Published on: August 09,2021 10:36 IST

By Isabelle John


This article will explore the issues of racism in Brazil, and to analyze how European racial attitudes are dominant during Brazilian colonization, which influenced Brazilian society. There will be great focus on the historical aspect, ‘racial democracy’, and the laws put in place to prevent racial discrimination.

Racial democracy will be discussed as an example of the long-lasting legacy that European colonialism has had on race relations in Brazil.

Racial Democracy

The term racial democracy was coined by sociologies, Gilberto Freyre, who argues that because there is no formal division between people of color and whites it “Allows ample place for individual talent to come forth regardless of skin color”. Gilberto Freyre does not take into account what happened before African slaves were sent to Brazil.

Most of the African slaves were brought from West Africa, and they were captured during raids by other AfricanSection The Royal African Company was granted a royal charter by Queen Elizabeth I to trade along the West Coast of Africa, which became known as the slave coast.

The slaves were taken to Brazil in exchange for goods such as guns, alcohol, and tobacco. Before slavery began, white immigrants “had to use indigenous labor”.

It is clear that people of color played a vital role in Brazilian colonization. Without them it would not have been possible for immigrants to come to Brazil and settle on land.

The racial politics of Brazil were influenced by other countries’ philosophies and ideologies from the time of colonization.

For example, in the case of Brazil, it was a similar model to the one used in Africa; where the royal governor would grant land to immigrants, as well as providing protection for ethnic minorities, allowing them to preserve their languages and cultural traditionSection

The Brazilian government not only provided land but also “contracts guaranteeing access to markets, credit, and other favors”. It is clear that Brazil was following in the footsteps of other European colonizers as means of creating a “racial democracy”.[1]

Historical Aspect

In 1888, Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery, with a predominantly black and mixed race or mulatto population.

Throughout more than three centuries of slavery in the Americas, Brazil was the greatest importer of African slaves with almost seven times as many African slaves to the country as compared to the United States.[2]

Brazilians of African Descent

These individuals have contributed greatly to a variety of different areas within the Brazilian culture, including music, literature, and art. Gilberto Freyre called the wide-ranging contributions of people of color to Brazil “the black contribution to civilization”.

Freyre claimed that Afro-Brazilian culture had played a major role in the development of Brazilian society as well as Brazil’s national identity.

The number of the people of color in the country was estimated at one million and reached its peak during the era of slavery. It is estimated that there are less than 25000 people who are descendants from people who were brought to Brazil as slaves from Africa.

When Brazil had officially abolished slavery in 1888, the ex-slaves were not granted full citizenship. In theory, they did not own any land. They were required to work for wages on plantations or other designated area of employment and thus could still be subject to violence and exploitation.

People of color were underrepresented in politics, due to them being poor and uneducated. They were also discriminated against by the government when it came to jobs, education, and political involvement. The Brazilian government imposed a series of restrictions that affected churches as well as the African population.

The government wanted to implement a “whitening’ of Brazil through immigration and proceeded to set up programs that were designed to attract European laborerSection These problems, as expected, excluded Africans.[3]

FUNASE – National Social Security Fund

In 1930, FUNASE, the National Social Security Fund, was established to care for the social needs for African BrazilianSection This organization was created in response to the overwhelming poverty among African Brazilians and has proved health care for more than two million people since it was founded in the year 1930.

However, as an organization that served black Brazilians, FUNASE’s administration was highly racially segregated and only people of color owned businesses were allowed to operate within its wallSection

Due to this segregation, FUNASE lost is legitimacy in 1954 when it attempted to distribute funds on a race-based basis instead of a financial need basiSection Instead of proving equality, the spectrum went from racially discriminating one to the other.

Law Passed to Force Employers to Pay Equal Wage

It was not until the late 1930s that a law was passed that forced employers to pay workers of color on par with their white counterpartSection People of color were still paid on average around thirty percent less than their white counterparts were.

These highly discriminatory practices continued well into the 1960Section In 1965 the Brazilian government began to shift focus from segregation to integration, which led to the racial classification of Brazilians being called into question. The Brazilian government is criticized for its practices in trying to “whiten” up Brazil.

Recent News

The fight for racial equality is still occurring to this day. If individuals in Brazil have really curly hair, this is considered as unacceptable. Individuals are often forced or strongly encouraged to straighten hair so that they are not considered to be part of the “bad” eggs of society.

For years, in Brazil, hair has portrayed a lot. It conveys marital status, religion, social position, as well as ethnic identity. However, as the days go by, and the fight for racial equality strengthens, women are choosing to embrace their natural hair and encapsulate their culture.

