Ethnic Groups in Brazil - Controversy


As the IBGE itself acknowledges, these categories are disputed, and most of the population dislike it and does not identify with them. Most Brazilians see “Indígena” as a cultural rather than racial term, and don’t describe as such if they are part of the mainstream Brazilian culture; many Brazilians would prefer to self-describe as “morenos” (literally, “tanned” or “brunettes”); some Black and parda people, more identified with the Brazilian Black movement, would prefer to self-describe as “Negro” as an inclusive category containing pardos and pretos; and if allowed to choose any classification, Brazilians will give almost 200 different answers.

According to the American scholar Edward Telles, in Brazil there are three different systems related to "racial classification" along the White-Black continuous. The first is the Census System, which distinguishes three categories: "branco" (White), "pardo", and "preto" (Black). The second is the popular system that uses many different categories, including the ambiguous term "moreno" (literally, "tanned", "brunette", or "with an olive complexion"). The third is the Black movement system that distinguishes only two categories, summing up "pardos" and "pretos" as "negros". More recently, the term "afrodescendente" has been brought into use.

The first system referred by Telles is that of the IBGE. In the census, respondents choose their race or color in five categories: branca (white), parda (brown), preta (black), amarela (yellow) or indígena (indigenous). The term "parda" needs further explanation; it has been systematically used since the census of 1940. People were then asked for their "colour or race"; if the answer was not "White", "Black", or "Yellow", interviewers were instructed to fill the "colour or race" box with a slash. These slashes were later summed up in the category "pardo". In practice this means answers such as "pardo", "moreno", "mulato", and "caboclo". In the following censuses, "pardo" became a category on its own, and included Amerindians, which became a separate category only in 1991. So it is a term that describes people who have a skin darker than Whites and lighter than Blacks, but not necessarily implies a White-Black mixture.

Telles' second system is that of popular classification. Two IBGE surveys (the 1976 PNAD and the July 1998 PME) have sought to understand the way Brazilians think of themselves in "racial" terms, with the explicit aim of adjusting the census classification (neither, however, resulted in actual changes in the census). Besides that, Data Folha has also conducted research on this subject. The results of these surveys are somewhat varied, but seem to coincide in some fundamental aspects. First, there is an enormous variety of "racial" terms in use in Brazil; when Brazilians are inquired in an open ended question, from 135 to 500 different race-color terms may be brought. The 1976 PNAD found 136 different answers to the question about race; the July 1998 PME found 143. However, most of these terms are used by very small minorities. Telles remarks that 95% of the population chose only six different terms (branco, moreno, pardo, moreno-claro, preto and negro); Petrucelli shows that the 7 most common responses (the above plus amarela) sum up 97%, and the 10 more common (the previous plus mulata, clara, and morena-escura) make 99%.

Petrucelli, analysing the July 98 PME, finds that 77 denominations were mentioned by only one person in the sample. Other 12 are misunderstandings, referring to national or regional origin (francesa, italiana, baiana, cearense). Many of the "racial" terms are (or could be) remarks about the relation between skin colour and exposure to sun (amorenada, bem morena, branca-morena, branca-queimada, corada, bronzeada, meio morena, morena-bronzeada, morena-trigueira, morenada, morenão, moreninha, pouco morena, queimada, queimada de sol, tostada, rosa queimada, tostada). Others are clearly variations of the same idea (preto, negro, escuro, crioulo, retinto, for Black, alva, clara, cor-de-leite, galega, rosa, rosada, pálida, for White, parda, mulata, mestiça, mista, for "parda"), or precisions of the same concept (branca morena, branca clara), and can actually grouped together with one of the main racial terms without falsifying the interpretation. Some seem to express an outright refusal of classification: azul-marinho (navy blue), azul (blue), verde (green), cor-de-burro-quando-foge (literally, "the color of an ass that has ran away", a Portuguese humorous term for a color that cannot be determined).

