The new laws of sexagenarians and free wombs

Image: Arturo Añez


Response to the article “University Racism”, by George Matsas, published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul

“The story of the transport of millions of Africans to the new world, and the captivity to which they were subjected for four centuries, is fascinating. (…) It would simply be fair to the reader to say frankly in advance that anyone's attitude toward this story will be distinctly influenced by their theories of the black race. If he believes that the Negro in America and elsewhere is an average, ordinary human being who under a given environment develops like any other human being, then he will read that story and judge it by the facts stated. If, however, he regards the Negro as a distinctly inferior creation, who can never satisfactorily participate in modern civilization and whose liberation and emancipation were gestures against nature, then he will need something more than the kind of facts I have recorded. But this last person, I'm not trying to convince. I am simply pointing out these two points of view, so obvious to Americans” (W. E. B. Du Bois, “To the Reader” in Black Reconstruction in America: Toward a History of the Role Black People Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880.

The epigraph above should be enlightening for all Brazilians, obviously less because of its similarity with the history of racism in the United States than because of the contrast it reveals with the experience here. If there openly segregationist tendencies gained greater importance and the direct clash provided a ruler and compass in such a way that any illusion of racial harmony never managed to crystallize, here a myth was created that the conditions of Brazilian people of African descent would be much worse. favorable, culminating in the legend of “racial democracy”.

Em The genocide of black Brazilians: Process of masked racism (1978), Abdias do Nascimento rebels precisely against this and shows how segregation, pauperization and killing are even more harmful in these parts, because they are insidious and hidden by an absence of explicitly racist laws, institutions and official discourses, such as as occurred in the United States, but which, nevertheless, are undeniably part of our country's daily life to this day.

A university racism

In the printed edition of The State of S. Paul On January 3, 2024, George Matsas, professor at the Institute of Theoretical Physics at Unesp, published his opinion, entitled “university racism”, regarding the regulation, by the University Council (CO) of the University of São Paulo (USP), of affirmative actions for black, brown and indigenous people (PPI) “to be used in hiring teachers and admitting technical and administrative employees”.

Basically, he shows concern regarding the racism that, potentially or necessarily, permeates the hetero-identification panels in a mixed-race country like Brazil and insinuates that there is a danger of reverse racism, discriminating against whites and, perhaps, therefore, deteriorating the meritocratic criteria of “selection of the best”. Although the alarmist tone does not resist a reading of what was actually approved, much less a verification of what happens in practice, the commitment to demarcating the territory and inoculating a vaccine against any qualitative change in the staff who run the largest university institution public policy in the country is certainly not naive. I will deal with the matter in this order: first exorcise the specter of quotas for PPI in the hiring of professors for USP and then speculate a little about the reason for this typical passive-aggressive preventive position.

National scandal

According to Open Letter from Black Professors at the University of São Paulo, delivered to the rector on November 9, 2022, there are only 2,3% of USP professors who declare themselves PPI, while the percentage of this population in the state of São Paulo is around 37% and in Brazil as a whole it is more than 50%.[I]

Resolution no. 8434 of May 24, 2023 regulates the “parameters for implementing an affirmative policy for black, mixed-race and indigenous people in public competitions for teaching positions and for selection processes for the admission of technical and administrative employees at the University of São Paulo”. In its fifth article it is said that “the type of affirmative action applicable to each public competition or selection process will be defined based on the number of vacancies in dispute foreseen in the notice, at the time of its publication”. This means that “for competitions or selection processes whose number of vacancies offered is, at the time of publication, equal to or greater than 3 (three), the vacancy reservation mechanism will apply”, but “for competitions or selection processes whose number of vacancies offered is, at the time of publication, 1 (one) or 2 (two) vacancies, the differentiated scoring mechanism will apply”.[ii]

As is known, there are practically no competitions for professors at USP with three or more vacancies. The resolution, already aware of this, proposes a very complex and insufficient bonus that must be added to the PPI candidate's score. That is, those who pass the written eliminatory test will receive a few tenths of an advantage. The problem is that, in the case of USP, the competition for teaching admission still has an aristocratic format, it is not objective, unlike what happens in most Universities and Federal Institutes.

The written test is read and, therefore, is not blind, there are no answer expectation sheets published before the correction of the written and didactic tests, evaluation sheets for each individual test justifying the reasons for the grades, there are no obstacles to the evaluation of the didactic test and titles, deadlines for appeals, etc. In view of this complicated situation, to say the least, the bonus makes no sense at all, as it would only have any sign of concreteness if there were objective attribution and measurement of grades that served to contain the evaluators' particular impressions of the candidates.

