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English Report

Despite the government’s effort to combat racism, there is still an area that needs more attention, which is public security. This area has not been contemplated in an effective way by the government, so Black people continue to be the main victims of urban violence.

Towards a Country for All People

Lúcia Xavier[1]

“The priority of my administration will be

development.  Development with

distribution of wealth and quality education.”

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

As a result of the political actions of the Black peoples’ and the Black women’s movements, Brazil experienced an intense debate about racism in the last four years, in all of its public spheres— Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary.  Shaped by the anti-racist wave provoked by the Conference Against Racism, in South Africa, the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso initiated some affirmative action policies in the Ministry of Agrarian Development. Beyond this, other initiatives, such quotas for Black students in universities, were just starting.

With the election of president Lula, a series of measures were taken: four Black ministers were assigned to office; a department for the promotion of racial equality was created; Law 10.639 was approved, which included African history and afro-Brazilian history in the curriculum of public schools; the legal project to install university quotas was created; and a mega-objective of reduction in racial inequalities, among others, was incorporated into the government’s four-year plan. 

All of these policies are based on the demands of the Black movement, and were discussed with activists in the fields of education, health, and labor. Other important policies implemented by the Lula administration were the affirmative action program Brasil Quilombola, which benefited rural Afro-Brazilian communities; the Qualification Program for Domestic Work; the Program on Anemia; the Strategic Program for Affirmative Action for Black Population and AIDS; and the National Policy for the Integral Health of the Black Population; as well as budgetary additions specific to affirmative action policies; Afro-Brazilian representation in the Supreme Court; and greater visibility of issues related to the Black population within research institutions.  The creation of SEPPIR – the Secretary for Promotion of Racial Equality, as well as the National Policy Plan for the Promotion of Racial Equality, demonstrate the level of commitment from the government towards the goal of racial equity.

Nonetheless, all of these measures have produced little impact in the lives of the Black population, especially of Black women. This is due, principally, to the continuous promotion of the myth of Brazilian racial democracy, which gives the impression that racism does not exist, and that we are a people of mixed race who suffer social exclusion only because of poverty. 

However, several studies have demonstrated that racial inequality is still a serious problem in Brazil. The government’s plan presented by President Lula for the period between 2007 and 2010 points towards this difficulty. Racism, as a pillar that sustains the structure of inequality, becomes more a question of human rights, according to the text extracted from the plan:

“Measures will continue to be implemented that guarantee and widen mechanisms to combat racism and homophobia, for protection of the elderly, and to overcome discrimination against people with disabilities, with special emphasis dedicated to the rights of children and adolescents. This dimension of social inclusion is fundamental to the Government Policy on Human Rights.”

Despite the government’s effort to combat racism, there is still an area that needs more attention, which is public security. This area has not been contemplated in an effective way by the government, so Black people continue to be the main victims of urban violence. Other areas that need more attention are violence against Black women, and abortion rights. There is a need to support a broader debate on these issues with different sectors of society, with the goal of revising Brazilian legislation.

Lack of Public security for the black Population

Public security policies are still marked by institutionalized racism, expressed through the homicide of thousands of Black people, especially youth, and through the growing wave of violence against women. Several studies show that Black youth, between 15 and 29 years old, are the principal victims of police violence. A study by CESeC – Center for the Studies of Security and Citizenship, in 2001, revealed that 100 homicides occur per 100,000 habitants between the ages of 15 and 24.  When it comes to Black youth between the ages of 20 and 22, the rate of homicide rises to 140 per 100,000.

Another study by the Perseu Abramo Foundation— Racial Discrimination in Brazil (2004)— reveals that 51% of the Black population have been approached by police, and 30% of these declared having suffered discrimination by the police.  Among White people, this number falls to 15%.  In regards to criminality, the results show that, of murders committed against minors, 54% of the victims were Black youth, and 33.9% were White, the remaining numbers inserted into other racial categories. Of the prison population, 68% of prisoners were younger than 25 years old, and two-thirds were Black. [2]

The study on Violence Against Children and Adolescents published by UNICEF and the Observatory on Favelas of Rio de Janeiro reported that, in 2000, 3,000 Black people versus 1,800 White people were assassinated by the police.  For each homicide committed against a White person, two Black people died.  Other studies suggest similar data. However, the Brazilian State has yet to perceive that it currently offers the Black population the same treatment that they had during the period of slavery: lashings and handcuffs.  In addition, the majority of Black people suffer from poverty and lack of access to social services. 

