On the Dearth of Afro-Brazilian Entrepreneurs

On Wednesday, I briefly discussed the need for Brazil to address social and economic inequalities not just for Haitian immigrants, but for all Brazilians. While economic inequalities in Brazil are very real, they cannot be separated from racial inequalities, something I discuss periodically and that Teresa also brought up in her excellent post on the Federal University of Lusophonian Afro-Brazilian Integration in Ceará. Even while a majority of Brazilians self-identified as having at least one Afro-descendant in their family tree last year, Afro-Brazilians still face very real social obstacles to equality in the job market, in the economy, in education, and in society generally. In this context, there is no easy fix that will suddenly make Brazil something resembling the “racial democracy” that many have claimed it to be throughout the 20th century.

In this context, Paulo Rogério’s recent post on Afro-Brazilian entrepreneurs is illuminating. He does a great job tracing the structural and social issues that lead to a dearth of Afro-Brazilians in the entrepreneurial sector (according to Rogério, only 3.8% of all Afro-Brazilians self-identify as entrepreneurs, and only 0.5% of all corporate executives of Brazil’s 500 largest companies are Afro-Brazilians). Reasons for this enormous disparity include

a lack of societal encouragement to become entrepreneurs; family members without any history in creating their own enterprises; and, above all, the persistent difficulty of accessing capital. Brazil also has never had a public policy that sought to specifically promote black-managed enterprises.

Rogério has some interesting solutions to addressing these problems, including a policy similar to South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment program, greater emphasis on and support for entrepreneurial activities in the federal government, and the use of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics to promote joint ventures that include Afro-Brazilians. I think these are good steps, but in no way solve all of the problems, which as I initially said, are diverse and manifest throughout society. I would argue that emphasis on better educational opportunities for Afro-descendants is perhaps even more important than these initiatives (though that’s not to say one should be substituted for the other; rather, both need to co-exist), and while Brazil’s affirmative action program is a good start, the governments, both federal and state, need to do a better job addressing inequalities in primary and secondary schools, where many of Brazil’s poorer sectors (including many Afro-descendants) attend public schools and cannot afford the private universities, even while the middle- and upper-classes attend private primary and secondary schools that help them enter into the elite (and free) public university system. Combatting the stigmatization of the poor and of the racially- and socially-marginalized in the media is important, too, whether it be through advertisements, journalism’s portrayal of favela residents, or the subtle images implanted through novelas and films. That said, I think Rogério’s suggestions are also important, and it’s worth reading his (brief) article in its entirety.

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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