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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Re-Making Race for Inclusion: Racial Categories, Affirmative Action and Black Identities in Brazil

  • Author(s): Peria, Michelle Elaine
  • Advisor(s): Bailey, Stanley R.
  • et al.

This dissertation explores the dynamics of racial classification in contemporary Brazil, as state and social movement actors have recently come together to implement anti-racist legislation and policies. Brazil is an important site for study of race because until early in this century laws and official policies largely treated it as irrelevant. More recently, policies such as affirmative action have been implemented to combat racial inequality, however the meaning of race and the categories for the new policies are being created and the categories are contested. Two primary questions guide this dissertation: How are official categories being constructed for new race- targeted affirmative action policies in Brazil? And how are these new categories negotiated by Brazilians who are being asked to self-identify for inclusion in these policies? The first question addresses the dynamics of racial classification and categorization in contemporary Brazilian affirmative action policy, and the other the possible consequences these practices may have for boundary dynamics in the population.

The first question draws on a qualitative case study - semi-structured interviews; documentary research; and participant-observation – of affirmative action policy in higher

education in Brazil. Scholars of ethno-racial politics in Latin America argue that states more readily consider claims based on the recognition and protection of cultural difference as legitimate, but are resistant to calls for the remedy of racial discrimination. As a counterexample, I show how issues of racial exclusion and discrimination gained traction in public policy in Brazil. I show how race came to be only one component of that policy; instead, race was combined with class to establish a new type of beneficiary status for affirmative action: poor black students. In the process quotas for public school student have also become widespread.

The second question draws on sixteen months of participant-observation and forty-two semi-structured interviews with Brazilians connected to Black movement organized college prep courses. I discuss how Brazilians striving to enter the university negotiate the use of new policies. I find that the unique way affirmative action policies have been designed and implemented in Brazil, targeting poor students as well as poor black students, contributes to produce a new population, one that doesn’t view color in oppositional terms but feels solidarity along class lines that are racially inclusive.

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