Violence is one of the most serious causes of death among Black women between the ages of 18 and 29. In the city of Recife, Pernambuco state, Black women are 1.7 times more likely to die as a consequence of violence than White women. The risk rises to 2.4 to 1 for those between 20 and 29 years old. In reference to the rates of homicide, Black women are assassinated close to 40 times more than White women. In 2003, of the 2,943 deaths of women in Recife, 1,924 were Black and 1,019 were White.

Researcher Sonia Santos, from the Secretary of Health of Recife, affirms that “Black women are more exposed to unfavorable situations in their homes. They live in areas that are more exposed to violent situations.”  The risk of Black women between the ages of 20 and 29 to be killed in the city of Recife, is 9.7 times higher than that of White women. For every 100,000 inhabitants, 21.2 Black women die versus 0.5 White women.

The study points out that Black women also die more from suicide. For every 100,000 inhabitants, 4.5 Black women commit suicide, versus one White woman. The inequalities are also registered in maternal death and death from AIDS.

Ad Melkert, adjunct administrator of the United Nations Program for Development (PNUD), in an interview to the Argentine newspaper Clarín, stated that “inequality in income has a strong relation to insecurity – as much in rich countries as in poor countries.”  He continued by saying that “if we observe societies with a more equal distribution of income and resources, we see they are more peaceful and better organized.  If we observe those areas with more instability, such as numerous countries in Africa and the Middle East or regions of Latin America, the social context people live in, the lack of social institutions, unfair distribution of wealth and lack of work opportunities – all these are areas that cannot be disconnected from insecurity.”[1]

The Report on Human Development in Brazil 2005 – Racism, Poverty, and Violence, published by the PNUD, revealed that independent of the region of Brazil, and its level of poverty, Black people are always those who are most affected by violence. The study shows that, despite the growth of income verified over the last decades, the percentage of poor Black people never fell below 64%.  In addition, across all economic classes, the proportion of Black people is inversely proportional to wealth: as income rises, the percentage of Black people that make up that income falls. Despite being 44.7% of the total population, Black people make up 70% of the poorest 10%, while making up only 16% of the richest 10%.”[2]

According to this report, the source of insecurity is the lack of effective public policies in the fields of education, housing, work, and other areas that allow men and women to protect their future. The insecurity experienced by the Black population is a result of institutionalized racism within the Brazilian State. 

The Statute for Racial Equality

The Statute for Racial Equality is the first attempt in Brazil at the reparation of damages on the Black population caused by racism, and almost 400 years of slavery.  It attempts to act as a system of laws that inhibits human rights violations, as it is stated in the Federal Constitution of 1988.  This set of guidelines will serve to repair racial inequalities through the exercise of civil, political, social, cultural, economic, and environmental rights in public policy.

Despite having already been approved in some Congressional commissions, including the Commission of the Constitution and Justice – during the past seven years, the legal project has not been approved by Congress. For the Statute to exercise its full function of reparation, it is necessary to invest public resources – without which this measure will have no efficacy.


[2] Moreira, Diva, org. Relatório de Desenvolvimento Humano Brasil  2005 – Racismo, pobreza e violência. Brasília, PNUD.

[1] Juventude e Polícia. Boletim Segurança e Cidadania. October 2006.

[2] Venturi, Gustavo e Bokani, Vilma . Discriminação racial e preconceito de cor no Brasil. Fundação Perseu Abramo 2004.

[1] Lúcia Xavier is a social worker, and coordinator of CRIOLA –an organization of Black Women in Rio de Janeiro.