As there is no verifiable and justifiable basis for grades beyond the feeling of the competition judges, the bonus of a few tenths is something that does not materialize, it is already included as part of the grade without parameters and not as an addition to a rigorously detailed result. . Not to mention that the difference it makes is negligible. In short, it is applied – when applied, because if the candidate simply fails with 6,8 instead of 7 he no longer has access to the bonus – based on a framework of very acute subjectivity and discretion.

This data alone would dismantle both the fairy tale of the “selection of the best”, which George Matsas’ text presupposes, and the concern he shows about someone being approved in the competition because of this “affirmative policy”. The chances of a significant number of PPI professors entering USP through this resolution are non-existent. I, for example, have been studying and researching at USP since 2008 and have never had a class with a PPI professor. I lie, I had a black teacher when I did two semesters of exchange in England. Which makes me think that there should be some embarrassment when faced with the composition of the CO and the congregations of the USP units in light of the phenotype of almost all outsourced workers or the Brazilian prison population; what is the name of this in a country like Brazil?

As stated above, the apartheid In Brazil it doesn't exist, it just works. Nuno M. M. S. Coelho, director of the Faculty of Law of Ribeirão Preto, in an article entitled “Racism in the composition of the teaching staff at USP – and the opportunity we cannot miss” and published on website do Journal of USP, remembers that even if the 876 hires that have been made and that are scheduled for the coming years were all black people, USP would still not have even 20% of its PPI teaching staff. Still according to him, there is tremendous indignation in South Africa due to the fact that its universities have only 14% of black professors even after 20 years of democratization and segregation, while in Brazil, the fact that even after 130 years of the abolition of slavery, we have not even 3% of PPI teachers at the country's flagship university.[iii]

However, the worst thing is that George Matsas' entire argument is based on a masked certainty: there are no black people in Brazil's intellectual elite due to some of our faults. Let us reason together: if he constantly states that everything has to remain as it is because that way we select the best minds and the overwhelming majority of university professors in this country are white, then there is a problem with the PPI majority in this suffering country of ours. In any case, the scream has no reason to exist because what was done, like the abolitionist laws of sexagenarians and free wombs, was only for the English to see. The rector of USP himself, in a statement to Folha de S. Paul on May 22, 2023, he made a statement that goes in almost the same direction.

The bonus system should end up being used more for teaching competitions, since, in general, departments only open one or two vacancies. I think it was the best format found. We cannot have a very aggressive policy that puts the quality of a university with the prestige of USP at risk. [iv]

The choice of words here is curious, or revealing. What is aggressive is an attempt at historical reparation and not the disaster that the country that received the largest number of people from the African diaspora only has 2,3% of its PPI teachers. What is between the lines in this speech is that white supremacy in the university faculty/management is synonymous with normality and quality, hence there are no problems with outsourced workers, students, technicians and administrators being dark, while darkening the faculty/management can cause problems and loss of excellence.

It is worth the reader returning to the first paragraph of this writing, taking into account that the person who announces the quotas, or the group he represents within the set of forces that act at the university, is the same person who issues such a declaration and regulates a measure which, in practice, makes quotas unfeasible. There, for those who want to see it, is the cordiality that distinguishes Brazilian racism.

The impression given when reading George Matsas' text and the rector's statements is that they really think that, in a country like Brazil, everyone occupies the positions they occupy on merit, that there are no vacancies reserved for white people thanks to more 300 years of slavery, racism, mass incarceration, etc. Let us remember that not even 15% of our young people are at university, that Brazil has the third largest prison population in the world (almost 70% of which is made up of black men). How can one talk about merit under these conditions?

The comparative study of the two positions, however, is productive from the point of view of the ideological mapping of this discussion. We see two types of reaction: one that is preventive and whose explicit desire is for everything to remain as it is and another that anticipates change “by force” so that nothing actually changes. Both cordial and poisonous reactions. It is obvious that the latter seeks accommodation instead of miseducation based on common sense, mythologies and the manipulation of popular prejudices of the latter. However, this does not negate the fact that certain gradualisms occur so that there is no transition, that justice that takes time fails and that the incorporation and disfigurement of agendas is a known mechanism for disarticulating mobilizing movements.

One could argue that color does not guarantee quality, which is undoubtedly true. The question that remains then is why can't we have people who are not supposedly “competent” enough to occupy the position they occupy who are not white? Suddenly we wake up in a country where meritocracy is the rule and not favor and personal relationships? The naked truth is one: a place where the vast majority of those in command positions are white and those who clean are black, is an environment steeped in institutional racism that only hinders intellectual work, because it provincializes and transforms the space into a place alienated from the country itself.

*Lindberg Campos is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Modern Literature at USP.


[I] See in

[ii] See in

[iii] See in

[iv] See in

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