Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

How does a person become racist and what effect does being a childhood victim of discrimination have on adult life? Some very real heart breaking case studies of the effects of racism are explored, demonstrating the scars of racism on Afro-Brazilians

The small student,* a four-year old, woke up happy that day. She was proud to have been chosen by the teacher to be the little bride in the June festival in the school. [1] The curly hair had been carefully arranged by her mother, and decorated with a white veil, which framed an expressive and smiling face. It was to be a special day in the life of this child. However, the enchantment did not last long.

cc PZ
(Eastop – stock.xchng)

During the quadrilha, the grandmother of the classmate that was partnered with the girl showed indignation that the grandson would dance with a black student. A day later, she returned to the school to get satisfaction. According to the account of the incident filed by the family of the victim, the 54 year old woman came in shouting, asking why her grandson was made to dance with that ‘ugly, horrid black girl.’

The teacher, Denise Aragão remembers that she tried, in vain, to restrain the aggressor who continued to shout racist insults. The people in the neighboring room came to see what was happening and the little girl stayed in the corner, hearing everything. She was the only black girl in a class of 14 white children. ‘This disturbed me so much, it was a whipping. There was a lot of malice in those words,’ recounted the educator.

Denise complained about these offenses to the head of the school, who treated the situation with disdain. ‘The director said that this happens all the time, and if we had to fight with every prejudiced family, the school would already have been closed,’ she affirmed. Unhappy with the complicity of someone who was supposed to help and protect students, she resigned. She waited two days to see if the parents would be notified and, when she saw that nothing would be done, she resolved to call the mother of the girl to tell her everything.


The massage therapist Fátima Souza said that the she had been surprised by the behavior of the girl. On the day when she had been humiliated in school the child was unable to either sleep or eat properly and was very frightened. After that she went on to vomit frequently and had sobbing attacks and was panicked to be away from her parents.

More than a year after the incident, the consequences persisted. Fatima says that her daughter receives psychological counselling once a week since the incident. The recovery from the trauma has been a slow process. ‘She was very independent, smart and worked everything out by herself. Now she cries all the time and says that she is black and ugly and that she doesn’t like that. This has caused some damage in my daughter’s life. It is very painful,’ she said emotionally.

Box text: The effect of racism on children:
• Low self-esteem
• Denial of their own image
• Feelings of angst and disgust
• Difficulties socializing
• Poor performance at school.

This case took place at a particular school in Contagem, in the metropolitan area of Belo Horizonte, but it could have taken place in any other place in Brazil. The reality of racial discrimination in the country means that many people are subjected to hate and intolerance every day. And what few people perceive is the type of consequences that this can bring when the victim is a child in the process of forming their own identity is unimaginable.


According to the president-director of the AMMA Institute of the psyche and negritude, Maria Lúcia da Silva, between 8 months and 3 years old, human beings begin to notice physical differences between themselves and others. The specialist highlights that in this period, it is fundamental that the person feel accepted, welcomed and valued in these differences. ‘This can be the beginning of a conflict that the baby or child can have with their body on the basis of negative representations that the society can have with their body on the basis of touches, looks, teasing, derogatory names and images,’ she explained.

She highlights that the development of self-esteem develops in the first years of life, through the way in which a child is treated by their family and also social relations. The denigration of certain racial groups should not be discounted, especially in childhood. In the opinion of Maria Lúcia pejorative jokes among classmates, often seen as ‘innocent,’ can hide patterns of behavior that can help to perpetrate racism in society. ‘When they are called names the child feels humiliated and ashamed. She is deprived of her own name and her humanity when, for example, someone attributes to her an animal characteristic,’ she warns. Among the effects of constant exposure to this vexing situations, would be feelings of worthlessness, the rejection of their own image and inhibition and difficulty in having confidence in oneself.


And how are relations of ethnic-racial domination learned in this period? For a professor and doctor in social psychology for the University of Brasília (UnB) Jaqueline de Jesus, it is not necessary that it is said explicitly that the child is a part of society and is less important than others. The examples are many and are on television, in teaching books and in the subaltern space, generally linked with servitude to white people. ‘Racism becomes explicit when it is observed that the majority of the poor population is black, when employment policies prefer white people, when the majority of the incarcerated population is black and when laws against racism are simply not enforced,’ she adds.

