What's Wrong With Racial Quotas In Brazil

The Brazilian Congress has passed a new law that requires no fewer than 20 percent of its civil service employees in the public sector to be of African origin. Good motives, bad policy.

Multiracial and interracial Brazil
Multiracial and interracial Brazil


SAO PAULO — Brazil's National Congress approved a new law last week that would establish a fixed 20% minimum quota for people of African ancestry to be hired for civil service positions filled through federal examinations.

President Dilma Rousseff is expected to sign the proposition soon. But we must say that this was a populist gesture, politically motivated, and likely to bring negative consequences for the country in the long run.

How would it work? Instead of the designations preto (black) and pardo (brown/mixed-race) traditionally used by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics and enshrined in the quotas law at federal universities, it refers to the generic: negro.

The term is tricky. Combining the population of pretos (7.6%, according to the 2010 Census) and pardos (43.1%), it ignores the fact that the latter are neither black nor white.

Practicing capoeira in Porto Alegre — Photo: Tetraktys

The most problematic questions are yet to follow.

As is usually the case in these situations, the criteria for the jobs that are subject to the quota are based on self-declaration. To deter fraud, the project stipulates that false declarations will automatically disqualify a candidate.

In other words, the authors of the project want to appoint a type of racial tribunal that would decide if the candidates for the reserved positions are indeed black or brown.

Racism is real

The idea is highly unfortunate. First of all, there are no juridical or scientific criteria defining black, brown or white people. In a country as multiracial and interracial as Brazil, a search for ethnic definitions creates more problems than it could ever hope to resolve. In particular, it introduces the hateful factor of social cleavage.

Racism in Brazilian society cannot be ignored. Any close comparison of ethnic and socio-economical data proves its existence. It is, however, nonsense to fight this inequality by highlighting racial differences.

While there are good reasons to compensate disadvantages related to social condition, it does not make sense to deprive poor white citizens from any proposed benefits.

Even those who defend affirmative action based on ethnic origin find it difficult to extend this policy from universities into the workplace. After all, quotas in the education system are largely aimed at ultimately enhancing the chances of socially disadvantaged groups once they reach the job market.

Especially in the case of public service, the recruiter's goal should be to choose the most qualified candidate — regardless of skin color — who can offer the best service to the citizens who pays his or her salary.

The principle of meritocracy, in these cases, cannot be violated — and certainly not for the sake of satisfying political and electoral expediency.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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