Black or white? In Brazil, a panel will decide for you
2016/12/13 1 Comment
While the policy intent was understandable, implementation is another matter. Having officials develop an assessment table was bound to end up like this (like the history categorizing Blacks by their percentage of Black bloodline):
Public-service jobs in Brazil pay significantly better than private-sector ones and come with a host of generous benefits such as meal and transport allowances; workers are rarely fired and can retire at age 55 with large pensions. Competition, consequently, is fierce. Candidates must pass a gruelling exam that some study for and take repeatedly for five or six years.
Until August of this year, the quota system relied on candidates’ self-identification of their race. That system was being abused, by white people claiming to be mixed-race (although researchers estimate that no more than 5 per cent of applicants were lying).
Under pressure by some advocates from the black community, the government decided the solution was “commissions of verification” – tribunals that would evaluate each candidate. Guidelines from the Ministry of Planning said that panels should consider only physical attributes: “The forms and criteria for verifying the veracity of self-declaration should only consider the phenotypic aspects of the candidate, which will be checked in the presence of the candidate.”
That means that a panel of assessors (three, five or seven people) would look at each candidate and decide if their appearance matched their self-declared race.
Last August, officials in Para, Ms. Chaves’s state, released a chart of criteria for investigators to use, with a point system for physical characteristics such as “lips: thick,” “gums: pink,” “hair: frizzy.” It caused such an uproar that it was hastily withdrawn. But no information has been disclosed about what criteria examiners are using instead. Some tribunals work purely from physical appearance; some panelists apparently see race as more than that and ask candidates about their experience of discrimination, or their families.
The end result, frequently, is confusion. Ms. Chaves has no idea how the three people who made up her tribunal concluded she was white.
Eduardo Sobral, 30, a geologist who says he is mixed-race, was rejected for a reserved position with the Ministry of Planning in Brasilia. He was examined by video-conference, then asked about his “day-to-day life as a brown person.” He replied that it was “normal,” the interview ended and he was rejected. He is suing the ministry.
Rodrigo Campos, an electrician in the central state of Minas Gerais who says he is black, never even got before the assessors: They rejected him based on photos they asked him to submit. Meanwhile Igor Anatoli, a mixed-race police officer from Rio who is trying to join the diplomatic corps, went before a panel of seven in Brasilia in September; they chatted at length about his family and his experience of prejudice and ruled that he is, as he had declared, black.