Brazil’s government has enacted one of the Western Hemisphere’s most sweeping affirmative action laws, requiring public universities to reserve half of their admission spots for the largely poor students in the nation’s public schools and vastly increase the number of university students of African descent across the country.
The law, signed Wednesday by President Dilma Rousseff, seeks to reverse the racial and income inequality that has long characterized Brazil, a country with more people of African heritage than any nation outside of Africa. ...
But while affirmative action has come under threat in the United States, it is taking deeper root in Brazil, Latin America’s largest country. Though the new legislation, called the Law of Social Quotas, is expected to face legal challenges, it drew broad support among lawmakers.
Of Brazil’s 81 senators, only one voted against the law this month. Other spheres of government here have also supported affirmative action measures. In a closely watched decision in April, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the racial quotas enacted in 2004 by the University of Brasília, which reserved 20 percent of its spots for black and mixed-race students.
Dozens of other Brazilian universities, both public and private, have also adopted their own affirmative action policies in recent years, trying to curb the dominance of such institutions by middle- and upper-middle-class students who were educated at private elementary and secondary schools. Public universities in Brazil are largely free of charge and generally of better quality, with some exceptions, than private universities.
Still, some education experts are already predicting a shift to the better private universities among some students. “With these quotas, these rich Brazilians who took up their spots will not be abandoned,” argued Frei David Santos, 60, a Franciscan friar in São Paulo who directs Educafro, an organization preparing black and low-income students for university entrance exams. “Their parents who had money saved will spend it” on elite private universities.
The Law of Social Quotas takes the previous affirmative action policies to another level, giving Brazil’s 59 federal universities just four years to ensure that half of the entering class comes from public schools. Luiza Bairros, the minister in charge of Brazil’s Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality, said officials expected the number of black students admitted to these universities to climb to 56,000 from 8,700.
The law obligates public universities to assign their spots in accordance with the racial makeup of each of Brazil’s 26 states and the capital, Brasília. In states with large black or mixed-race populations, like Bahia in the northeast, that could lead to a surge in black university students, while states in southern Brazil, which are largely white, could still have relatively few black students in public universities.
... Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said in an interview that he was “completely in favor” of the quotas. “Try finding a black doctor, a black dentist, a black bank manager, and you will encounter great difficulty,” Mr. da Silva said. “It’s important, at least for a span of time, to guarantee that the blacks in Brazilian society can make up for lost time.”
"One moves swiftly and imperceptibly from a world in which affirmative action can't be ended because its beneficiaries are too weak to a world in which it can't be ended because its beneficiaries are too strong."
Brazil’s 2010 census showed that a slight majority of this nation’s 196 million people defined themselves as black or mixed-race, a shift from previous decades during which most Brazilians called themselves white.
You get more of what you pay for. The BBC reported last year on the 2010 Brazil Census:
Out of around 191m Brazilians, 91 million identified themselves as white, 82m as mixed race and 15m as black.
Whites fell from 53.7% of the population in 2000 to 47.7% last year.