Racism, the Brazilian way

November 22, 2009
Neguinho da Beija-flor, famous samba composer from Rio

Neguinho da Beija-Flor, photo alexdecarvalho/Flickr

In Brazil, unlike other countries, different ethnic groups interact a lot – sometimes peacefully, sometimes not.  This interaction leads frequently to mixed marriages and a blend of genes and cultural heritage.

This healthy mix gets more evident when geneticists investigate our origins. Neguinho da Beija-Flor, a famous samba composer from Rio, is mostly white, genetically – even if his nickname stresses his very dark complexion. On the other hand, Daiane dos Santos – Olympic gymnastic gold medalist recently involved in a doping scandal – represents what could be a “typical” brasileira: 39,7%  African, 40,8% European and 19,6% Native Brazilian.

Both celebrities had their genes analyzed in a study promoted two years ago by the British news conglomerate BBC with several prominent Brazilians of different backgrounds.

This mix didn’t, necessarily, produce a racial democracy. In an interview to the BBC on this subject, sociologist Ronaldo Sales, from Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, in the city of Recife, points out that miscegenation doesn’t create a homogeneous mixed race group, but a hierarchy – the whiter you are, the better your chances of social integration.

The underlying racism is particularly evident in bank branches. Most of the banks that operate in large cities install revolving doors, conceived to block the passage of costumers holding metal objects or bulky volumes. The following video, just released by Circo Voador, a very engaged theater and cultural movement in Rio, shows how this mechanism is used to avoid the entry of black Brazilians in banks. Two guys try to enter the same bank, dressed similarly, carrying the same bag. One is black, one is white. Guess who entered immediately and who had to remove his tee shirt and drop his belongings before being sent home, without entering the bank?

Have you ever experienced racism in Brazil?



  1. Hey Regina,
    That’s a cool video. Someone could and will say, “Oh well, it’s anecdotal, one incident does not prove anything”. But we all know that it is not one incident. We see it every day, it’s nice that finally people are feeling outraged about it.
    I will blog about the video and this post later on today! Thanks for posting.
    bjo elo

  2. Great, Eloisa Sangue Bom! Check also my post on Besouro and capoeira, one of the very rare Brazilian films where black people take the lead.

  3. I love this article! Yesterday I was just telling my coworkers about racism in Brazil. Yes everybody mixes between races but me a afro-american has experienced more racism in Brazil than the states. I’ve been stopped once by the police because they thought I was a drug dealer, and they began to search me for drugs. Also it seems as if everytime I go into a nice mall that the security gaurds are following me. I notice the security gaurds to move where I move. Also there is just a feeling that you are of a lesser class. I never experienced anything as bad as this in the states. I think maybe because I always pass for a brazilian I don’t really dress American, and I’m usually travelling alone. But I still love Brazil!


    • I think the difference between the US and Brazil is political – even if racism is very present in the US, there are so many social and legal mechanisms to inhibit it (mostly due to the civil rights movement, that happened earlier than in Brazil and was stronger) that prejudice is normally more “ashamed”- it is not so easy to practice it in the daylight.

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