the country (Mendonça, A. The Effective Collection., p 58).
The prisons in Brazil are not run by a single entity. Rather, each state is responsible for the organization and maintenance of their prisons (Dias, Camila., Salla, Fernando., p 398). Since each state controls their own prisons there will be differing prison structures, resources, and conditions. Fundamentally, the prison system is unequal. The incarceration policy in Brazil “disproportionately and systematically affects black, low-income youth with low levels of education,” (Criminal Justice Network, p 5). Black men and women are convicted at greater rates than whites. Even though there is no difference in the number of crimes committed between blacks and whites (Alves, J. A., p 235). This trend cannot only be seen in Brazil but in other countries such as the United States. A country where slavery was also prominent. Apart from there being inequality in the prison system there are other issues as well.
Some of these issues, that the academic articles helped form an understanding of, include a lack of state legal representation, and overcrowding. In Brazil state legal representation is in high demand since a majority of the incarcerated population cannot afford private attorneys. However, the “number of public defenders is insufficient to attend to the increasing numbers of poor black inmates,” (Alves, J. A., p 233). This is just another instance where racial inequality is present.
As for overcrowding, every prison in Brazil is over occupancy. Many prisoners are living in areas of less than a square meter per prisoner (Darke, S., p 274). Since there is overcrowding and understaffing within the prisons the prisoners are used to make up for the staffing shortages. There are prisons in which inmates are turnkeys, those that lock and unlock cells, entrance guards, and in charge of other common tasks that paid staff should be doing (Darke, S., p 276). There are many issues within the Brazilian prison systems that do, and do not relate to race. The academic articles were essential for forming a base understanding of the system as a whole and how the prisons functioned.
The media sources helped further expand upon topics that were presented in the academic articles as well as bringing new issues within the prison system to light. Another strength of the media sources was the suggestions for improvements to the system. Brazilian prisons are known for violence. As of 2019, “24 of Brazil's 26 states (and district capital) have suffered prison violence in the last decade,” (Muggah, R., Opinion: Brazil's Prison Massacres Send A Dire Message.). This violence primarily stems from overcrowding but it also stems from the criminal organizations within the prisons. These organizations are quite prevalent and the prisons are fertile grounds for the running of the organizations. In prisons, gangs can “operate relatively freely from inside, thanks to easy access to cellphones and other methods of communication,” (Waldron, T., A 'Problem From Hell': Why Brazil's Deadly Prison Riots Keep Happening).
These articles were also instrumental in my understanding of what needs to be done to improve the system and the role that the government is playing in these improvements. As one may have guessed, the government is not doing much. So far to address the overcrowding, which is the main source for issues within the system, the government is building more prisons. However, the inmate population is growing almost at a rate double to that of new prison beds (Waldron, T., A 'Problem From Hell': Why Brazil's Deadly Prison Riots Keep Happening). The government has also separated the leaders of the criminal organizations from their followers but this failed. It strengthened the organizations because it has allowed them to expand to new facilities (Mellen, R., Why Brazil has been so prone to deadly prison riots.). The improvements that need to be made are not going to be made with the current Brazilian government. Especially with a president that when campaigning pledged to crack down on violence, thus increasing prison populations, and used the familiar Brazilian refrain, “a good criminal is a dead criminal,” (Muggah, R., Toboada, C., & Tinoco, D., Q&A: Why Is Prison Violence So Bad in Brazil?).
For an improvement to occur there needs to be a reduction in the number of individuals incarcerated, an increase in access to legal representation, and new legislation. One way to reduce overcrowding is to reduce sentence length as well as resolving outstanding cases. This could be done by “incentivizing federal and state-level judges, prosecutors and public defenders to resolve outstanding cases and penalizing those who do not,” (Muggah, R., Toboada, C., & Tinoco, D., Q&A: Why Is Prison Violence So Bad in Brazil?). There would also be a decrease in the incarcerated population if certain crimes were decriminalized and there was rehabilitation instead of incarceration. With increased representation there would be more individuals available to resolve outstanding cases and reduce overcrowding. New legislation could also be implemented to reduce sentences and increase resources for prisons to improve their conditions.
Overall, there is great inequality within the prison system of Brazil. Inequality related to race and gender. Much of this inequality stems from slavery and the social stratification that it created. The “characteristics of the past remain interwoven in the fabric of today’s society and cannot be removed by goodwill or decree,” (Schwarcz, L. M., & Starling, H. M. M, p 585). Thus, for change to occur there needs to be a restructuring and a change within broader society.
