In this article I discuss the implementation of positive action measures in the Brazilian higher education system and its impact on the fight against racialization in Brazil. This policy is one of the most important democratic changes in the last decades after the country’s re-democratization. I am therefore discussing the education agenda and its relevance for the black population, as this topic is one of the main fields for intergenerational justice of the black population on a global level, according to sociologist Patricia Hill Collins (2009). In the first part I argue that the end of the 20thth Century and the beginning of the 21stst The 20th century was paradigmatic because of black social activism and its struggle for the implementation of positive action in Brazilian public universities and for the further development of this public police force. To support my point, I highlight key events and organizations that are responsible for these successes. In the second part, I discuss the challenges to positive action and the public higher education system. I affirm that today we are facing an offensive against public universities linked to the public policy of expansion and democratization of Brazilian higher education over the past few decades. This challenge arises from serious cuts in academic research, the emergence of discourses trying to misrepresent public universities, and attempts to privatize the higher education system in Brazil.
The federal government has put in place some strategies to discredit and make public universities precarious, and these strategies are one way to curb the progress and impact of positive action in one of the main sectors of knowledge production in Brazil. I contend that there is currently a strategy of mischaracterization and dismantling of public universities, due to the extremely conservative and liberal policies of the actual government, but also to the political opposition of massive black people entering these spaces. In conclusion, I argue that positive action has been one of the most important social achievements since Brazil’s democratic transition in 1988. Affirmative action at universities suggests the exercise of citizenship and economic mobility for the black community, but also implies changing curriculum structures and knowledge production. Positive measures are therefore intended to change the predominantly and historically white Brazilian public university system. For all these reasons, I see the current political moment in Brazil as an expression of an imminent threat that aims to undermine the democratization processes and the acts of social movements over the past few decades.
Black Activism’s Struggle for Space in Universities and in Curriculum Structures (from the 1990s to Today)
For Silvério (2002, p. 233), positive action aims to officially recognize the persistence of racism, racization and discrimination at all systematic levels of our society and to implement a public policy that deals with the expansion of diversity and pluralism in all areas Dimensions of social life, including education and knowledge production. It is seen, therefore, that positive actions induce cultural, psychological and educational transformations useful in suppressing and reducing the subordination of one race to another from the collective social imagination. In addition to an anti-racist policy, I see a policy of positive action and its potential to change the curriculum of university courses and the production of knowledge as a policy of “anti-racism”, that is, a policy that is capable of preventing racism and Fighting racism procedurally is the systemic process of racialization. In the United States, for example, this type of policy was implemented in the early 1960s when the Ivy League and other prestigious universities were predominantly male, white, and Christian institutions. After the implementation of the positive measures and the quota system, black students were massively admitted to these institutions. According to Collins (2009), the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s combined education with the empowerment needed for blacks’ freedom struggle, making positive action an achievement of the time and education an important terrain of the struggle.
Today there is a generation of black professors in prestigious American universities who develop science and do advanced research, as does literary critic, historian, and filmmaker Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., a public intellectual who studied at Yale and now at Harvard University teaches. In an interview for The Harvard Crimson, he said, “The Yale ’66 class had six black graduates. My class, the class of 73, had 96. And the difference was due to positive action […]. Without positive action, I wouldn’t have gone to an Ivy League school like Yale. And that changed my life. “Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s trajectory is a perfect example of positive action as the” anti-racial “police force and its correlation with the effects of knowledge production. Nowadays he is the director of a prestigious center at Harvard University – the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research – which supports the study of the history and culture of people of African descent and stimulates scholarly engagement in African and African American studies to raise public awareness and understanding .
In Brazil, efforts to democratize and expand public higher education began after the democratic transition – in the 1990s – when black activists and organizations took action to exercise and expand democracy. With the promulgation of the 1988 Constitution, the constitutional principle of equality was analyzed more critically by the state, taking into account the maintenance of discriminatory practices in relation to the black indigenous population, women’s groups and the LGBT community at the time. As Domingues (2005, p. 164) noted, the second half of the 1990s was marked by the introduction of the positive action debate in Brazil. A key event of the period was the International Seminar on Multiculturalism and Racism: The Role of “Positive Action” in Contemporary Democratic States, held in Brasília in 1996. Scientists from Brazil and the United States also attended this event as leaders of the black movement. The aim of the seminar was to develop strategies for the formulation of strategies for the black population. In addition, a year earlier in 1995, the Zumbi dos Palmares march took place, a major march sponsored by black activists and black organizations. The march took place in Brasília in relation to the 300th Anniversary of the death of Zumbi dos Palmares – an important anti-slavery leader who was murdered by the Royal Troops on November 20thth 1695. Since that March, November 20thth was an important day for black social activists and black organizations in Brazil.