The opinion of the psychologist is confirmed by statistics. A study, launched in 2010 by the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF) showed that, in Brazil there are 31 million black boys and girls and 140 million indigenous ones. In total, they represent 54.5 percent of all the children and adolescents in the country. Even being the majority of the population in this age group, access to basic services of health, education and housing for them are very different. According to the survey, a black child has a 70 percent greater risk of being poor than a white child.

The respected sociologist Florestan Fernandes (1920-1995) used to say that Brazilians have a ‘prejudice about having prejudice in the sense that there is a major effort to deny that there is prejudice in the country and effectively to find solutions for combatting it.’ Jacqueline agrees with the idea and argues that the first step towards changing this picture is to do away with the false idea that there exists a ‘racial democracy,’ which is responsible for masking a series of inequalities. ‘The cynical Brazilian racism is a historical and social legacy in which are included, and which maintains itself structurally with the logic of the current economic system, which re-signified the former black slave, now free, as a sub-citizen, a person with lesser intellectual and technical capacities than a white,’ she affirmed.


The investment in education would be one of the most effective mechanisms to guarantee a real movement in society. This no one doubts. However, research reveals that in this area we are far from equality of opportunity among citizens. According to the data published by UNICEF, a black child has a 30 percent higher chance of being out of school. An indigenous child is three times more likely to not go to classes than a white child in the same age group. If access to education is difficult, remaining on the school roles also is not a simple task.

Box: Watch:
Documentary “Blue Eyes”

The film shows one of the workshops of sociology professor Jane Elliot who applied, in 1968, an exercise dividing up the class on the basis of the eye color of the children.

The idea, which generated controversy, was to create a climate of segregation so that the students could feel during the class the discrimination that certain racial groups feel every day.

For the social assistant and teacher of education for the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Uerj), Yvone Costa, the school needs to be established as a space that values cultural diversity, the exchange of experiences, mutual respect and in this way to help in promoting the deconstruction of racist stereotypes. ‘In the day to day of institutions of childhood education, we notice black children wanting long, red and blond hair. This is seeking the idea of beauty that has been transmitted to through an exclusive and prejudiced process,’ she observed.

Yvone highlighted that there was a lack of pedagogical projects arranged to go beyond the Eurocentric vision of the school curriculum and as such the children end up reproducing that which is dictated by the common understanding. She attributed the situation, among other factors, to the poor quality of training of teachers and the absence of adequate conditions for the exercise of the profession.

As a way of trying to incentivize more inclusive education and in 2003 Law 10.639 was approved, making the teaching of Afro-Brazilian history and culture obligatory in both public and private schools. Outside the recognition of the initiative as a victory for social movements, Yvone emphasizes that it is necessary to put this into practice day to day and not only on certain specific days such as the Day of the Indian or the Day of the Abolition of Slavery.


Some positive children’s books to read with children to counter the scars of racism:
cc PZ
The Brown Child by Ziraldo

The book reveals the friendship between two children, one black and one white. The author uses the familiarity and the adventures of the two to punctuate human differences and to speak about prejudice.

cc PZ
Bad Hair? – The story of three children learning to accept themselves by Neusa Baptista Pinto

The discovery of beauty and the self-acceptance are the central subjects of this book, which brings out as characters three poor black girls who are facing manifestations of prejudice in their frizzy hair. Little by little they learn to love it for how it is.

cc PZ
My Grandpa Apolinário: Diving in the river of my memory
by Daniel Munduruku

The author recovers memories such as lessons from his grandfather and is motivated to learn about and be proud of his heritage, relating to the facts of his own path as a indigenous child. In addition, he narrates diverse stories of his people, passed down from generation to generation.


The historian Sidney Lobato explains that after 400 years of slavery in Brazil, prejudice has reshaped itself into new and current expressions of racism in society. ‘The children of slaves occupied a marginalized space. At that time, situations of physical violence and sadistic jokes of white children in relation to black ones, were common. Today, there is a symbolic violence that takes a more subtle form, but which is still following the same patterns,’ he emphasizes.

