Black or white?

Black or white?

The Globe and Mail

Stephanie Nolen, Latin America Bureau Chief
Rio De Janiero, Brazil

Jacqueline Suellen Chaves poses for a photo on Belm Docs. She’s a black woman rejected as too white for a job as a social worker by a panel.
Daniel Ramalho/For The Globe and Mail

It was a policy was born of good intentions but has stirred up perplexing, often painful, questions: What makes a person black, or white? Is it facial features? Hair? Family? Or an experience of racism? And who gets to decide?

Jacqueline Chaves checked the Internet every day, waiting to see test results posted – a pass would be the last step in her long road to a job as a social worker.

Ms. Chaves, 23, had worked hard to get through a degree program at the competitive federal university in Belem do Para, a port city on the Amazon forest’s Atlantic coast. There were many tough tests along the way but she wasn’t a bit worried about this final one. It was an exam to assess whether she qualified for a position being reserved for an affirmative-action candidate. Ms. Chaves knew she would sail through, because she is black.

Or thought she was…

…Commissions are vital to ensure that limited affirmative-action spaces are not used by cheating white students, said Iuri Nascimento, an activist with a racial-equality advocacy organization called Negrex. Any argument that it’s impossible to tell who is eligible in a country with a lot of mixed-raced people is simply aimed at undermining the system, he added.

There is no “purely objective scale” of blackness, he said, but it’s also not that hard to tell who is black and who isn’t: Police officers identify who is black just fine, argued Mr. Nascimento. (Black Brazilian men are killed by police three times more often than white.)…

…Yet there are many Brazilians – including other black activists – who think that the tribunals are a terrible idea. Petronio Domingues, a historian with the Federal University of Sergipe who studies the fight for racial equality in Brazil, said it’s absurd to think that there are characteristics that can be evaluated objectively to determine race.

“They’re looking only at a person’s appearance, and that doesn’t define race,” he said. “Any definition of what it is to be black cannot be external to the individual. … Race is a social construction, without scientific basis.” Nor is there any evidence that proves that black people with very dark skin suffer more prejudice than those who are called pardo, or brown, he added, so it makes no sense to give more “points” to someone whose skin is darker or hair curlier…

Read the entire article here.

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