Affirmative action backed in largely black Brazil

Associated Press Modified: May 4, 2012 at 11:01 am •  Published: May 4, 2012
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Opponents say the idea of quotas is itself racist and that Brazil has no need for them, arguing there is little social tension among the races and the nation lacks the overt racism seen in many other nations.

"Racial policy, even in good faith, is state therapy for a disease that does not exist: We don't have a racial identity," Jose Ferreira Militao, a black activist and lawyer in Sao Paulo, wrote recently in the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.

He argued that what's needed are policies aimed at social — not racial — problems in Brazil, programs that use economic need as the criteria for university spots and scholarships. That, he said, would assist black and mixed-race Brazilians, who comprise 70 percent of the poorest 10 percent of the nation.

Brazil's Supreme Court justices strongly voiced opinions that affirmative action is the best means of combatting inequality that has lingered for centuries.

"From this decision onward, Brazil has one more reason to look in the mirror of history and not blush with shame," Supreme Court Justice Carlos Britto said after last week's 10-0 vote supporting racial quotas.

His colleague Carmen Lucia Rocha added: "It's better to have a society in which everyone is free to be whatever they want. Quotas are one step in a society where this doesn't naturally occur."

The Supreme Court is also expected to rule soon on a motion filed in 2009 by a white student who argues that although he scored high on his college entrance exam for the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, his spot was taken by a student who scored lower but was admitted based on a racial quota.

Norma Odara, a 20-year-old journalism student at Mackenzie University in Sao Paulo, considers herself black, though her mother is white, and her youthful face embodies Brazil's mixed heritage.

She's not the recipient of any government scholarship and her university does not use any sort of quota system, something made clear by the fact Odara was one of the few black students in a sea of whites on Mackenzie's leafy campus. Still, Odara said quotas and other such programs are only temporary fixes, and that what is needed is more government spending in public grade schools where most black Brazilians study, so that they are better prepared to enter universities on academic merit alone.

"The quotas are palliative, they're only trying to momentarily resolve the problem," she said. "What's not being treated are the root ailments."

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Associated Press writer Stan Lehman contributed to this report.

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Follow Bradley Brooks at http://twitter.com/bradleybrooks

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