Black candidates in Brazil have half chance of being elected despite being a majority for the first time

For the first time in history black candidates are a majority over white candidates in Brazilian elections, but that does not mean they will be a majority in future legislative bodies.

White candidates are at least twice as likely to be elected at the ballot box for national and regional offices as blacks, a term that for the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics also includes mestizos.

The figures are clear. Of the 3,177 black candidates who contested seats in the Chamber of Deputies in 2018, just 124 people were finally elected, a success rate of 3.98 percent. By contrast, of the 4,425 white candidates, 386 lawmakers were ultimately elected, for a success rate of 8.72 percent, more than twice as high, according to a report released in March.

“Despite the broadening of the discussion on the importance of promoting diversity in the spaces of power in the country, the inclusion of women and blacks is still not a value rooted in the society of Brazil, a country historically marked by exclusion,” says Michael França, one of the authors of the research, conducted together with his colleagues from the Nucleus of Racial Studies of the Insper institute.

“There are several mechanisms operating directly and indirectly, consciously and unconsciously, that generate disadvantages for blacks,” says the researcher.

Fifty-six percent of Brazilians define themselves as black or mixed race. According to what is known as the Racial Balance Index, a balanced society would be one in which the number of black congressmen is similar to the percentage of black population, but in Brazil there are cases as extreme as Rio Grande do Norte, where there is no black federal congressman when 64 percent of its population belongs to that group.

“If the majority of the population is black, and we are not in Congress or starring in the public debate, then it is not blacks who are being underrepresented, it is Brazil that is being underrepresented,” defends Sol Miranda, black candidate for federal deputy for Rio de Janeiro for the Brazilian Socialist Party.

The candidate for a congressional seat in Brasília grew up in one of the favelas of the coastal city and speaks while organizing a talk, in the center of the city, with black artists and people from the world of culture like her, who is an actress.

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She is in the middle of the campaign and the pace is frenetic for the 33-year-old, who belongs to the largest population group in the country, that of black women (27.8 percent of the voters) and who has, however, an almost testimonial representation in the Chamber of Deputies. Only 12 of the 513 seats in the Chamber are occupied by black women, less than 3 percent.

“There are two factors for that to happen. One is machismo, and the other is racism. We have to work, put food on the tables in our homes, take care of our children and our homes,” she argues.

“The majority of households in Brazil are headed by women and within this majority, most of them are black women, and this population group, in addition, needs to maintain this space, it cannot escape. We need, therefore, to have conditions to be able to train, study, and compete fairly,” Miranda claims as the audience begins to arrive at a venue she has borrowed.

Poor budget access is the problem most often cited by black candidates for elected office. White candidates’ campaigns have more money. The situation is, again, worse for black women, who in 2018 accounted for 12.9 percent of the total nominations in the elections, but only got 6.7 percent of the election fund.

“We have a problem with financial resources. Campaigns are very expensive and it is necessary to have material, to pay people to be in the streets, to have a social network mobilization team, and the financial resource needed for this is extremely important,” candidate Miranda expounds.

In 2020, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of a more proportional distribution of campaign funds between black and white candidates, as well as their media time. It has helped diminish the problem, but has not eradicated it. “Many of the parties are in breach of that law,” criticizes Miranda.

Added to that negligence are other, sometimes unintentional, problems. “The budget increase for black candidacies is important, but that lack of money is not the biggest problem. The internal mechanisms of the parties are, and the hierarchies of the different formations do not always agree with promoting black candidacies,” exposes Ana Farranha, professor at the University of Brasilia.

Candidates who have already held seats in the national legislature are more likely to be reelected. They are eminently white, so the inclusion of new black candidates entails the possibility of losing seats for the parties, which is why some are reluctant to give them strong support.

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In addition, there is a problem of personal networks. When the white is elected, when it comes to selecting his aides, he will prefer people he knows from his work or personal circle. Most likely they will be white people, with whom he has grown up, without meaning, that that deputy is a racist, but perpetuating that fact the prevalence of whites in Brazilian politics.

“The tendency of the parties is the concentration of power, which continues to produce new internal hierarchies and there we need to think of institutional mechanisms that can mitigate inequalities,” claims Wescrey Portes, an expert in race relations at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ).

“The role of Brazilian democratic institutions is to correct inequalities. It makes no sense in our democracy that a country composed mainly of blacks, and in turn of black women, does not see these groups represented in decision-making and power spaces. Today our electoral model does not foresee gender or racial parity, but there could be a quota for black women in Congress”, demands Portes, who also asks party leaders to reflect on the problem.

“We need to expand and build more black figures. The whites are the executive positions in the ministries, the leaderships of the parties, of the most relevant spaces of the civil society and even of the social movements, so there is a need to form new leaders so that in the next political cycle we have more black people with power”, she adds.

Candidate Miranda believes that the presence of more black parliamentarians is necessary to improve the situation in the most humble places.

“We know what hunger is, what physical and psychological violence is, what it is not to be able to leave our children in a day care center to be able to work, what it is not to get to go home in a decent schedule, what violence is inside the city, and from that we fight for a fairer, less unequal and more peaceful society,” she concludes.

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