August 17, 2006
Brazilian Racial Quotas "Debate" is out of Control
More on academic incivility in the debates over race and affirmative action in Brazil. A Brazilian colleague and I are trying to organize a panel for the next Latin American Studies Association meeting called "Para Além da “Raça”: Negritude, Branquitude e Anti-Racismo no Brasil." One scholar we approached for possible participation told us that he/she thought the idea was excellent but he/she didn't want to subject himself to the public treatment awaiting anyone questioning the increasingly rigid party line on the race concept in Brazil and the far-reaching legislative package currently under debate and scheduled for a vote later this year in the Brazilian Congress (the Estatuto de Igualdade Racial, more on this soon).
Here at the Federal University of Roraima (UFRR), where I am currently visiting professor, Prof. Kabelenge Munanga came up from São Paulo to talk about racial quotas. A table of four discussants was arranged, and the event was advertised as a "debate". Prof. Munanga gave a fair but brief summary of some of the major arguments against quotas, but he is strongly in favor and arranged his presentation for maximum rhetorical advantage, naturally. Disappointing was the fact that no one esle at the table questioned quotas in the least. I asked the moderator afterwards if he had been unable to find anyone to speak against (or even to advise caution with respect to) the proposed quotas. Answer: "Ninguém que quisesse se expor" (No one who was willing to expose themselves" in that setting.) Funny, since the latest poll show about 35% opposition to racial quotas (and a lot more when the imported concept is fully explained), and Universities are disproportionately filled with whiter and wealthier indivuduals less likely to support them (the whole point of the quotas, no?).
While I wish that scholars with more nuanced analyses or thoughtful opposition to some forms of affirmative action in Brazil would be more outspoken, I certainly understand, given the current climate.