Petrucelli grouped those 136 terms into 28 wider categories. Most of these 28 wider categories can be situated in the White-Black continuum when the answers to the open-ended question are compared to the answers in the IBGE format:

Category Frequency White Brown Black Amerindian Yellow Total difference between White and Black
branca (White) 54.28% 98,96% 0,73% 0,11% 0,07% 0,14% 100,00% 98,85
loira (Blonde) 0.05% 95,24% 0,00% 4,76% 0,00% 0,00% 100,00% 90,48
brasileira (Brazilian) 0.12% 91,20% 6,05% 2,27% 0,00% 0,47% 100,00% 88,93
branca + (adjectivated White) 0.14% 86,47% 9,62% 0,00% 3,91% 0,00% 100,00% 86,47
clara (of light colour) 0.78% 86,40% 11,93% 0,35% 0,14% 1,18% 100,00% 86,05
galega (Galician) 0.01% 70,99% 19,78% 0,00% 0,00% 9,23% 100,00% 70,99
castanha (Brown) 0.01% 63,81% 36,19% 0,00% 0,00% 0,00% 100,00% 63,81
morena clara (light Morena) 2.92% 38,35% 57,12% 1,46% 2,27% 0,81% 100,00% 36,89
jambo 0.02% 14,47% 77,96% 2,39% 5,18% 0,00% 100,00% 12,08
morena 20.89% 13,75% 76,97% 6,27% 2,62% 0,38% 100,00% 7,48
mestiça, mista (miscigenated, mixed) 0.08% 17,29% 59,44% 14,96% 7,60% 0,70% 100,00% 2,33
parda (Brown) 10.40% 1,03% 97,25% 1,40% 0,21% 0,10% 100,00% -0,37
sarará 0.04% 9,09% 60,14% 23,25% 0,00% 7,53% 100,00% -14,16
canela (of the colour of cinammon) 0.01% 11,13% 57,55% 26,45% 4,87% 0,00% 100,00% -15,32
mulata (Mulatto) 0.81% 1,85% 71,53% 25,26% 1,37% 0,00% 100,00% -23,41
marrom, chocolate (Brown, chocolate) 0.03% 4,56% 57,30% 38,14% 0,00% 0,00% 100,00% -33,58
morena escura (dark Morena) 0.45% 2,77% 54,80% 38,05% 4,15% 0,24% 100,00% -35,28
escura (of dark colour) 0.38% 0,59% 16,32% 81,67% 1,42% 0,00% 100,00% -81,08
negra (Black) 3.14% 0,33% 6,54% 92,62% 0,50% 0,02% 100,00% -92,29
preta (Black) 4.26% 0,37% 1,73% 97,66% 0,17% 0,06% 100,00% -97,29

The other categories, except, naturally, for "amarela" (Yellow) seem related to Amerindian "race":

Category Frequency White Brown Black Amerindian Yellow Total
vermelha (Red) 0.02% 58,97 8,22 0,00 21,56 11,24 100,00
cafusa 0.01% 6,02 65,14 22,82 6,02 0,00 100,00
caboverde (Capeverdian) 0.02% 0,00 48,72 23,08 28,21 0,00 100,00
cabocla 0.02% 3,60 49,37 10,43 36,60 0,00 100,00
bugre (Indian) 0.00% 12,50 37,50 0,00 50,00 0,00 100,00
amarela (Yellow) 1.11% 3,27 0,98 0,24 0,15 95,36 100,00
indígena (Indigenous) 0.13% 0,44 2,12 0,00 96,13 1,30 100,00

The remarkable difference of the popular system is the use of the term "moreno". This is actually difficult to translate into English, and carries a few different meanings. Derived from Latin maurus, meaning inhabitant of Mauritania, traditionally it is used as a term to distinguish White people with dark hair, as opposed to "ruivo" (redhead) and "loiro" (blonde). It is also commonly used as a term for people with an olive complexion, a characteristic that is often found in connection with dark hair. In connection to this, it is used as a term for suntanned people, and is commonly opposed to "pálido" (pale) and "amarelo" (yellow), which in this case refer to people who aren't frequently exposed to sun. Finally, it is also often used as a euphemism for "pardo" and "preto".

Finally, the Black movement system, in direct opposition to the popular system, groups "pardos" and "pretos" in a single category, "negro" (and not Afro-Brazilian). This looks more similar to the American racial perception, but there are some subtle differences. First, as other Brazilians, the Black movement understands that not everybody with some African descent is Black, and that many or most White Brazilians indeed have African (or Amerindian, or both) ancestrals - so an "one drop rule" isn't what the Black movement envisages.

Read more about this topic:  Ethnic Groups In Brazil

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