It used to be that no matter what your background — Asian, African or European — you can fit in easily in Brazil. But the reality is very different. Brazil used to be regarded as one of the most racially harmonious places in the world. Yet over the decades, the racial divide has proven to be similar to other countries: driven financially.
Despite the fact that an alluring samba, sultry climate and geography made it easy for a blended society to party together, the workplace was a different matter. Over time, most of the black population has evolved into the service jobs or none at all, whereas the wealthier class are in middle management and above. It is a fact that Brazil was the last place in the Americas to give up slavery. It also imported more than 10 times as many slaves than the United States — some 4 million. In 1872, when Brazil’s first census was conducted, the population was split into just two groups: free people and slaves, who then represented 15% of the population. According to a 2010 census, 7.6% of Brazilians said they were black, compared with 6.2% in 2000, and 43.1% said they were mixed race, up from 38.5%. Interestingly, in the USA, surveys don’t offer a respondent the option to indicate a blend of races.
Thus, more than 50 percent of the population is of African descent, but those numbers haven’t translated to opportunity. Sadly, as an economy tumbles, so do race relations. The same study found that 31.3% of Brazil’s white population had private health plans, compared with just 15.2% of the black population. The same study found that 31.3% of Brazil’s white population had private health plans, compared with just 15.2% of the black population. According to studies based on the 2000 census, an eighteen-year-old white Brazilian boy has an average 2.3 years more education than an eighteen-year-old black boy. The father of a white boy also had 2.3 years more education than the father of a black boy. The educational disparity between white and black has remained stubbornly constant over the past three generations. The bottom line: Mixed races (Afro-Brazilian) comprise just over 50% of the population but are 70% of those in poverty.
Lucas Rocha, my character in “RIO—Reluctant Ascension into Infamy” is a sixteen year-old racial mutt who has had virtually no education but that of the streets. I encourage you to subscribe to my weekly newsletter about some compelling human-interest stories from Rio or possibly even your own home city. “Rio – Reluctant Ascension into Infamy” is a Brazilian Oliver Twist meets The Godfather, when people’s lives crash together with irreversible consequences of love and tragedy. Stay tuned.
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