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In Brazil, a mix of racial openness and exclusion

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 18, 2013 at 3:11 am •  Published: March 18, 2013

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Many Brazilians cast their country as racial democracy where people of different groups long have intermarried, resulting in a large mixed-race population. But you need only turn on the TV, open the newspaper or stroll down the street to see clear evidence of segregation.

In Brazil, whites are at the top of the social pyramid, dominating professions of wealth, prestige and power. Dark-skinned people are at the bottom of the heap, left to clean up after others and take care of their children and the elderly.

The 2010 census marked the first time in which black and mixed-race people officially outnumbered whites, weighing in at just over 50 percent, compared with 47 percent for whites. Researchers suggest that Brazil actually may have been a majority-nonwhite country for some time, with the latest statistics reflecting a decreased social stigma that makes it easier for nonwhites to report their actual race.

It is a mix of anomalies in Brazil that offers lessons to a United States now in transition to a "majority-minority" nation: how racial integration in social life does not always translate to economic equality, and how centuries of racial mixing are no guaranteed route to a colorblind society.

Nearly all TV news anchors in Brazil are white, as are the vast majority of doctors, dentists, fashion models and lawyers. Most maids and doormen, street cleaners and garbage collectors are black. There is only one black senator and there never has been a black president, though a woman, Dilma Rousseff, leads the country now.

A decade of booming economic growth and wealth-redistribution schemes has narrowed the income gap between blacks and whites, but it remains pronounced. In 2011, the average black or mixed-race worker earned just 60 percent what the average white worker made. That was up from 2001, when black workers earned 50.5 percent what white workers made, according to Brazil's national statistics agency.

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