The Racial Disparities of Employment in Brazil

Welcome back readers! It's Anna Phearman here- hoping you've been enjoying reading these blogs almost as much as we've enjoyed the experiences (although, trust me, that's hard to match!)

Today, we had the morning off, during which many of us took the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful beach that is located directly across the street from our hotel. The water is calm and perfect for swimming. In the afternoon, the group got our first real taste of Salvador through an all-encompassing tour of the city. Through this tour, we learned that religion is a huge part of Afro-Brazilian culture. In fact, it is so significant that Salvador claims 365 churches. That's one church per day of the year! Many churches have specific ceremonies associated with them. It was fascinating to learn of the versions of "fluid religion" that many citizens of Salvador practice. In other words, they mix Catholicism and traditional religions to create something entirely unique.

Last semester, I wrote a research paper on race relations in Brazil for a Latin American Politics class with Professor Pedro dos Santos. Through my background research into the history of slavery in Brazil, I came across the Afro-Brazilian ideas of fluid religion described in our tour. I also discovered an overarching theme within Brazilian race relations- the blackest people often occupy the "least desirable" jobs. People of color can be found working the manual labor jobs, rarely in positions of power or influence in their field. As scholar Henry Gates put it of his time in Brazil, "and in the restaurants where I ate and in the hotels where I stayed, in upper-class residential neighborhoods... virtually everyone in a position of power looked white (2011, p. 47). While writing my research paper, I thought I understood how dramatically this statement rang true. Then, along came my first day in Brazil, and with it the understanding that the issue ran far deeper than I had ever imagined.

Both here in Salvador and also in Rio, I have noticed that the street cleaners, trash collectors, our hotel/hostel workers, and cab drivers are almost exclusively black. Furthermore, I have not had a single non-black waiter the entire time I have been here. (The use of "waiter" is intentional, as I have yet to have a "waitress ," a point I will leave for another time). Through conversations with my classmates, I have found that I am not alone in my experiences. Gates corroborates these observations, describing that, "'during [his] travels, I was fortunate enough to stay in nice hotels and to eat at good restauraunts, but I had often been the only black person who was not serving'" (Gates, 2011, p. 51)

Such employment discriminations do not just apply to the populations that are unable to receive a full education. As I learned in my research paper, a black man in the same job as a white man with the same amount of experience, would still, on average, earn less money. Robin Sheriff, author of Dreaming Equality: Color, Race, and Racism in Urban Brazil, articulates that "the mean income of non-whites with a college education is smaller than that of whites with a junior high school education" (2001, p. 6). While this is, for obvious reasons, not something that our group has been able to observe during our time here, it is incredibly impactful on Brazil's inequality issues.

While it is disheartening to witness such levels of employment inequality, hope lies in those who are pushing back against these discriminations. For instance, there have been increasing movements for the implementation of affirmative action in the hiring of public sector workers (Montero, 2005, p. 111). With this being said, there is still much hard work to be done. Hopefully the coming years will bring a transformation in employment legislation within Brazil. For now, Brazil's working world is anything but an equal society.

  • Gates, Henry L. (2011). Black in Latin America. New York: New York University Press.
  • Montero, Alfred P. (2005). Brazilian Politics. Malden, MA: Polity Press.
  •  Sheriff, Robin E. Dreaming Equlity: Color, Race, and Racism in Urban Brazil. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2001. Print.



The beach outside our hotel
The group on the tour
Visit to a church