When Brazil’s national statistics institute IGBE carried out its most recent national census in 2010, the results were unexpected. For the first time ever, more than half of the population – 54 percent, to be exact – identified as either black or brown/mixed.
Labels used in the census to describe race haven’t evolved much over time. In 2010, Brazilians could choose only between black, white, brown/mixed, indigenous, or, for its inhabitants with East Asian heritage, yellow (yikes). In fact, this isn’t so different from the first census conducted by IGBE in 1872, offering the options of ‘black’, ‘white’, brown/mixed (‘pardo’) or indigenous (‘caboclo’).
Unlike elsewhere in the world, the “race” segment of the Brazilian census is based on self-assigned skin color instead of ethnicity. Thanks to Brazil’s complicated history of miscegenation with indigenous people, Europeans, and Africans, it’s pretty difficult for many Brazilians to trace their heritage.