structural racism

Image: João Nitsche


The influence of racism on the overrepresentation of blacks in the lower strata of the social hierarchy

Reflecting on the socioeconomic situation of the black population in Brazil, and the corresponding obstacles to their social ascension, and combining it with the issue of color, is always a challenge. One of the issues that sticks to this understanding is that, far from the abolition of slavery – which occurred around 1888, and slave labor, which lasted more than 300 years -, its marks remain deep in society, especially in cultural expressions. of the black population and their descendants, and their overrepresentation among the lower social strata of the national population.

Many researchers have sought to understand whether the issue of color played a decisive role in their condition of inferiority in the social hierarchy, or if other factors are somehow connected and serve as an explanation. According to Osorio (2004), some scholars of the relationship between color and social issues have even claimed that there is no relationship between the two, or that if a black person finds himself in an unfavorable social situation, among the lower classes, it only refers to the time factor of his release from slavery. The sooner they managed to free themselves from slave labor, or if they got out of that condition before abolition, the better were the possibilities for progressive social growth. What sustains this statement of the irrelevance of color in social mobility stemmed from the existence of mestizos among the economic and political elites, in the early decades of the 2004th century, according to the text: […]there were mestizos among the economic and political elites, or playing with social recognition – prestigious occupations[…] (OSÓRIO,8, P. XNUMX).

This argument, still very present at the dawn of the XNUMXth century, greatly influenced the thinking of the time to understand that Brazil would be a racial paradise, where coexistence between different ethnic groups shared a spirit of harmony, free from conflicts and racial discrimination.

According to (PIERSON apoud OSÓRIO, 2004), an author who defended the preponderance of class prejudice over race, and who had influence among countless national social scientists, stated that prejudice against blacks was directed to their social condition, that is, because they were lower in the social hierarchy and therefore, it has no component arising from its racial nature. The core of his explanation stemmed from the sociability between different ethnic groups, without the border limits as in the USA, where blacks were separated similar to the caste system.

Another author who also reduced the racial importance to the social, despite recognizing the existence of racial prejudice (AZEVEDO apoud OSÓRIO, 2004) asserted that society in Salvador in the 30s was multiracial, and that blacks competed with whites equally, only differentiated by their skills and personal attributes.

However, it should be noted that these authors who dedicated research on black people - sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) - were North Americans, who before dedicating themselves to the study in Bahia, came influenced both by Gilberto Freyre's theory of racial democracy and by their country's internal racial problems and conflicts. (RIBEIRO, 2017).

With reference to Gilberto Freyre, in his book entitled Sobrados e Mucambos: decadence of rural patriarchy and urban development – ​​which has the subject that most interests us at the moment -, he highlights that social disparities in Brazil are a result of the industrialization that occurred shortly after the colonial era, and not the result of discrimination. ( SILVA; TOBIAS, 2016).

But in disagreement with theorists who deny the existence of racism as a barrier factor for social mobility, it is urgent to emphasize the contributions of (COSTA PINTO apoud OSÓRIO, 2004) who concludes in his studies that blacks, in addition to being overrepresented in the lower strata, performing exhaustive and less valued tasks, question the myth of social mobility of mulattos, and expresses that the denial of racial barriers to social mobility , only has the character of strengthening the barriers. And he adds that the only social mobility experienced by blacks was the passage from slave to proletarian condition, not citizen.

In agreement with the aforementioned author, (CARDOSO; IANNI apoud OSORIO, 2004) state in their research produced in Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, that racial discrimination not only existed, but that it manifested itself with a certain spontaneity, and contributed a lot to the preservation of the slave order. Even though slavery officially ended, blacks continued to perform the same services that racial ideology considered naturally appropriate.

In order to break with the blockades imposed by the white elite and manage to climb the social scale, the black person would have to submit to a process of psychosocial and moral whitening, and renounce once and for all his ancestral roots. But the dilemma of this decoy of alleged social mobility was not reserved for everyone, but only those with a phenotype very close to whites, and which means, at the same time, being a victim and means of the racist propaganda of social equality. (FERNANDES apoud OSORIO, 2004).

Still according to the cited author, the personality and status Black people's social status was very intertwined with their slave-owning past, and that this hindered their social ascension. The answer to eliminate these barriers produced by ethnic, racial and cultural differences would be in a type of society, where the principles of structural integration prevail. And this tendency would occur in a free society under capitalist domination, where the relationship between color and social position, characteristic of the slaveholding order, would lose its meaning. But what we have seen is that both industrialization and the phenomenon of urban expansion have not unlocked the condition of stagnant blacks on the low social scale.

