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Inspired by US Based Protest, Brazilian Students Bring Focus to Racial Disparities at Universities

"'I didn't know that people like you understood architecture' - co-workers" Lorena Monique dos Santos/Tumblr
“I didn’t know that people like you understood architecture” – Lorena Monique dos Santos/Tumblr

“Come on, white guy, give me a break!” is the title of a campaign orchestrated by Black students from the University of Brasília (UnB, Universidade de Brasília), the first Brazilian state university to implement affirmative action-based quotas.

A law introduced countrywide in 2012 reserved 50 percent of spots in the country’s 59 state universities for students of Black, mixed and indigenous backgrounds, as well as students from the country’s public education system. While over 50 percent of Brazilians identify as Black or mixed-race, Brazilian universities have historically drawn most of their students from the 12 percent of the population who are privately educated, a primarily white, financially privileged group. Less drastic affirmative action efforts have been undertaken over the past decade at various Brazilian educational institutions, but the 2012 racial-quota mandate is the broadest such measure in Brazil’s history.

Disparities in social status, salaries and living conditions suggest that poverty is intimately related to skin color in Brazil. While 50 percent of the Brazilian population is comprised of Black people, 67 percent of the population of Brazil’s infamous favelas, or slums, is Black.

The law imposing racial “quotas,” which has given universities until 2016 to alter their student population to better reflect Brazil’s ethnic composition, has generated controversy–and backlash, which is at times directed against enrolled Black students.

Lorena Monique dos Santos, the student who originally organized the campaign through the social media site Tumblr, used the hashtag #ahbrancodaumtempo (“hey white guy, give me a break”) to give fellow Black students a chance to illustrate the alienating, subtly racist comments directed against them on a daily basis.

Dos Santos, who studies Visual Anthropology, said she got inspired by a project from Harvard University called ‘I, Too, Am Harvard’, which aimed to highlight the experiences of Black students on Harvard’s campus.

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