Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced this week that she plans to push for legislation that would establish quotas for the number of black people employed by the government.
If passed, the proposal would require that 20 percent of government workers are black.
Brazil has long grappled with how to bring racial equality to the country, which, by percentage, has the largest black population of any nation outside of Africa, and, by the numbers, the second-largest black population in the world. In 2003, the left-leaning party in Brazil introduced the Racial Equality Statute, which was aimed at giving tax incentives to businesses that pushed for racial inclusion, required all elementary and middle schools in the country to teach African and Brazilian black history, and issued a racial quota provision for businesses and institutions of higher education.
”This policy is absolutely correct in terms of philosophy and ethics,” Justice Minister Márcio Thomaz Bastos said at the time. ”I have no doubt of it. After all, this country has an enormous debt because of the iniquity that was slavery in Brazil.” When Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, it was the last country in the Americas to do so.
The Racial Equality Statute finally passed into law in 2010, though the quota language had been stripped out. Then, in 2012, the country’s Supreme Court unanimously approved university quotas of 20 percent black students. And that’s where things stand today.
Rousseff hopes that once again pushing for quotas, this time for government workers, will help a problem that one person succinctly summarized to CNN this way: “The poor generally have darker skin.” Black or brown Brazilians are just over 50 percent of the population, but their income is half of their white counterparts’. Meanwhile, more white people in Brazil live to be elderly than black.
“[A]ffirmative action is essential” to achieve opportunity for all Brazilians, Rouseff, who’s held power for two of her elected eight years, told the AP when she rolled out her proposal.
Quotas can be controversial — emotions run high over the United States’ affirmative action in school admissions — but they can also be effective in forcing a change that wouldn’t naturally occur. An Inter-Parliamentary Union study in 2012 found that gender quotas in elected offices actually led to more female members of parliament, and in countries where quotas were enforced, women took 24 percent of parliament seats on average, compared to just 12 percent without a quota. And a study by a professor at the University of Basilia, in Brazil, found that the country’s existing quota policy in universities has increased the number of low-income black students in schools.