Rachel Dolezal became a national obsession a couple of years ago for getting away with pretending to be black. I can vaguely recall a few other cases, such as one a generation ago involving Boston firefighters whose documentation consisted of a sepia photo they said showed their black great-grandmother, but others figured they just lifted it from a burning building in Roxbury.
My current Taki’s column talks about black privilege is operationalized. A couple of key aspects are that most white Americans seem to feel that cheating would be dishonorable, and that if they tried to get away with claiming black privilege, they’d eventually run into a large-and-in-charge black lady bureaucrat who would say “Oh no you isn’t black” and that would be the end of that.
In Brazil, however, things are very different with their newish affirmative action program. Brazilians like cheating and Brazil’s definitions of race are based on a color continuum not a color line and on looks rather than the self-identification of your ancestors. From Foreign Policy
Brazil’s New Problem With BlacknessMy Taki’s column was inspired by a NYT column by a lady boasting that her phenotypically white child will still enjoy black privilege in the U.S. because he identifies as black.
PELOTAS, Brazil – Late last year Fernando received news he had dreaded for months: he and 23 of his classmates had been kicked out of college. The expulsion became national news in Brazil. Fernando and his classmates may not have been publicly named (“Fernando,” in fact, is a pseudonym), but they were roundly vilified as a group. The headline run by weekly magazine CartaCapital — “White Students Expelled from University for Defrauding Affirmative Action System” — makes it clear why.
But the headline clashes with how Fernando sees himself. He identifies as pardo, or brown: a mixed-race person with black ancestry. His family has struggled with discrimination ever since his white grandfather married his black grandmother, he told me. “My grandfather was accused of soiling the family blood,” he said, and was subsequently cut out of an inheritance. So when he applied to a prestigious medical program at the Federal University of Pelotas, in the southern tip of Brazil, he took advantage of recent legislation that set aside places for black, brown, and indigenous students across the country’s public institutions.
While affirmative action policies were introduced to U.S. universities in the 1970s, Brazil didn’t begin experimenting with the concept until 2001, in part because affirmative action collided head-on with a defining feature of Brazilian identity. For much of the twentieth century, intellectual and political leaders promoted the idea that Brazil was a “racial democracy,” whose history favorably contrasted with the state-enforced segregation and violence of Jim Crow America and apartheid South Africa. “Racial democracy,” a term popularized by anthropologists in the 1940s, has long been a source of pride among Brazilians.
As the country’s black activist groups have argued for decades, it is also a myth. Brazil’s horrific history of slavery — 5.5 million Africans were forcibly transported to Brazil, in comparison with the just under 500,000 brought to America — and its present-day legacy demanded legal recognition, they said. And almost two decades ago, these activists started to get their way in the form of race-based quotas at universities.
For Brazil’s black activists, however, the breach of the country’s unofficial color-blindness has also been accompanied by suspicion over race fraud: people taking advantage of affirmative action policies never meant for them in the first place.
“These spots are for people who are phenotypically black,” Mailson Santiago, a history major at the Federal University of Pelotas and a member of the student activist group Setorial Negro, told me. “It’s not for people with black grandmothers.”
But in a country as uniquely diverse as Brazil — where 43 percent of citizens identify as mixed-race, and 30 percent of those who think of themselves as white have black ancestors — it’s not immediately clear where the line between races should be drawn, nor who should get to draw it, and using what criteria. These questions have now engulfed college campuses, the public sector, and the courts.Booker T. Washington once famously pointed out in 1895 that the US Establishment was doing the same thing: promoting Ellis Island immigration to keep from having to employ African-Americans. His Cast Down Ye Buckets Where Ye Are speech used to be famous, but got memory holed by the rise of A Nation of Immigrants ideology over the last generation or two.
“It divided our program,” admits Marlon Deleon, a black second-semester medical student at UFPel who enrolled through the university’s racial quotas system and personally reported on a classmate who did the same, but whom Deleon described as “flagrantly white and blond.”
Relationships across black-white boundaries have always been rare in the United States. … Meanwhile, race was codified into laws determining that even one drop of African ancestry rendered a person legally black.
Brazil’s government launched a full-on propaganda and policy effort to “whiten” Brazil: It closed the country’s borders to African immigrants, denied black Brazilians the rights to lands inhabited by the descendants of runaway slaves, and subsidized the voyage of millions of German and Italian workers, providing them with citizenship, land grants, and stipends when they arrived.
Today, Brazilians see themselves as falling across a spectrum of skin colors with a dizzying assortment of names: burnt white, brown, dark nut, light nut, black, and copper are a few of the 136 categories that the census department, in a 1976 study, found Brazilians to use for self-identification. …Consider two sisters. They have the same ancestors but one looks whiter than the other. In Brazil, the one who looks whiter will go through life getting all sorts of advantages. In the U.S., in contrast, most of the color discrimination would occur among blacks (or especially among Hispanics if they interact with them), but affirmative action programs don’t come with gradations: you are in or you are out. Similarly, white people in America are taught to conceptualize blacks as homogeneous, so that barely anybody questions why, say, Susan Rice’s children get black privilege in terms of affirmative action.
Of course, it turns out that in America most of the benefits of black privilege go to those who qualify by ancestry for blackness but were raised as whitely as possible: e.g., our recent Honolulu preppie President.
Lots more good stuff in this article about Brazil. Read it there.