A little more than a century after the abolition of black slavery in the Americas, economic and other forms of racial discrimination remain its dismal legacy. In Brazil, the black civil rights movement barely began to get underway in the 1990's. Its delay is due to repression of anyone who rejected the carefully nurtured myth of the existenceof racial justice. But with a long history of black resistance and with global solidarity, activists have broken the institutional barrier to achieving affirmative action and agencies in a matter of years. Nongovernmental organisations are pointing the way toward better access for black constituents in health care, housing, crime protection, education, and career fields. As black equality opponents impact policy, their agenda strengthens the broader platform supporting social equity in the hemispher, but they have a lot more work cut out for them. March 21, 2005: It was just another day for Brazilian media. The local papers published their usual articles on crime, corruption, human interest, and political rhetoric, all as if it were really news. An artical mentioned that this was the Day for Elimination of All Forms of Segregation. The lack of fanfare for the uniqued commemoration that was widely publicized when it was proclaimed exactly two years earlier demonstrated the gaping fissure seperating present reality from the noble cause of the proclamation. Sparse coverage reflected under-representation of blacks in newsrooms. The absense of speeches and marches belied officialdom's commitment to desegregation. Yet it was a landmark occasion when on that date in 2003, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva solemnly delcared the creation of the Secretariat for Racial Equality. That meant Brazil's Black African Movement had gained a place within the country's political administration for the first time ever. Its minister, Matilde Ribiero, is Militant, black and feminist. What's more, she is not the only activist in the secretariat; other members come from organisations, such as Geledes and Fala Pretal, that fight against prolonging historical racism and marginilization. History of Oppression, Resistance Slavery in Brazil, like other parts of the Americas, was horrendous and brutal. As an act of resistance to forced labor and mistreatment, slaves who fled plantations and mines established liberated communities, known as quilombos. "Afro-Brazilians have a strong tradition of political mobilization that dates back to colonial times, which has helped them develop their own identity and craft strategies to combat white oppression and discrimination," explains Raquel de Souza, and Afro-Brazilian researcher at the University of Texas, Austin, who is an activist affiliated with the Race and Democracy in the Americas project. Blacks no longer had to fell from forced labor after Brazil legally ended race slavery in 1888, the last country in the Americas to do so . But society shunned them, and offical policies subsidized European immigration to hinder economic integretation (the same policies emplemented in the U.S.). These policies aimed at diluting the strength of the African and Afro-Brazilian majority. Instead of paying newly freed blacks and stimulating their inclusion in the labor market, coffee plantation owners encouraged migrant workers from Europe to receive wages. "Here blacks were the last workers employed in the labor market, which forced them to creat ways to survive outside the system," says political scientist Joao Batista Pereira from the University of Sao Paolo. "That's the case of favelas (shantytowns) in Rio de Janeiro, for example." Although black slaves formally regained their freedom over a century ago, their descendants have been condemned to the bottom of the wage heirarchy. Most of the emplyed are domestic servants in the homes of Brazil's wealthy, middle class and even working class, or they suffer as poor farmers and manual labors in the countryside. The largestl concentration of blacks are in the northeast and northern Brazil, the poorest area of the country and the very same one where colonial exploitation of slave labor was the most severe. While many Brazilians attempt to dissociate racism from poverty, government statistics fail them. Almost one third of the population is living under the official poverty line, and blacks account for 70% of the poor, according to the federal research institute IPEA. Work by economist Marcelo Paixao reveals that the Human Development index for blacks is 20% lower than it is for whites. "Poverty has a color in Brazil, and that color is our color," says Wania Sant'Anna, a professor at the Federal University if Rio de Janeiro and ex-secretary of state in Rio de Janeiro. Myty of Racial Democracy Many factors help explain why the struggle for racial equality in Brazil has lagged behind other countries that also have multiracial populations and histories of slavery, such as the United States. Historian Thomas Skidmore says belief in the "Myth of racial democracy" held by whites also has been assimilated by African descendants in Brazil. The myth undercuts arguments that blame discrimination for inequality. The first element in the belief is that class weighs heavier than race in determining one's life chances. Second, believers thing the nature of the patrimonial state and the patron-client relationships are what vitiate attempts to mobilize for social parity. Thirdly, the absence of specific laws mandating segregation, such as the so-called Jim Crow laws enforced in the United States until the 1960's, has rendered the race problem more difficult to address. The invisible rules subtly mitigate against solidarity for the cause of equal opportunities for blacks that otherwise would come from Brazilians of mixed race. Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freire was at the forefront of developing the concept of racial democracy in the past century. Despite Brazil's racial inequities, rooted in vile slavery, Freire romanticized Brazil's colonial past and portrayed a harmonious coexistance between masters and slaves. He depicted Brazil as a land of racial harmony in which different races and cultures fused through extensive miscegenation, allegedly eliminating racial tensions and prejudice over time. When white elites adopted this ideology back in the 1930's, Brazil was neither democratic nor a racial utopia, but by embracing the myth that no racial problem existed, elites could avoid the potentially explosive issue of de facto apartheid. Another reason why racial issues barely have been addressed is that authoritarian regimes have repressed civil society. Getulio Vargas, the strongman of Brazil from 1930 to 1945, outlawed black associations as well as other groups concerned with ethnic and immigrant status. Discourse about the rights of Afro-Brazilians or development of black newspapers was not possible because "everybody was a son of the state," according to Vargas' fascist-influenced ideology. A surge of black militancy occurred after Vargas' death, only to be crushed by the dictatorship that came to power in the 1964 coup. The kind of civil rights mobilization seen in the United States was not possible in Brazil due to the greater degree of repression faced by all groups demanding racial justice. Because of their skin color, militants for black rights often suffered more at the hands of the military's secret police than white, middle class communists. Only with organization of civil society during the democratric opening in the 1980's did the subject of racial equality begin to be addressed in academic circles and the public sector at large. At this time, the Unified Black Movement (Movimento Negro Unificado) started to operate openly. Jose Vicente, founder of one organization of the contemporary Afro-Brazilian militancy, Afrobras, says that incorporation of black people into the political system wsa significant during the decade but none of the appointed Afro-Brazilian representatives had a discourse explicitly aimed at addressing the black question. A new beginning for Afro-Brazilian militancy came in the 1990's, especially after the initial success of a new economic plan (Plano Real) when Brazilians started to have more money to support a consumer based economy. At this time, the first magazine for a black audience, Raca Brasil, hit the shelves. When Raca appeared on the streets, a new discussion sprang up in Brazil. Many people alleged that a magazine made by and for black people was racist. WHites accused it publishers and readers of being "black racist." (ain't that a *****) A parallel discussion ensued concerning Brazilian history: Who was black and who had the right to say what was black? The 1990's witnessed the professionalization of Black African movement with the creaton and proliferaton of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Afrobras and Educafro. Burgening domestic social mobilization and international pressure led to the administration of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994-2002) to admit that the fallacy of the racial democracy myth acknowledge that racism was a social problem worthy of debate. THis was a significant step toward redressing the condition of Afro-Brazilians, since policies focused on the legacy of black people in Brazil could not be achieved while denying the existence of racism. Political Inclusion, But Little Progress The reestablishment of democracy in Brazil has led to some advancement in tackling racial disparities but progress has been slow. On a positive note. one of the most important works led by the federal government is to provide land tenure on quilombos to the descendants of escaped slaves. And in the government itself, agencies have been established to deal with race issues. Beyond the federal administration's creation of the Secretariat for Racial Equality, states and cities also are setting up offices to handle race issues. Activists from groups struggling for racial justice are managing them. "it's a fact with two consequences: One of them is that for the first time, those groups have some kind of voice that can be heard. But on the other hand, the orgizations have more patience now to wait for actions on behalf of the government," said anthropologist Jose Batista Ribeiro, from the University of Sao Paolo. Success in establishing government agencies concerned with racial equality is partially attributed to collaborative efforts between Afro-Brazilian militants and international organizations. The world Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related intolerance in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, is considered a watershed event in forcing Brazil to seriously discuss how to resolve its racial problems. end of part 1.