In the 50s and 80s, Brazil went through a period of economic growth that profoundly altered the rate of social mobility. According to studies, 58% of the population or more than half were in a different social position from their parents. Such social permeability was caused by the changes brought about by industrialization and the phenomenon of urbanization, in which the lower socioeconomic strata, such as the descendants of rural workers or the hoe, and small rural landowners experienced social mobility.

But this structural growth was not enough to improve the quality of life of the population, nor to mitigate social inequalities, especially among blacks. (OSORIO, 2004).

However, studies carried out by the National Household Sample Survey (PNAD), between the 70s, 80s and 90s, including six states in the southern region, demonstrated, according to the analysis by (HASENBALG apoud RIBEIRO, 2006), that whites have more upward social mobility than non-whites, and this can be interpreted by racial barriers, and discrimination in the process of intergenerational mobility.

Without wishing to analyze the methodological model of the research, but to emphasize its results, the study prepared by Ribeiro (2006), very similar to the aforementioned author, points out that the lower social ascension of blacks and browns is due to their greater population presence among lower classes and their low socioeconomic standard. And he also emphasizes that there is no racial inequality in the chances of upward mobility among people from lower classes. But racial prejudice becomes relevant as the black person rises in the social hierarchy. Black people in higher ranks on the social ladder have more chance or disadvantage of not remaining in the high social hierarchy than whites. With this, it is concluded that the inequality of social opportunity is racial, and manifests itself among the upper classes, as expressed by the author: [...] the inequality of opportunities for social mobility is racial only in the upper classes [...](RIBEIRO, 2006, p. 855)

Not different from the conclusion above, the author Guimarães (2002) highlights, based on the analysis of a PNAD survey from 1989 to 1999, carried out in the Brazilian industry environment, that there is a correlation between racial differentiation and income in the labor market. This distinction, which belittles qualification and overvalues ​​racial issues, white men and women versus black men and women, has a decisive impact on income and social differentiation.

According to the aforementioned study, despite being from the 80s and 90s, if gender and race are taken into account, the world of industry is marked by a massive male and white presence, reaching three times the number of females. If we highlight the issue of color and qualification, black women, even if they have a higher qualification than white men, earn less than the latter. On the other hand, discarding regional differences, diversity of economic activities and formal work relationships, the referenced author highlights that differences in hourly wages for white men in relation to black men and women are exponential. The author's conclusion is that discounting the aforementioned issues, differences in hourly wages can only be computed as racial discrimination.

It is interesting to highlight that the unequal geographical distribution of racial groups in the national territory is also a factor that helps to explain the disadvantages and racial inequality of the black population. According to (HASENBALG at al apoud SANTOS, 2005) black people are geographically distributed in less developed regions, being largely the result of the previous geography of slavery, European migration and their reproductive history. In addition to these geographical factors, known as disadvantages of origin, discrimination in education and the labor market should be highlighted.

The studies developed by (VALLE SILVA apoud SANTOS, 2005), stress, according to data from the 90s prepared by the PND, that racial discrimination exists in the labor market, and its impact on the income of blacks and browns is frightening. According to these studies, the income of blacks as a result of discrimination drops by 36%, while that of browns by 21%, allied to this, is added to low education, which leads to lower occupational, career and mobility opportunities in the job market.

Regarding literacy, the most recent data released by the Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) 2019, points out that the white population between 18 and 29 years old in 2017, who managed to complete basic education, reached around 74,4%, and in 2018 there was a slight increase to 76,2%, while for blacks and browns, the increase was a minimum of 58,3% to 59,8%. (MORENO, 2019).

Faced with this reality, we can emphasize that it is not a question of a high black population, nor of mental maladjustments, inferiority, nor a lack of interest in taking advantage of the opportunities created. On the contrary, poverty, including extreme poverty, racism, neglect and the absence of public policies threw them into a condition whose origins are found in the final periods of slavery and are perpetuated until the present day, because little has been done.

In this challenge, the black population finds itself in two situations: opening ways to face socioeconomic reality, and devising strategies to escape a hostile and degrading situation, which is phenotypical racism.

* Geraldo Oliveira Master in Social Sciences from Puc-Minas.



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