Black people in textbooks and children's books

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Paulo Vinícius Baptista da Silva*

It is necessary to value the black self-enunciator for more effective measures in changing and updating via anti-racist discourses

The forms of hierarchy of Brazilian discourses operate in textbooks and children's literature, throughout history, with two notable forms of racial hierarchy. The most important is the establishment of the white person as the standard of humanity. White normativity operates for a naturalization of white hegemony in all situations of power in society. As a representative of the species, white people can participate in any social space and where there is an accumulation of material goods or symbolic goods, speeches that act for almost unanimous white supremacy. For black and indigenous people, more than under-representation, the norm was silence, with no or little alternative to participating in the plots. And when the blockade of absence broke, the spaces destined for black and indigenous characters in these speeches were one of subalternity and stereotypes.

Rarely do racial hierarchies manifest themselves in direct ways. As a rule, these two characteristics, white hegemony and stereotypes related to black and indigenous people, which, together, acted for the racialized discourse of Brazilian textbooks and children's literature. So, since the beginning of the 20th century, we will not find openly racist passages in books that offend black men and women. It is by placing black and indigenous people in subaltern situations, for example, that these discourses operate in favor of the power concentrated by white people.

However, in a very direct answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article, we can say that black representation in textbooks and children's books has improved in the last two decades, largely due to policies to value the black population implemented by the Lula and Dilma administrations. At the moment we are following setbacks in policies, as the impact of book policies is not immediate, we have some results of inertia of the policies adopted in previous administrations and for the coming years the projection is for an increase in losses.

It is important to note that we are dealing with a very broad universe of publications, which correspond, in sales volume and values, to half of the entire Brazilian publishing market. So let's have a separate discussion, one on textbooks and one on children's literature.


Black (and white) people in Brazilian textbooks

The research theme “blacks in textbooks” entered the Brazilian research agenda relatively early, with some studies carried out in the 1950s. These studies identified that the forms of explicit racism were not identified in the books, and racial hierarchies manifested themselves through the absence of black characters and themes and the definition of subaltern social spaces (especially manual work) little by little for the rare black people who participated in the books. After the lapse during the military dictatorship, which prohibited the discussion of inequalities in general and racial inequalities in particular, in the late 1970s, the opening period, research was resumed.

Research by Regina Pahim Pinto, from the Carlos Chagas Foundation, compared Portuguese-language books published from 1941 to 19751. In all the more than 30 years analyzed, the differences were tenuous. Later another survey did an update comparing books published between 1975 and 20032. The results remained similar, with the two bases of racist discourse, underrepresentation of black people and stereotyping, remaining the same. The analysis at different times, especially the comparison of books published in the late 1970s with those published in the early 2000s, identified some changes classified as “epidermal”. In the initial period white characters were 92% (177), in the last white characters were 94% (317) and black characters rose from 15 (8% of the period) to 19 (6%), that is, the proportion worsened because we had 11,8 .16,7 white characters for every black character and we now have 2 white characters for every black character in books distributed by the Programa Nacional do Livro Didático (PNLD). The number of black female characters rose from 3 in the initial period to 26 at the end, but the proportion remained exact, for each black female character the same 52 white female characters (78 and 1, respectively); black character who studies was 36 black for 1 white in the most remote period and 52 black for 3 in the most recent and no black character was identified that had some kind of family tie in books of the initial stage, passing to 120 black characters and 1 white (40 for every 1941) in newer books. These two forms of dehumanization are very significant for discussing the social spaces for black people constructed in the imagination, since, in addition to being absent and occupying subordinate positions and menial jobs, they do not participate in school and educational contexts and have no family, no relationship with the your. Or, quite directly, black people don't study and don't have a family, in the discourses of textbooks published between 2003 and XNUMX. These discourses fed the Brazilian imagination and actively constructed the stereotyped forms of expectations regarding black people in the country.

An important aspect is that these books were purchased and distributed by the largest book distribution program in the world, the PNLD3, a policy initiated in 1985, in the New Republic, which had several improvements and to institute book evaluations in the 1990s, very important for improving quality, used agreements with the black and feminist movements. In detail for the reader, in the late 1980s the need to evaluate the books was identified and the MEC signed cooperation agreements with black movements and women's movements. An evaluation published by the MEC in 1994 criticizes the absence of black people and women in textbooks on Portuguese, Mathematics, Science and “Social Studies” for the initial grades of elementary school. In 1996, evaluations prior to the purchase of books began and criteria related to the presence of black people and women were “forgotten”.

