In Bahia, Brazil, racism is a prevalent issue despite the majority of the population being black. In the presentation of her research, “Becoming Black Again,” Adrielle Matos explores the effects of this racism on the psychology of black college students.
Historically, black students in Brazil have been excluded from the benefits of the educational system, accounting for less than 10 percent of college students in 2011. Some legislation has been passed since then to instate quotas to assist black students, but the number of white students occupying colleges in Brazil is still disproportionate.
Matos’ research focuses on the experiences of black college students as they come to understand the racism they have faced before and in college.
The reason black students do not realize the racism they face, even as the majority, is because of what Matos calls the “myth of racial democracy.” Brazilians believe that because there is no legislation that formalizes racism they are not racist.
This myth of racial democracy results in the racism not being acknowledged by any Brazilians, even those who are experiencing it.
Public schools are among the biggest issues resulting from this discrimination. White Brazilians can afford to go to private schools that prepare them well for college, while the public schools do very little.
“There is no expectation their students will get into college,” Matos said about the public school system. This lack of preparation largely results in the college vacancies being filled by the white minority.
As black Brazilians get into colleges with the quota system, they doubt themselves and their right to be filling those spaces. Seeing themselves as not deserving of their accomplishments is another result of the indirect racism they experience and internalize, and is referred to as “imposter syndrome.”
“They have to prove why they are qualified to occupy this vacancy in college,” Adrielle said on the topic of imposter syndrome. One student Matos interviewed shared experiences that aligned with this phenomenon, who she spoke about under the alias “Kayote.”
Kayote’s experiences very much align with all of the issues Adrielle studied, making him a clear example of why her research was so necessary.
Her research, on top of being published and presented, is being turned into a book in the near future. With this coverage, the issues with unseen racism in Brazil will hopefully come to the surface and be better acknowledged.
Another reason the racism gets ignored is because black Brazilians do not acknowledge themselves as black, which Matos explained is called “miscegenation.” Many of the black population in Brazil are mestizos, and therefore choose to not recognize their blackness in order to avoid the problem of racism.
All of this is subconscious, which is exactly why Matos calls her work “Becoming Black Again.”
Perspective on life changes for black Brazilians changes when they finally see themselves as black and embrace that identity.
Despite Matos acknowledging that race is a social construct, it is one that has a strong belief behind it. However, its implications are not often acknowledged.
“White people don’t have to think about race all the time,” Matos said, because they experience race privilege.
At the end of her presentation, Matos opened up the discussion for questions, which yielded comments and questions about similar race issues in America.
After a question about the disproportionate racism, Matos told the audience that “there are spots in the city that are only for white people, this is the reality.”
Matos’ research is an important recognition of racism and its unjust effects to all people of color around the world, even where they are the majority. By educating others with her research, Matos makes a crucial step in the direction of justice.