Racism Impairs Scientific Production of Black Researchers – How Brazil’s Universities Place Obstacles in the Path of Afro-Brazilian University Student

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Note from BW of Brazil: Coming across the material we present today brought to mind a piece written back in 2006 by José Jorge de Carvalho, an anthropology professor at the Universidade of Brasília. Carvalho’s research revealed the extreme discrepancy when one speaks of racial representation among professors of Brazilian universities. First, starting at his own university, Carvalho discovered that of 1,500 professors at the Universidade of Brasília, only 15 were black, or about 1%. The story was similar in most other universities. Collecting data from numerous prestigious universities, including the likes of USP, UFRJ, Unicamp, UnB, UFRGS, UFSCAR and UFMG, Carvalho found that 18,330 were white and 70 black, making university professor one of the most overwhelmingly white professions in the country. As mentioned in a previous piece on the exclusion of works by black intellectuals in Brazil’s universities, affirmative action policies of the past 13 years have only begun making a college education accessible for black students in significant numbers, and as such, the world of teaching in academia remains yet another hurdle in the struggle for representation, influence and power.

Another facet of Carvalho’s research provided insight on how Afro-Brazilian students often face resistance from the overtly white realm of academia when they wish to study issues of a racial nature. The following passage shows how Brazilian academia is not only white in its actual body of professors, it is safeguarded by white gatekeepers who don’t accept very kindly those blacks who may be seeking to ‘rock the boat’ in terms of race is studied and the types of research that will be and won’t be accepted by the ‘powers-that-be’:

“A doctoral student of sociology told me about the difficult dilemma that he experienced during his interview for admission to the doctoral program. At the end of the interview one of the examiners, aware that the candidate wanted study race relations, asked him if he was a militant of the Movimento Negro (Black Movement). He clearly realized that if he responded in the affirmative he would inevitably be disapproved. He lied, then, stating that he had been a militant in the past, but now had decided to devote himself “in fact” to an academic career. The answer pleased the examiner, who finally agreed to approve him. Now he is finishing his doctorate and obviously avoids be examined by this professor, known in his department for preaching aggressively against quotas for blacks in the classroom. The lesson he learned (and now practices) is that the Brazilian academic world is a mined field for black researchers and they cannot be naive, frank and open about the racial question in this atmosphere.”

Note from BW of Brazil: Carvalho’s insight provides us with yet another reason as to why Afro-Brazilian participation is so necessary at all level of societies. Without having any black people in areas where they can exert some sort of influence to the loosen the white grip on the power structure,  academia and so many areas of the society will continue to be ruled by a what we call a “dictatorship of whiteness”.

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“People tend to think that to discuss race relations, to discuss the issues of the black population, is to talk about something limited. It’s not,” says the PhD in History, Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto

May 13th marks the formal abolition of slavery, but Brazil is far from ending racism in institutions. In universities, locations of knowledge, the question still is perpetuated in graduation, despite the quota system, and even more so in post-graduate and scientific research, where affirmative action is rare. Black researchers report to Agência Brasil the difficulties they face in academia, from admission and permanence to barriers to addressing issues involving racial issues. For these experts, the attempt at black invisibility as protagonists of academic processes impacts the entire society.

The trajectories are repeated in different universities and academic environments. An owner of a Master’s in Education, Verônica Diano Braga that she hasn’t managed, while still in undergrad, a professor who agreed to guide her on the theme of “O rap para a juventude de periferia” (Rap for the youth of the periphery). On her own, she researched, wrote and presented the conclusion work of the course.

A PhD in History, Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto tried to enter the Master’s program in Social Communication with the theme black press in the 19th century, but was not accepted. The recommendation was that she – who had a degree in journalism – deal with the subject in the History department, where she was accepted. Currently, Ana Flávia is a reference on the subject, including in Communications itself.

“A number of prejudices led to restricting [the subject of study] and this happens in several areas. There is an inability of people to understand that talking about the black experience in Brazil is to talk about the Brazilian population [majority black]. People tend to think that discussing race relations, discussing the issues of the black population, is to talk about something limited. It’s not,” says Ana Flávia.

“The question of prejudice, of racism begins when I declare myself a black woman. When I declare myself a black woman, post-graduate and university professor, it increases much more,” says Verônica, who works at a private institution where, according to her, of 300 professors, three are black, and she is the only woman.

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Vera Veronika

“There have been situations where I went to events and the secretary said, ‘miss, I cannot help you, we are very busy,’ and I was the main speaker. I leave. When the person who invited me comes and asks why I did not introduce myself, I say I tried but I couldn’t. There is aesthetic discrimination. People are not ready for a young black young woman who is a doctor or a professor,” adds Verônica, also known in Hip Hop as Vera Veronika.

According to the Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (PNAD or National Research by Sample of Households) of 2013, more than half of the population (52.9%) is negra (the sum of those who declare themselves pretos/black and pardos/brown). The percentage, however, is not repeated in spaces such as academia. PNAD shows that 0.19% of the country’s population is pursuing Master’s or PhDs. A total of 387,400 post-graduate students, 112,000 are black – less than half the 270,600 whites.

“Post-grad is strategic because it is from post-grad that will come those who will drive our country, government agencies, Brazilian companies. They are all Master’s and Ph.Ds who occupy positions of power,” said the president of the Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores Negros (ABPN or Brazilian Association of Black Researchers), Paulino Cardoso. “It’s a space where the production of knowledge is re-updated and without the presence of Afro students, this diversity is not incorporated as a research topic. And that goes for all areas,” he adds.

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Paulino Cardoso

The difficulty of entrance combined with the theme of research are difficulties of black graduate students. They lack lines of research that address ethnic and racial issues and lack advisers who are interested in the themes, analyze the experts interviewed by the Agência Brasil.

The master in social anthropology and a doctorate in transport Paíque Duques Santarém estimates that black students suffer four types of segregation in academia. The first is, in the selection process, when oral interviews are done mostly by white professors. The second is financing, the difficulty in staying in courses that requests, for the most part, exclusive dedication, without financial aid of the family. He also cites co-existing with mostly white colleagues and the need to deal with a science that has historically excluded black knowledge.

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Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores Negros (ABPN)

“It’s normal the cases of being the first, the second, the tenth black student in a post-graduate course. The isolation occurs in the present tense, in that you are there with few peers to share their troubles from the racial point of view. Moreover, there are no people who have gone through this experience and that can pass on to you the experiences. And still there’s a feeling that maybe there will not be anyone there after you,” says Santarém.

Source: Plantão Brasil, Carvalho, José Jorge de. “O confinamento racial do mundo acadêmico brasileiro.” Revista USP, São Paulo, #68, pg. 88-103, December/February 2005-2006

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