An exclusion criterion was defined, that books that had racist or sexist speeches should be disqualified right at the beginning of the evaluation. As research has already shown, books published since the 1940s do not bring explicit forms of racism. The exclusion criterion was and is innocuous: no book has been disqualified for racism or sexism since the previous evaluations in the PNLD began, from 1996 to the present day.

During the Lula administration, the PNLD coordination and evaluation teams remained the same as in the previous government, but new developments had an impact on policies. The approval of Law 10.639/034 which defines mandatory teaching of Afro-Brazilian and African History and Culture. Curricular policies guided by the National Council of Education (with representations of the black and indigenous movements from 2003) and the approval of the National Curriculum Guidelines, especially those on Education of Ethnic-Racial Relations (DCN-ERER)5 in 2004 (but also the other DCN that incorporated the same premises). The creation and performance of the Secretariat for Continuing Education, Literacy and Diversity (Secad and later Secadi6), secretariat at the MEC responsible for “diversity policies” who began to act in the various commissions, including those for books.

The actions of these policies brought news in the PNLD public notices. The demands as an exclusion criterion began to mention the need to comply with the Federal Constitution, the Statute of the Child and Adolescent, the LDB7 and specifically Law 10.639/03, opinion 03/2004 and CNE Resolution 01/04 (DCN-ERER). It was then clear to publishers and book production teams the need to comply with the anti-racist legislation approved in the period. The biggest impact, however, as research indicates, was the inclusion of positive criteria rather than simply not having racist passages. The PNLD 2008 public notice incorporates the requirement that books must: positively promote the image of black and indigenous people, Afro-Brazilian culture and indigenous peoples, address ethnic-racial relations and indigenous peoples, address the issue of gender and positively promote the image of women. These indications of a positive approach towards black people, indigenous peoples and women were also incorporated into the evaluation sheets of some disciplines and had an impact on the discourses of the books in the following years.

For example, in science textbooks of the 2008 and 2011 PNLD, there are images of a black body that illustrate specific themes of content related to the human body, black women representing scientists in a book introduction, images of black characters in family, of doctors and scientists black and black8. In Geography books, images of black characters with healthy family relationships were more common and the black person represented as a slave was not observed, nor the folklorization of the Brazilian black person.9. The change in relation to enslavement in History textbooks was captured in research that noticed a much greater diversity of spaces for the insertion of the black population, in addition to slavery, aimed at school, leisure and work.10 and a thesis was titled, with the term “new iconographies” to accentuate the presence of images about Africa and Africanities beyond the canonical images of slavery11. Another thesis, studying Mathematics textbooks, identified the presence of an approach to the participation of Africa as a place of knowledge production and the presence of black people in family situations, although still much lower than that of white people, 1 black character with a family relationship for every 3,5 white characters (much lower than the previous ones, but still quite high)12.

Listening to high school students captured the perception of new images in History textbooks of black people beyond slavery and inferiority (Sidnei SOUZA, 2021) and listening to 9th grade students of Elementary School about History and Portuguese language captured several positive images of black men and women, related to the implementation of Law 10.639/03, which began to coexist in parallel with the still white normativity and discourses that continue to trap black people in stereotypes.

Regarding the PNLD, the changes in the PNLD 2022 public notice, published in 2021, express the perspective of the federal government in the management started in 2019. The exclusion criteria for works that express racism and sexism were withdrawn, there was a public debate about it, but this criterion is innocuous and does not interfere with the works. The items related to the appreciation of black people, indigenous peoples and women were replaced by more general ones (respect all Brazilians; positively promote the images of Brazilians), an old strategy of the conversational movements of using generalist perspectives in order to empty the demands of movements social identities. These criteria would indeed have a negative impact by directing publishers and their complex book production teams to generalisms and white, male, cis-hetero normativities. In addition to the economic interests of business groups in the book's programs, including businessmen linked to MEC and the federal government. On the other hand, it appears that changes in programs of this complexity are processed in the medium term, the government that started in 2019 only changed the 2021 public notice and the impacts on the books will take a few years to be noticeable.