Darke, S. (2013). Inmate governance in Brazilian prisons. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 52(3), 272-284. doi:10.1111/hojo.12010
Alves, J. A. (2016). On mules and bodies: black captivities in the Brazilian racial
Criminal Justice Network. (2016, Oct 6). Human Rights and Criminal Justice in Brazil.
Darke, S. (2013). Inmate governance in Brazilian prisons. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 52(3), 272-284. doi:10.1111/hojo.12010
Dias, Camila., Salla, Fernando. (2013). Organized crime in brazilian prisons: The example of the pcc. International Journal of Criminology and Sociology,(2013). doi:10.6000/1929-4409.2013.02.37
Mellen, R. (2019, July 30). Why Brazil has been so prone to deadly prison riots. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/07/30/why-brazil-has-been-so-prone-deadly-prison-riots/
Mendonça, A. (2014). The Criminal Justice System in Brazil: A Brief Account, pg. 63–70.
Mendonça, A. (2014). The Effective Collection and Utilization of Evidence in Criminal Cases: Current Situation and Challenges in Brazil, pg. 58-62.
Muggah, R. (2019, May 28). Opinion: Brazil's Prison Massacres Send A Dire Message. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/05/28/727667809/opinion-brazils-gruesome-prison-massacres-send-a-dire-message
Muggah, R., Toboada, C., & Tinoco, D. (2019, August 2). Q&A: Why Is Prison Violence So Bad in Brazil? Retrieved from https://www.americasquarterly.org/content/qa-why-prison-violence-so-bad-brazil
Schwarcz, L. M., & Starling, H. M. M. (2018). Brazil : a biography (First American). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Waldron, T. (2019, July 31). A 'Problem From Hell': Why Brazil's Deadly Prison Riots Keep Happening. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/brazil-prison-riots-jair-bolsonaro_n_5d405762e4b0d24cde065093
About the author: My name is Dakotah Dorholt and I am a recent graduate of the College of Saint Benedict. I majored in Sociology and plan on continuing my education at Drake University Law School. I am originally from Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. My favorite classes that I took during my four years were Criminology and Corrections as well as Race and Ethnic Groups in the United States. The best experience I had at St. Bens was studying abroad in Cork, Ireland.
This week 10 students were supposed to join me in Brazil for a study abroad course titled "Inequality, Race, and Gender in Brazil." The COVID-19 crisis made us change our plans. After the trip was cancelled we moved the course online and students could explore any issue related to race, gender, and inequality in Brazil. They completed various assignments, including a larger research paper reviewing the literature on a topic of their interest. After they were done with their research I asked them to write a blog post outlining the things they learned and some of the most intriguing aspects of their research. This is the first post of the series.
Throughout the various sources I read for the class “Race, Gender, and Inequality in Brazil,” microaggressions and other underlying racist ideas appeared over and over again. Brazilian white elites are responsible for the popularization of these ideas. Racism is far from unique to Brazil. Discriminating against a peron because of the color of their skin is an idea that has been around nearly as long as humans of differing skin colors came into contact with one another. Yet racism in Brazil is still unique. Unlike in the United States and South Africa, following the abolishment of slavery in Brazil, laws enforcing segregation were never implemented. This lack of segregation allowed interracial mixing to occur on a massive scale, despite it not being encouraged. Today this interracial mixing can still be seen as many Brazilians struggle to identify their race and when they are being discriminated against. Discrimination against Afro-Brazilians are frequently falsely attributed to social inequality, making it hard for Afro-Brazilians and people of other races to recognize when and where discrimination occurs in Brazil today. Anti-Afro-Brazilian ideas have trickled down from white elites of Brazil to much of the remainder of the population and can be seen through microaggressions and other underlying ideas. These microaggressions and other underlying ideas have allowed racism to continue to exist on the scale it does today.
Prior to taking this class I knew very little about Brazil. I began to read news articles and listen to podcasts to learn more about the country upon being accepted into the program. Through these early podcasts it was clear that major inequalities existed in the country and played a major role in shaping everyday life in Brazil. Social inequality is a huge issue. Upon first reading articles about it, the magnitude of Brazil’s inequality stunned me.
