The U.S. midterm elections featured the most diverse group of candidates in the country’s history. For the first time ever, Muslim and indigenous women were elected to the House. In Massachusetts, a state known for harboring racist tendencies, voters elected Ayanna Pressley – its first-ever black congresswoman. While a few disputes have yet to be called, it appears that Americans have elected a record-high 53 African Americans. But the real breakthrough is that eight white-majority districts elected black members of Congress this year.
In Brazil, however, racial minorities are still far from being well-represented in Congress. Of the 513 members of the House elected last month, only 125 declare themselves as black or brown—54 percent of the country’s population is non-white. The number shows progress from 2014, when these populations totaled only 106 congressmen. Still, the racial profile of the Brazilian Congress remains fairly white:
A survey conducted by Estadão shows that, in 2014, white candidates received far more money than their black counterparts. Of the public funds destined for political parties to spread around its candidates, only two radical left-wing parties allocated more money for racial minorities. On average, each black candidate had BRL 78,000 to finance his or her campaign in 2014. Brown candidates operated with more: BRL 93,000. Meanwhile, each white candidate had on average BRL 285,000 to finance their run for office.
Barriers are stronger against black women
If the numbers for the representation of the black population are terrible, that is particularly true when we’re talking about black women. A total of 65 women who declared themselves as black or brown were elected for legislative seats across the country, of which there are over 1,600. Meanwhile, 379 black men, 181 white women, and 997 white men were elected.
When we cross the total number of candidacies with the number of elected politicians – clustering them per race and gender – we see a more clear pattern of inequality. While the success rate among white candidates was of 10.9 percent (that is, one in 10 men got elected), it was less than 2 percent for black women.
A survey conducted between 2010 and 2016 by social scientist Osmar Teixeira Gaspar, of the University of São Paulo, sheds some light on the reasons for the disparity. White candidates for legislative seats within the state of São Paulo had a declared net worth four times higher than their black counterparts. The gap, once again, is wider when we consider black women.
These candidacies, according to Mr. Gaspar, don’t exist to be competitive, but rather to push the members of the parties’ top brass over the electoral threshold. As Brazil elects its congressmen through a proportional system of open lists (more here), these candidacies exist to be “useful” for the parties to win one or two additional seats, likely occupied by candidates with more firepower.
The Marielle Franco effect
Last month’s election was the first since the assassination of Marielle Franco, a Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman shot dead in March. Eight months later, the case has yet to be solved. After electing only four black women to Congress and the local state legislature in 2014, Rio selected 10 women this time around.
“What happened to Marielle pushed women into politics,” sais State Lawmaker-elect Mônica Francisco, one of those who entered politics in 2018. The numbers prove her right. All in all, 521 black women ran for office in Rio de Janeiro – a 52-percent bump from 2014. In São Paulo, the rise was of 34 percent.
The change has begun – but its pace remains very, very slow.