Black (and White) People in Brazilian Children's Literature

Regarding book distribution policies and editorial processes, distinctions are quite pronounced between children's literature books and textbooks. In relation to the social places they establish for black and white people, the similarities are many.

Black characters in children's literature published in Brazil until the 1920s practically did not exist. In the following decade, black characters became more frequent, but constructed with characters presenting stereotypy and simplification; associated with simplicity, primitivism, ignorance, rural environment and past, with animalized bodily characteristics13. A typical character that presents such characteristics is Tia Nastácia, by Monteiro Lobato, who appears as a prototype of subservience, of the lack of value to her culture, being associated with ugliness, simplicity and primitivism, occupying a reserved space of subalternity. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the production that circulated was mainly religious books, especially biblical passages for children (most often with illustrations of characters with European appearance rather than aspects of people from the ancient Middle East).

In research on cultural models offered to childhood14 in children's literature published between 1955 and 1975 (the universe of books deposited at the National Library), white normativity and the underrepresentation of black characters in texts and illustrations were observed; stereotypes in the illustration of black characters; association of black characters with socially devalued professions; less textual elaboration of black characters; association of the color black with evil, tragedy, dirt; association of being black with punishment and ugliness; association with anthropomorphized (non-human) characters.

In the period between 1975 and 1995 these general characteristics were maintained, with a small addition of some black characters with a certain prominence in the plots and even with the role of protagonists, but without change in the general trends15. The presentation of black characters almost always as slaves or related to the slavery past tends to perpetuate this characteristic. The black woman continued to be portrayed, almost exclusively, as a maid. Another analysis from the 1990s also points to the invisibility of black characters and the stereotyped treatment16. In addition to the disproportion, some of the works also bring other forms of hierarchization between white and black characters. In children's literature published between 1979 and 1989, it was observed that black characters were woven in an inferior way, associated with poverty, helplessness and absence of family, subjection to violence and exalted by physical attributes with a view to saluting the supposed Brazilian racial democracy17.

In research on collections purchased and distributed by the PNBE in 1999, 2005 and 2008, the results were quite similar to those of previous research. The first research emphasizes how the white racial identity is presented as not a target of the racialization process, while the representations of blackness operate to promote a whitening, to promote a white aesthetic to black characters18. In another research, in the analysis of books distributed in 2005, 2077 white characters and 448 black characters were identified, 6,9 white characters for each black character, maintaining the trend of under-representation, with a greater number of complexity indicators keeping black characters associated with subalternity, while identifying improvements in the relative increase of black characters narrators and with family relationships. In another sample, this time from the 2008 PNBE, the proportion was 6,8 white characters for each black character (black or brown) identified in the texts and the research states that “the daily life and experience of the black child are excluded from the act creation of the characters and the plot of this literature19. A more recent study analyzed a set of 93 children's literature books available in the collections of early childhood education institutions, data collection in 2016, and the results were repeated, with hegemony and greater complexity of white characters on the covers, illustrations and texts, in the which 7,0 white characters were observed for each black character20. Another survey mapped 77 picture books distributed by the PNBE between 2008 and 2014, identifying black characters in 13 titles, of which 5 in which they do not have active participation and in only 8 the black characters participate in the narrative, and some of these present stereotypes in the construction of these characters21.

The set of data available on the different collections over the decades, from 1955 to 2016, reveals relatively tenuous changes and maintenance of the most striking aspects: taken together, the books present white people as a norm of humanity, while black people have much smaller participation in number and still remain as characters with fewer alternatives of existence, with less complexity, than white people.

Research on the social impact of these discourses is still limited, but it is important to bring to light a survey that sought to capture the reading of elementary school students. Fourth-year elementary school children who came into contact with children's literature that featured different black characters in different contexts and with valued traits, but their representation of the characters was very stereotyped, revealed that at this age the stereotyped representations that circulate socially are already quite internalized and contact with a specific book had little impact on children's racially hierarchical reading22.

The production of Brazilian children's literature from the 1970s onwards has diversified themes, enunciating voices, forms of production, authorship. However, changes regarding, for example, the diversification of roles and female characters, little affected the theme and black characters. Discussing the creation of black characters by white authors, it was revealed how characters created by consecrated white authors have emancipatory traits in the gender axis, anchored in hierarchical and stigmatizing patterns in their constructions of black female characters23.