Anti-Discrimination Laws in Brazil

There are anti-discrimination laws present in the Constitution of Brazil, in their labor law, child and adolescent law, ageing law, and the penal code.

  • Constitution[4]

The preamble states that:

“We, the representatives of the Brazilian people, assembled in the National Constituent Assembly to institute a Democratic State for the purpose of ensuring the exercise of social and individual rights, liberty, security, well-being, development, equality and justice as supreme values of a fraternal, pluralist and unprejudiced society, based on social harmony and committed, in the internal and international spheres, to the peaceful solution of disputes, promulgate, under the protection of God, this Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil.”

The Constitutional state objectives’ Article 3 states that: “The fundamental objectives of the Federation Republic of Brazil are:

  • To build a free, just and solidarity society;
  • To guarantee national development;
  • To eradicate poverty and marginal living conditions and to reduce social and regional inequalities;
  • To promote the well-being of all, without prejudice as to origin, race, sex, color, age, and any other forms of discrimination.”

The Constitutional rights and guarantees’ Article 5 states that:

“All persons are equal before the law, without any distinction whatsoever, and Brazilians and foreigners resident in Brazil are assured of inviolability of the right of life, liberty, equality, security, and property.”

  • Labor Law

Discriminatory Practices, Article 1:

“It is prohibited the adoption of discriminatory practices and for the purpose of limiting access to the employment relationship, or its maintenance by reason of sex, origin, race, color, marital status, family status or age, except in this case the chances of child protection provided for in paragraph XXXIII art. 7 of the Federal Constitution.”

Penalty, Article 2: the following discriminatory practices constitute a crime:

  • the requirement for testing, examination, investigation, report, certificate, statement or any other procedure relating to sterilization or pregnancy status; II – the adoption of any measure, an initiative of the employer who configure.
    • induce or incite genetic sterilization.
    • promotion of birth control, thus not considered offering advice or services and family planning, conducted by public or private institutions, subject to the rules of the Unified Health System (SUS).

Penalty: imprisonment from one to two years and fine.[5]

  • Child and Adolescent Law[6]

Preliminary Provisions, Article 5:

“No child or adolescent will be subject to any form of neglect, discrimination, exploitation, violence, cruelty and oppression, be punished as any violation of law, by act or omission, their fundamental rights.”

The Rights, Article 15:

“Children and adolescents have the right to freedom, respect and dignity as human persons in the development process and as subjects of civil, human and social rights guaranteed in the Constitution and laws.”

The Rights, Article 17:

“The right to respect consists in the inviolability of physical, mental and moral development of children and adolescents, including the preservation of image, identity, autonomy, values, ideas and beliefs, and personal spaces.”

  • Ageing Law

Preliminary Provisions, Article 4:

“No subject shall be subjected to any kind of negligence, discrimination, violence, cruelty or oppression, and any violation of their rights by action or omission, shall be punished as provided by law.”

  • Section 1: It is the duty of all to prevent the threat or violation of the rights of the elderly.
  • Section 2: The obligations under this Law shall not exclude others deriving from the prevention of principles adopted by it.

Preliminary Provisions, Article 6:

“Every citizen has the duty to notify the competent authority any form of violation of this Law who has witnessed or has knowledge.”

The Rights, Article 10:

“The State and society, to ensure elderly freedom, respect and dignity as human beings and subject to civil, political, individual and social rights, guaranteed in the Constitution and law.”

  • Section 2: The right to respect consists in the inviolability of physical, mental and moral, including the preservation of image, identity, autonomy, values, ideas and beliefs, of space and personal objects.”
  • Section 3: It is the duty of all protect the dignity of the elderly, putting him safe from any inhuman, violent, terrifying, harassing, or embarrassing.”


As the modern world transitions into fighting racism heavily on a daily, the same is being applied in Brazil. It is still prominent, maybe on the surface, maybe under. There are laws in place to protect these individuals with great penalties.

Hence, it seems like Brazil is aiming to move to a racially equally country, however as expected it is not completely eradicated, yet, and could very well be present for years to come. But the rate is declining.


  1. George Reid Andrews, “Journal of Contemporary History”, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Jul., 1996), pp. 483-507, available at: (last visited on August 4, 2021).
  2. Edward Telles, “Racial Discrimination and Miscegenation: The Experience in Brazil”, UN Chronicle, available at: (last visited on August 4, 2021).
  3. Ibid
  4. The Brazil Constitution, available at: (last visited on August 4, 2021).
  5. “Brazil – Racial Discrimination in Employment: International and National Laws”, Equal Rights Trust, available at: (last visited on August 4, 2021).
  6. Brazil: Statute of the Child and Adolescent, available at: (last visited on August 4, 2021).

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