Pedro sent us links to a few different podcasts prior to the start of class one of which was NPR’s “Brazil in Black and White: Update.” This podcast was the first time I was really exposed to the complexity of race in Brazil. The podcast discussed programs and quotas being put in place to get more blacks in higher ranking and paying jobs. These quotas were created to attempt to make Brazil a more racially equal country. When applying for jobs applicants would be asked to indicate their race. Checking the box seemed like such a simple act, yet the more I listened to the podcast the decision to do so was far from simple and clear. Throughout the podcast the inner conflict of one man and what he experienced when trying to decide if he should check the box was followed. Pedro Attila’s struggles as he attempted to identify his race showed me how complex race was in Brazil.
Forming a Question
As I read more, it became evident that a litany of factors has contributed to race and how it’s classified in Brazil. Despite such a large percentage of Brazil having Afro-Brazilian heritage, until recently only a small percentage of the population identified as Black. Worldwide Black society movements like the Movimento Negro Unificado (MNU), or the Black Movement, have played a major role the number of those who identify as Black increasing (Guetzkow 137). MNU has gained traction particularly throughout young Afro-Brazilians who are educated as they seek to reverse the stigma associated with identifying as Black. Merely by classifying themselves as Black, Brazilians are fighting microaggressions and the idea that it is an insult for one to consider another a darker skin tone (Kay 225).
Derald Wing Sue and his co-authors of “Racial Microaggression in Every Day Life” defines a microaggression as follows, “Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, de- rogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color” (271). To be able to fight a microaggression by doing something that to me seems as simple as quantifying one’s skin color, shows how deeply these racial microaggressions run in Brazil. This is what led me to form my question I was to research for the class. I was intrigued by the many complexities of racism in Brazil, and therefore chose it as my research topic. This interest culminated in my framing of the question: why is racism not widely recognized in Brazil and what were the underlying ideas that allowed this to become the case?
Some Research Findings
Racism in Brazil can be seen and experienced differently than the in the US. In the United States following the Civil War an era of segregation followed. After 100 years of segregation the Civil Rights Movement ensued. What made the Civil Rights Movement possible was African Americans’ willingness to stand up and fight for what the rights they knew they deserved. Necessary even before that is the recognition that racism does exist. In Brazil this recognition is widely lacking. Many whites do not believe racism to exist in Brazil, but even worse many Afro-Brazilian who are being discriminated against themselves do not always believe racism exists. Getting more Afro-Brazilians to recognize the existence of racism is the key to fighting racism in Brazil. This amazed me to see how widely unrecognized racism is in Brazil. Even more amazing, or maybe interesting rather, is how this way of thinking came to be.
There a variety of factors that have led to the lack of recognition of racism in Brazil, many of which can be attributed back to the government. Inequality also is a major issue Brazil faces. Shantytowns, or favelas, are located primarily on the outskirts of major cities. Afro-Brazilians make up the majority of their inhabitants. As of 2018, 73% of the 52.5 people below the poverty line were Black (Sanchez). Afro-Brazilians make up 66% of the country’s unemployed population, but only 54% of the total population points out Nayara Batschke of the EFE agency of Madrid. At first glance this can be attributed to inequality. This apparent inequality, though, is fueled by structural racism. The elements black Brazilians are born into, combined with the factors they are subject to along the way, make leading a successful life difficult. This idea is commonly referred to as structural racism. The prominence of structural racism is not widely known, instead the government pitches the unemployment and poverty as byproduct of inequality.
Inequality is just one of the many ways racism is disguised in Brazil. The government does not recognize Blacks to exist in Brazil in places other those have undeniable black heritage. In doing so White Elites and others in charge have created the underlying idea that a person should consider themselves Pardo or Mixed, as opposed to Black. Which has led to the small fraction of Afro-Brazilians identifying themselves as Black. Over time those in charge have downplayed the importance of Blacks by disguising their contributions to society. This is often done by attributing them to someone who is white or considering the Afro-Brazilian who created them to be lighter in skin color than they actually are. Thus, creating the underlying idea that one should identify themselves as of lighter skin color than they are in actuality.
