For Affirmative Action, Brazil Sets Up Controversial Boards To Determine Race: NPR

Orwellian. Self-identification is the only way, even if it risks some “gaming:”

Siqueira considers himself to be mixed race, known in Brazil as pardo, or brown.

“I consider myself to be a very typical Brazilian and I’ve always been very proud of it. In my dad’s family, my grandfather is black, my grandmother has Indian and white roots. And on my mother’s side they are mostly white, mostly Portuguese,” he said.

How he defines himself matters because he was required to self-identify on his application. In 2014, the government introduced a quota system for federal jobs. The affirmative action regulations require that 20 percent of all government positions be filled by people of color – either black or mixed race.

The problem came once the announcement of the appointments was made public.

People started investigating the background of who had gotten the slots. They got into Siqueira’s Instagram, his Facebook feed and they sent his personal photos to the government.

“A lot of people sent pictures saying, ‘Oh, this dude is white, he’s a fraud,'” Siqueira says.

Job Offer Put On Hold

People basically said he was gaming the system, lying about who and what he is to get one of the jobs. The backlash shocked him. He said he hadn’t even considered the quota system. He just put down what he considered himself to be.

But the controversy wouldn’t go away. The government was getting so much flack that it put Siqueira’s offer on hold.

And then the government went a step further.

In response to the outcry, they set up a kind of race committee to review his case, and a few others.

He was asked to present himself to a panel of seven diplomats in a room who would decide if he was really Afro-Brazilian, as he claimed.

They asked him a bunch of questions such as, “Since when do you consider yourself to be a person of this color?”

And then it was over.

What they decided was that he was not pardo, or mixed race. No explanation. No discussion. So he decided to sue.

And that’s when this story gets even more complicated. Because in order to “prove” that he was Afro-Brazilian, his lawyers needed to find some criteria. He went to seven dermatologists who used something called the Fitzpatrick scale that grades skin tone from one to seven, or whitest to darkest. The last doctor even had a special machine.

“Apparently on my face I’m a type four. Which would be like Jennifer Lopez or Dev Patel, Frida Pinto or John Stamos. On my limbs I would be type five, which is Halle Berry, Will Smith, Beyonce and Tiger Woods,” he said.

Like most people he has different skin tones on different parts of his body. But in none of these tests did he come out as lighter skinned.

He says the whole thing struck him as completely bizarre because identity, he says, is made up of more than just physical characteristics.

But this wasn’t just an isolated incident.

Mandatory For All Government Jobs

A few weeks ago, these race tribunals were made mandatory for all government jobs. In one state, they even issued guidelines about how to measure lip size, hair texture and nose width, something that for some has uncomfortable echoes of racist philosophies in the 19th century.

Source: For Affirmative Action, Brazil Sets Up Controversial Boards To Determine Race : Parallels : NPR

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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