With a view to the government of President Lula (2003-2010), the term “racial equality” was widely adopted and adopted by the government and institutionalized even at ministry level with the establishment of the Secretariat for Measures to Promote Racial Equality (SEPPIR) in 2003. One One of the most important developments in the last decade was the entry into force of the Racial Equality Act in 2010, which has been discussed since 2003. Education and health were central to Lula’s programs to promote racial equality. Education in particular has always been a strategic area for both black activism and academic studies on inequalities anchored in racist classification systems (i.e., using the term) run as one of the most important analytical categories for uncovering social inequalities in Brazil and as such the key to understanding the systematic emergence of inequalities in Brazil). Education has historically been central to black activism, and during Lula’s administration the possibility of positive action implementation became clear.
In 2005, the Zumbi + 10 March took place, which brought the secular demands of the black population onto the streets of the federal capital. Black organizations and activists demonstrated for the creation of a national economic fund aimed at the implementation of the racial equality policy, the approval of the Racial Equality Act and, above all, the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the 1995 Zumbi dos Palmares March. Both the Zumbi dos Palmares March and the Zumbi + March 10th were major political events organized by the Unified Black Movement (MNU), an extremely important black political organization founded and organized in 1978 and which is one of the leading black organizations within the movement represented, promoted and organized black activism in Brazil and Latin America.
It was around this time that various political organizations dealing with black activism were also created and strengthened, such as the Centers for Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous Studies (NEAB), which were founded and organized in public around the late 1990s and early 2000s became federal universities in Brazil. The NEAB of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) is an important example, as the two affiliated professors Petronilha Beatriz Gonçalves and Valter Silvério played a central role in the organization of a productive and renowned study center based on the design and training of black scientists as funding the national debate on the police for positive action in public universities.
Hence, I argue that this historic period of debates on positive action and democratization of Brazilian institutions (e.g. public universities) was also a turning point in relation to black activism in Brazil, as we could see black activism taking shape and in shows up in various organizations. These black organizations like NEAB-UFSCar have been central to the advancement of important public policies in Brazil and represent an interesting moment of change within black activism. This moment reflected the changes in the political strategy of the black movement in Brazil that began to articulate themselves in the form of NGOs, collectives, study centers and other associative forms organized in national and mainly transnational circles. Nowadays, positive action for black and indigenous peoples is already a reality because of the great struggle and political engineering of these organized social movements. This context of debate and adoption of positive action is an important index of recent political changes in social relations in Brazil.
According to Turgeon, Chaves and Wives (2014), this context of the conquest of black activism in higher education became systematically clear when the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) adopted the quota policy in 2001 through the job reservation system where 50% of the vacancies for students enrolling at the university are reserved for blacks. In 2002, the Bahia State University (UNEB) also adopted the quota system by resolution 196/2002, and the University of Brasília (UnB) was again the first federal higher education institution to introduce the quota system in 2004 (Turgeon); Chaves; Wives, 2014). In addition, in 2008, 84 higher education institutions took positive action. By 2010, around 91 public higher education institutions had already adhered to a policy of positive action aimed at undergraduate courses (Turgeon; Chaves; Wives, 2014). Currently, postgraduate programs adhere to guidelines in their selection that will benefit black and / or public school students. The Postgraduate Sociology Program that I am currently affiliated with (PPGS – UFSCar) approved this positive action in 2018.
There are a large number of black students in prestigious universities in Brazil. An important study by the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) – the Social Policy Bulletin (BPS) from 2019 – shows that between 2012 and 2015 the number of jobs reserved for Afro descendants rose from 140,303 to 247,950. This is because 31% of public universities that had not adhered to any type of vacancy reservation were forced to implement federal institutes in Brazil due to Federal Law 12.711 / 2012, the constitutionally guaranteed vacancy reservation and quota systems at 59 federal universities and 38 technological universities . Because of these advances, the democratic policy of positive action is now facing a backlash. In the next section, I argue that the recent cuts in investment in Brazilian public universities are linked to the attack on positive action. I see the current Brazilian government as an imminent threat that aims to undermine the democratization processes and the actions of the social movements over the past few decades.
Demolition and Mischaracterization of Public Universities in Brazil: An Immediate Threat to Positive Action Policies
As the racial problem was examined through various policies aimed at tackling historical social inequalities, the sectors of society were divided between favorable and contradicting specific inclusion measures for the black population. The issue of higher education mobilized polarized the public debate about adopting a policy of positive action. These debates resulted in an extensive production of scholarly papers, centered on the legal and sociological principles that guided the implementation of the positive action policy and the debate and implementation of that policy in public universities. According to Lima (2010), a detailed analysis of the profile of quota students in public universities was also made, and this extensive academic production, as well as the public debate in the mainstream media, created tension between those who took positive and counter-positive action in public Universities.