Brazil – a Biography
From the book “Brazil, a Biography” some of the underlying ideas that have allowed racism to exist on the scale it does today were clear to me. In particular the actions of the country’s leaders and the reactions of the civilians stood out. The military and their imposing dictatorship were in power for 21 years in Brazil. Awful methods of brutality were used by the dictatorship in order prevent strikes or uprisings of any sorts. Not only were all strikes prevented for 10 years during their rule, but any recent progress of issues such as racial and gender equality was completely erased. After the dictatorship was removed from power they were never punished for their actions. The lack of punishment was justified by saying, “. . they believed they acted in the best interest of Brazil” (541). To me this shows a normalization has been created surrounding the treatment of people. People were treated poorly and we wish it would not have happened, but oh well seems to be their attitude. This same attitude can be seen during President Médici’s time at the helm of Brazil. During Médici’s time in charge the country experienced its worst period of political violence in history. Due to the economic success of the country during this period Médici received very little criticism, but rather was praised with applause mixed with very little criticism. The underlying idea here is that social justice issues are on the back burner, only to receive attention when everything else ahead of it on the priority chain is alright. This underlying issue is why today racial equality progress is so delicate. One administration can increase representation of Afro-Brazilians, but upon a new administration taking over any funds and representation can be erased in the blink of an eye.
From my research I have been able to see just how complex the issue of racism is in Brazil. Underlying ideas and microaggressions have been formed by years of racist actions of the government. Inequality is an issue in Brazil, but by combatting racial inequality the country will thus be combatting some inequality in the process. More Afro-Brazilians identifying themselves as Black is a major step forward for the country and gives them hope going forward for a more racially equal. By identifying as Black and recognizing racist actions Afro-Brazilians are taking the major steps towards fighting the underlying microaggressions and underlying ideas that allow racist to continue to exist on the scale it does today.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my research on racism in Brazil and feel I have gained a better sense of empathy as a result of doing it. Additionally, this has caused me to search for my own microaggressions and underlying ideas to my being. I am greatly disappointed the current situation does not allow us to go to Brazil. The chance to discuss this with Brazilians and experience the country for myself is something I was really looking forward to. Yet, the research I have done has created a hunger in me and a desire to get to Brazil someday and further my research and have the opportunity to learn from those who have experienced this firsthand.
Five Favorite Sources from my Research:
Lamont, M., Silva, G., Welburn, J., Guetzkow, J., Mizrachi, N., Herzog, H., & Reis, E. (2016). Getting Respect: Responding to Stigma and Discrimination in the United States, Brazil, and Israel. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv346qr9 (especially chapters 3 and 4).
Kay, K., Mitchell-Walthour, G., & White, I. K. (2015). Framing race and class in Brazil: Afro-Brazilian support for racial versus class policy. Politics, Groups, and Identities, 3(2), 222-238. (Link Here)
Romero, S., Barnes, T. (2015). Despair, and Grim Acceptance, Over Killings by Brazil’s Police. New York Times (May 21). (Link Here)
You Don't Have to Yell Podcast (2020). Episode 28: Race and Politics in Brazil and the United States, a Comparison. (Link Here)
Reis, J. (2005). Batuque: African Drumming and Dance between Repression and Concession, Bahia, 1808-1855. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 24(2), 201-214. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/27733744
Batschke, Nayara. "Afro-Brazilian Movement Aims to Combat Racism in Country's Business
World: BRAZIL RACISM -Feature-." EFE News Service, 25 May 2019.
Guetzkow, Joshua, Hanna Herzog, Michéle Lamont, Nissim Mizrachi, Elisa Reis,
Graziella Moraes Silva, Jessica S. Welburn. “Brazil.” Getting Respect, Princeton University Press, 2016, pp. 134-169.
Kay, Kristine, Gladys Mictchell-Walthour, and Isamil K. White. “Framing race and class in
Brazil: Afro-Brazilian support for racial versus class policy.” Politics, Groups, and Identities, 07 Apr 2015, pp 222-238.
Sanchez, Carlos Meneses. "Widespread Racism Against Black Population Persists in Brazil:
BRAZIL RACISM."EFE News Service, 20 Dec 2019.
Sue, Derald Wing, Christina M. Capodilupo, Gina C. Torino, Jennifer M. Bucceri, Aisha M. B.
Holder, Kevin L. Nadal, and Marta Esquilin. “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life.” Teachers College, Columbia University. The American Psychologist.
Warner, Gregory and Lulu Garcia-Navarro. “Brazil in Black and White: Update.” Rough
About the Author: Maddie Schmitz is a junior at the College of St. Benedict. Originally from St. Martin, Minnesota, she is majoring in Physics with a minor in Math. Through the three opportunities Maddie has had to travel abroad, she has had the chance to talk with people from different countries of different backgrounds. Through these interactions she has gained a sense of empathy and perspective. As a result of her studies of Racism in Brazil she has enjoyed continuing to grow her sense of empathy and gaining an understanding of what drives racism.
Sharing student assignments that should reach more people than just me.