In this period, from the 1970s onwards, authors of children's and youth literature appear subjects of enunciation who affirm and want black people, with thematic, language e readership search, I also observe important movements. Joel Rufino dos Santos24 publishes works with this perspective in the 1970s; Geni Guimarães25 in the 1980s; authors have become references, such as Julio Emílio Braz26, Georgina Martins, Rogério Andrade27, Heloisa Pires Lima28. A movement that initially circulated “at the margins” brought precursors of a tidal wave that widens and accentuates29. Strongly driven by Law 10.639/03, the African voices of the diaspora that make us up increasingly reverberate and express themselves, in a set of works that multiplies year after year.

With regard to the PNBE, even with this expansion of the production of African and Afro-Brazilian thematic literature, the incorporation of mechanisms of black valorization had a different process in terms of criticism of racial hierarchies and had a much less expressive impact than in the PNLD . The PNBE public notices and in particular the evaluation criteria for the works did not assume the demands of the social movements for the appreciation of black, indigenous, women or other peripheral groups. The control of the evaluation by research groups that won the public notices did not allow that forms and evaluation criteria demanded diversity from the collections. The analysis of public notices, evaluation mechanisms, interviews with managers of the evaluation process of the works, supported the assertion that the PNBE acted in order to maintain and disseminate racial hierarchies30.

In 2016, the last public notice of the PNBE was published. As of 2018, it became part of the PNLD as a literary PNBE. The moment for this program of the book, as it relates to ethnic-racial relations, is one of contradiction and expectation. On the one hand, there is a dismantling of public education structures by the federal government, with regard to book programs with corporate and political interests starting to have greater influence and public notices for all processes and decisions starting to have less weight. On the other hand, when it was incorporated into the PNLD, mechanisms for valuing black people, indigenous people and women began to guide publishers. As the results are in the medium term, subsequent evaluations will respond and the paths of the book's policies depend on the next administrations of the MEC.

When we ask about black people in books aimed at children, textbooks and children's literature, the answer is, on the one hand, the complexity, on the other hand, a coincidence that, due to the proximity between textbooks and children's literature, becomes disconcerting. The ways of establishing racial hierarchies are the same, very ingrained and operating with few changes in the long term, since the 1940s of the last century when research began to follow these discourses.

Policies for valuing the black and indigenous population in the last two decades show some results, but they are still initial and very partial. Looking at the works that are aimed at valuing the black self-enunciator, it is likely that we have a measure of change and updating via anti-racist discourses. However, when we look at sets of works, libraries, collections, the changes are still epidermal and this is the nerve center for structural and structuring racism in Brazilian society, given that race is a social construction.

*Paulo Vinícius Baptista da Silva Professor of the Graduate Program in Education at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR).

Originally published in the magazine Theory and debate.