He remembers that, after the liberation of the slaves there was a concerted effort on the part of the authorities to attract European immigrants as a way of boosting the modernization of the country through the ‘whitening’ of the population. In the end, it was attributed to white people the aesthetic, moral and intellectual patterns considered desirable for a developed nation. In this way, there was formed an ever growing mass of excluded blacks.

Sidney stresses that indigenous people were also passed over throughout history. He affirms that, with the rising deforestation and disputes for land, the right of these people to survive was being taken away. ‘They don’t have any way to sustain themselves. And the children, as well as those who are older, are the ones who suffer most from this,’ he warns.

In Brazil, in spite of all of the efforts that have assured a rate of infant mortality of 19 deaths per one thousand live births, the rate of infant mortality in indigenous populations remains a challenge for public health. In 2010 the official report of the National Health Foundation (Funasa) revealed the index of 41.9 death per thousand live birth among indigenous persons, far above the national average.

Suicides are also an important cause of mortality in this population. Of all the registered deaths among indigenous children, adolescents and youths, 5.8 percent of them were suicide – which is the equivalent of three times the rate in comparison with white people, which have a rate of 1.9 percent. These data are from the System of Information on Mortality, compiled over five years and distributed in 2008 by the Ministry of Health.


The President-Director of the AMMA Institute of the Psyche and Negritude, Maria Lúcia da Silva, points out the importance of parents and educators strengthening in children the need to respect differences. She suggests that the subject could be debated in a playful way, through games, conversations and films. ‘Educators, as well as parents, are fundamental figures in the life of the child. They represent authority and occupy a place of admiration and models of identification,’ she observes.

And, in noting the isolation and sadness caused by an act of discrimination the specialist affirms that this requires special attention. ‘Children have to be praised, reinforced in the beauty of their color, their hair, their history and their people,’ she instructs. Another tip is to bring together boys and girls of different cultures to talk about the diversity of foods, music and games that they can learn from one another.

Sought after to speak on the subject, the advisor to the Secretary of Human Rights of the President of the Republic (SDH/PR) – the portfolio response the actions directed to children and adolescents in the federal sphere – affirmed that activities with a focus on social inclusion are being developed. Among them, collective drives for birth registration, campaigns to incentivize the adoption of children of various ethnicities and the support of the project ‘Crossed Eyes,’ which contributes to the reduction of infant mortality among indigenous populations.

cc PZ
(Maíra Streit)


‘The people who helped to build Brasilia did not have the right to live in the center. They were taken to various distant locations, creating satellite cities. I am one of them. I was born in Ceilândia in 1971, in the same year that it was founded. I come from a northeastern family. We were among the few cases of black families that had a father and a mother. The majority have either a father or a mother, but never both.

The question of discrimination has endured for a long time and today the same thing is continuing. I started studying during the time of the military regime. There was a lot of repression and inside that repression there was prejudice. I lived in the midst of all this. If you are black, you are already inferior. There are not people in the community who preach it, it is its own system I remember it as if it were today. In school, the white girl was the princess. The white boy was the intelligent one and the black child will always be the “nigger”.

This comes from the very foundation of the country, from 1500. The Portuguese came in as bosses. The question of racism is very difficult and will not end soon. There is a lot of competition among blacks. I have a black nephew who says that he is not black, he says that he is brown. For him brown is better than black. This is not based on what he sees, it is based on what he learns. School teaches that the color black is ugly. The color white is the color white is the color of peace, of purity. Who are our heroes? Dom Pedro I, Princess Isabel. In school no one talks about Zumbi, about Dandara. For the system, they are villains.

Our assistance must be immediate. We have assistance designed for the long term. I am hungry, I have to eat now. I cannot wait for a week. And when you turn on the television, there is a white family sitting there with a table full of food. Everything is beautiful, the whole world is preaching love, knowing that many times, love is based on money. Brazilian TV has a quota for blacks. It is 10 percent, only to say that it is against discrimination. This is a facade. We are the majority of the population of the country, but a majority that is prevented from winning.

When I was a kid, the school where I studied we had a few black parties. My class included Amendoim, Verminoso, Ricardo Beição… We were only known by nicknames. We had an emphasis on dance, but those that won all the prizes were always the white kids in the school. I went through this suffering. I went through this, but I didn’t stop fighting. Rap has always called for an end to discriminatio