According to Connell (2019), universities collectively represent institutions responsible for scientific production and technologies that promote social change, economic mobility, and the exercise of citizenship. In this way, they train specialists for the most varied areas of knowledge. As such, I suggest, they are directly or indirectly responsible for critical thinking, imagination, social and cultural thinking, and for proposing and reviewing public order planning. Brazil is currently facing an ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal government, and its federal universities play a central role in the government’s offensive and aggressive rhetoric. One example is a grave allegation by the former education minister who stated that federal universities had extensive marijuana plantations. This claim is, above all, a dishonesty and a discursive way to misrepresent public universities, their students and professors. There are also several tweets posted by the former Minister of Education stating that federal universities are spaces of “chaos” and “indoctrination” (O Estado de São Paulo, 2020). These types of arguments have been used by the current government to justify cuts in investment in public higher education in Brazil. I claim that this strategy stems from the extremely conservative and liberal policies of the current government, which includes the project to privatize the higher education system in Brazil in order to make universities institutions that are designed and designed for people who want them as goods can afford.
But I also argue that this extremely conservative and liberal policy is also a form of political resistance to the massive entry of black people into academic spaces. Hence, I contend that the current cuts in funding and funding are central to the dismantling and misrepresentation of public universities, undermining the last decades of democratization and expansion of Brazilian public higher education. Created by the Brazilian Senate, this graph shows the threats faced by scientists in Brazil as it reflects the current cuts in scientific research investment and the low level of scientific research investment and its impact on unsatisfactory policies Combating and preventing the effects highlights of Covid-19 in Brazil. This document also shows that the peak of investment in research and in public universities can be correlated with the chronology that I presented in the first part of this text. The above chronology brought to light black activism’s struggle for space in universities after the 90s and its successes in the last few decades of massive black student entry into public universities. This meant that the role of black activism and its struggle was and is fundamental to the pursuit of democratization and the development of higher education in Brazil.
Hence, the entire public higher education system has benefited from the democratization and expansion efforts, which certainly include positive action policies. As the above chart along with the IPEA Social Policy Bulleting (BPS) points out, the years when public universities made peak investments were the years when the number of black graduates in the Brazilian public university system increased. We are currently facing an offensive in public universities caused by cuts in investment in scientific research. This scenario threatens the Brazilian public universities. The policy of incorrectly characterizing them and making them precarious by cutting research investments is, according to the knowledge presented in this work, also a way of curbing the progress and effects of positive measures in the field of knowledge production.
I therefore conclude that two important historical moments help to understand racial relations in Brazil today. The first is expressed in the evolution of democratization policies, mainly driven by the actions of black activists in the decades 1990, 2000 and 2010, as I highlighted above. The second is expressed as a counter-offensive to that first moment of democratic progress. It is represented by the current political moment in Brazil. The first moment shows an attempt to implement and develop “anti-racism” policies, which are the next step in “anti-racism” policies as they focus not only on combating racism itself, but also on it systematic discourse that underlines the division and the difference between white and black, the historical racism. Since these systematic discourses have historically been supported by the scientific field, science and education are central to political action to combat racization.
These anti-racial discourses were fueled by the entry of black people into universities and the production of knowledge that provided access to adequate information about the history and culture of African descendants. As the above examples from the Hutchins Center in the US and the NEAB in Brazil show, there are important organizations, institutes, and research centers run by black professors and put together by black scholars. These organizations and research centers deal with the impact of innovative science and the public debate that involves African descendants and blacks. They are central to the positive action debate, changing curriculum structure and raising public awareness of African and African American studies in their respective countries.
The second moment is what we are currently facing in Brazil, as the current government puts it. I contend that the critical and severe cuts in investment in public higher education are due to the liberal and ultra-conservative stance of the President and his ministries who seek to privatize higher education in Brazil while reflecting a counter-offensive against the democratic advances of social Activists made in the past few decades. Therefore, today we are dealing with a political scenario that brings the panorama of possibilities and possibilities for positive action – the possibilities of changing the curriculum and university structure in Brazil – and the dimension of crime and the misrepresentation of our public universities into conflict. It is no coincidence that after three decades of massive black student access to public and prestigious universities, such institutions are now threatened by investment cuts. So Brazil is about the democratic advances and achievements of the last few decades.
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