  1. See dissertation by Regina Paim PINTO. The Didactic Book and the Democratization of the School. Dissertation (Master in Social Sciences), University of São Paulo/USP, 1981. and synthesis of results in the article The representation of black people in reading textbooks. Research Notebooks, São Paulo, n. 63, p. 88-92, Nov. 1987. Available at accessed on 11/11/2021.
  2. Details of Paulo Vinicius Baptista da SILVA's thesis. Racism in Textbooks. BH, Autêntica, 2008 and Discursive Racism and evaluations of the National Textbook Program. Intermediate (UFMS), v. 24, p. 6-29, 2007. Available at: accessed on 11/11/2021.
  3. PNLD- National Book and Teaching Material Program, coordinated by the Ministry of Education (MEC). Available at: accessed on 11/11/2021.
  4. Text of Law 10.639/03 published in the Federal Official Gazette – Session 1 – 10/01/2003, pg. 1. Available at: accessed on 11/ 11/2021.
  5. Access to the full text of the National Curriculum Guidelines, especially those on Ethnic-Racial Relations Education (DCN-ERER). Available at: accessed on 11/11/2021.
  6. SECADI – Secretariat for Continuing Education, Literacy, Diversity and Inclusion.
  7. LDB – Law of Guidelines and Bases of National Education.
  8. Ana Lucia MATHIAS. Race relations in science textbooks. Dissertation (Master in Education) UFPR:, 2011. Available at: Accessed on 11/11/2021.
  9. Wellington Oliveira dos SANTOS. Race relations, National Textbook Program (PNLD) and geography textbooks. Dissertation (Master in Education) UFPR, 2012. Available at: accessed on 11/11/2021. Accessed on 11/11/2021.
  10. Isabella Sacramento da SILVA, Isabella Sacramento da. Remembrance of black elementary school students about black characters in textbooks. Dissertation (Master in Education) UFPR 2019. Available at: Accessed on 11/11/2021.
  11. Sidnei Marinho de SOUZA, Sidnei Marinho de. New iconographies in History textbooks: analysis and reception of imagetic racism and anti-racism by high school youth. Thesis (Doctorate in Education) UFMG, 2021. Available at: Accessed on 11/11/2021.
  12. Maysa Ferreira da SILVA. Breaking the discriminatory silence: Handling the mathematics textbook from the perspective of Education for Ethnic-Racial Relations. Thesis (Doctorate in Education), UFPR, 2020. Available at: Accessed on 11/11/2021.
  13. See research by Maria Cristina Soares GOUVEA Black images in Brazilian children's literature: historiographical analysis. In: Education and Research. São Paulo, v.31, n.1, Jan./Apr. 2005. Available at Accessed on 11/11/2021. Also in The Child's World: The Construction of Childhood in Brazilian Literature. Braganza: San Francisco, 2004.
  14. Analysis by writer and researcher Heloísa Pires LIMA (1999, p. 102-103) in a book produced by MEC and organized by Kabengele MUNANGA. Overcoming racism at school. Brasília: MEC 1999. Available at: accessed on 09/11/2021.
  15. Conducted by the Carlos Chagas Foundation and coordinated by Fulvia Rosemberg main results published in the author's book, Children's Literature and Ideology. SP: Global, 1984.
  16. Analysis by writer and researcher Heloísa Pires LIMA (1999, p. 102-103) in a book produced by MEC and organized by Kabengele MUNANGA. Overcoming racism at school. Brasília: MEC 1999. Available at: accessed on 09/11/2021.
  17. Study by Maria Anoria de Jesus OLIVEIRA. Black characters in Brazilian children's narratives: 1979-1989. Dissertation (Master in Education). Salvador: UNEB, 2003.
  18. Research by Gládis Elise Pereira da Silva KAERCHER. The world in the box: gender and race in the National School Library Program – 1999. Thesis (Doctorate in Education). Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, 2006.
  19. Page 141 of research by Veridiane Cintia de Souza OLIVEIRA. Education of Ethnic-Racial Relations and ideological strategies in the PBNE 2008 collection for Early Childhood Education. Dissertation (Master in Education) UFPR, 2011. Available at: accessed on 12/11/2021.
  20. Data from the thesis by Rita de Cássia Moser ALCARAZ. Reading policies for children in the city of Curitiba: the book as a right to promote racial equality. Thesis (Doctorate in Education) UFPR, 2018. Available at: accessed on 12/11/2021.
  21. Study by Maria Laura SPLENGER and Eliane DEBUS. Black characters in the picture books of the National School Library Program (PNBE) for Early Childhood Education. SCRIPT, v. 44, p. 1-20, 2019. Available at:
  22. Data and analysis by Débora Cristina de ARAUJO, Race relations, discourse and children's literature. Dissertation (Master in Education) UFPR, 2010. Available at accessed on 12/11/2021.
  23. Thesis and book by Edite PISA. The way of the waters. Stereotypes of Black Characters by White Women Writers. SP: EDUSP, 1998.
  29. In this regard, see book and articles by Eliane DEBUS. The theme of African and Afro-Brazilian culture in literature for children and young people. SP: Cortez, 2017.
  30. On the PNBE, see the thesis by Débora Cristina de ARAUJO. Children's and Youth Literature and Educational Policy: racialization strategies in the PNBE. Thesis (Doctorate in Education) UFPR, 2015. Available at: accessed on 12/11/2021. See also the author's chapter: Analysis of ideological discourses: the performance of Thompson's Triple Approach. In: Paulo SILVA; Débora ARAUJO; Wellington SANTOS (Orgs.). Racism, discourse and education: ideological strategies. Curitiba: NEAB, 2018, p. 39-77. Available at:
See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • A myopic logicRED MAN WALKING _ 12/06/2024 By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL: The government does not have the political will to make education a priority, while it courts the military or highway police, who do not move a millimeter away from the Bolsonarism that they continue to support
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives