“It’s a black thing,” said William Waack, one of the most prominent journalists at leading news network Globo, on a hot mic as cars honked in the background. It didn’t take long for Brazilians to start venting their anger on Twitter, using the hashtag #ÉCoisadePreto to denounce Waack and tout black Brazilian accomplishments. Making racist comments is a crime in Brazil, but Waack might also be demonstrative of a phenomenon revealed by recent research: while 97 percent of Brazilians believe that their country is racist, few recognize their own racism.
If education and employment statistics are any indication, attitudes like Waack’s may be more common than they appear. The number of black Brazilians achieving higher education qualifications is the same as the number of white Brazilians two decades ago, and they continue to earn significantly less than their white counterparts – even after completing higher education. And although black Brazilian consumers spend an estimated 1.3 trillion BRL per year, most don’t feel like advertising in the country speaks to them. It’s hardly surprising, given the most recent high-profile gaffe by a toilet paper company.
Wilful ignorance of discrimination in employment and education creates a ripple effect. Black Brazilians form the majority of the country’s informal workforce and three-quarters of the poorest ten percent of the population. They also face startling levels of violence: murders have been growing across the board every year, but the number of murders of black Brazilians has skyrocketed while murders of whites have decreased. Brazil might be 53 percent black, but the legacy of centuries of discrimination remains.
A country in denial
Brazil’s official “Hymn to the Republic” provides a perfect snapshot as to how the country deals with the vestiges of slavery. At one point, the song goes: