Lifestyle & Belief

Does Brazil have a race problem?


The Rainbow Nation still has some hurdles to clear.



RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil — Some call Brazil South America’s Rainbow Nation; a country where centuries of miscegenation mean racism is simply a non-issue.

Others claim Brazil suffers from an invisible form of social apartheid, pointing out that the country’s Afro-Brazilian population earn less, live less, are educated less and are far more susceptible to violence than Brazil’s white citizens.

This week an incident in a Sao Paulo pizza parlour catapulted Brazil’s race-debate back onto the front pages, after the black son of two Spanish tourists was kicked-out of an upmarket Italian restaurant — allegedly because of the colour of his skin.

The 6-year-old boy in question — an Ethiopian, adopted two years ago by his parents – was allegedly turfed out of the Nonno Paolo restaurant in Sao Paulo’s Paraiso neighbourhood by the manager last Friday. His parents subsequently lodged a complaint with local police and are considering legal action.

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“It was awful, the first thing I thought was that someone had taken him and we would never see him again,” the boy’s 42-year-old mother, named only as Cristina, told Brazilian television.

The restaurant’s manager denies racism and claims he confused the boy with a local street kid. Police are investigating. Under Brazilian law racism carries a jail sentence of up to 4 years.

In November Brazil’s census board announced that for the first time since records began black and mixed raced citizens formed the majority of Brazil’s 190m-strong population.

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Ninety-seven million Brazilians, or 50.7 percent of the population, defined themselves as black or mixed race, up from 44.7 percent in 2000. Meanwhile 91 million or 47.7 percent labeled themselves themselves white.

But while Afro-Brazilians may form the majority of the population they are grossly under-represented in higher education, the media, politics, diplomacy and even fashion.

After the incident in the pizza restaurant, social media sites filled with messages calling for protests outside Nonno Paolo.

“Nonno Paolo, welcome to bankruptcy,” wrote one Twitter user.

Another tweeter said: “I’ve made a reservation for 3 tonight at the Nonno Paolo pizzeria. My guests will be 2 street kids. I want to see what those racists will do.”