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Anthropologists are prominent amongst the proponents and critics of racial quotas. This article seeks to present the arguments on both sides of the debate and to speculate on why anthropologists have become so seriously divided on this issue. Racial discrimination is widely perceived as a matter of civil rights. But it is also a matter of civil rights that individuals be permitted to categorize themselves and their children according to their own sense of identity.

Brazil may be no closer to racial democracy than other countries, but its system for establishing racial identity has many features from which the world has much to learn. In these days, such diversity makes for the wealth of a country. What could be further from the mixture idealized by Gilberto Freyre than the concept of distinct races? What could be further from the optimistic words of Marvin Harris in the epigraph to this essay? It has also lent its weight to two governmental projects which if implemented would definitively install a bipolar racial taxonomy in Brazil.

Each university would reserve places to Indians, Blacks and Whites in accordance with their statistical distribution in the state where the university is situated. The Statute of Racial Equality is far more wide-ranging in its aims, containing an Introduction and eleven chapters, covering rights to health, education, belief, employment and fair pay, justice, and representation in the media 3.

Interestingly enough there is no reference in this document to the Indians. Maggie Diversity has become a shibboleth proclaimed by myriad social movements as they demand recognition and material reward from government. It is as though class had given way to race and ethnicity as the principal concept for understanding Brazil. Many years ago, when the military government threatened to de-Indianise some indigenous groups I accompanied the then president of Brazilian Anthropological Association ABA , Eunice Durham, on many litigious meetings with the ruling generals.

Jokingly, Eunice suggested to me that we set up an anthropological organization to attest the authenticity of Indian groups for a small fee.

That joke has become reality in post military democratic Brazil. End of parenthesis. The original initiatives in the direction of affirmative action were taken by politicians. Prior to the introduction of these first quotas, the black movement was divided over the issue.

Once a reality, however, the black movement rallied around them and then rapidly became a sacred symbol of the movement and its allies, among them a number of anthropologists. Those of us who took a more critical stance observed that most of what was being introduced seemed to pass through state assemblies, and university councils with little or no debate 5. This led us to write for the press, publish a book of critical essays and interviews Fry et al.

In a sense, then I attempt a meta anthropology. But of course this is impossible since I am an actor in the story I narrate. Be prepared, then, for an ill concealed parti pris. A few words on my own perspective are therefore mandatory. But I found Zimbabwe even more worrying; in , nine years after independence, it was almost as racially segregated and conflictive as it had been as Southern Rhodesia which I had known as a young researcher in the s.

He told me that a young black graduate student from Bahia, Arivaldo Lima Alves, had failed an obligatory course, that he might lose his scholarship and that it was clearly a case of racism. Would I pronounce? I said the obvious; that accusations of racism were akin to accusations of witchcraft, that I found it difficult to imagine that such an accusation had any foundation and had therefore nothing to say. Indeed, I later discovered that the professor in question, rather strict it would appear, had also failed a couple of other students, both of lighter complexions.

One young man said afterwards that they asked him whether he had belonged to the Black movement and if he had ever had a mulata girl friend. In the end, only 13 of the 34 were denied a black identity. That is why the photographs and commissions make sense for the black activists who wish to benefit people who have potentially suffered from discrimination not because of their desired identity but from the way their appearance is interpreted by others.

As I argued at the time, the photographs are a logical conclusion of the premises of the policy Fry They reiterated the need to compensate for slavery and continued discrimination. Both could define their positions as constructivist no one in their right mind would deny that races are socially constructed , but while those in favour of quotas affirm the need to employ racial categories to combat inequality and injustice, those against them argue that linking the distribution of public goods and services to racial identities is a way of a instituting a Brazil of two distinct racial categories, and b enshrining them in law.

Public policy must then be designed to eradicate this belief or, at least not reinforce it. What characterises the discussion in the case of the UnB is that the less radical constructionists cannot or will not take seriously the position of the radical ones.

The argumentation followed that of the UnB, arguing from the statistics of inequality to quotas. Candidates would themselves opt for quotas or not, while a Special Verification Commission made up of representatives of faculty, students technical and administrative staff and after at least one quota student, would examine the applicants in the manner of the UnB commissions.

In addition, and distinctly from the UnB, the proposal included the same proportions of university places were to be reserved for those candidates who had studied in public schools. In this article, he argued that the educational inequalities between pretos , pardos and brancos were due not so much to discrimination but to differential access to education of quality.

In it, she insisted on the existence of racism in Brazil, and on the need for the university to take a lead in combating racial exclusion. But she also added an ad hominem attack. His argument was less to defend quotas as such and more to show the extent of racism in Brazil. His hypothetical answers follow:. Might it be that the national patrimony, which is the myth of racial democracy, is not good enough even to sustain a new moral disposition which demands and challenges that blacks live together with whites as soon as possible in reasonable number on our campus?

Could it be that they think that whites will not be able to live together with Indians in anything other than the researcher-object relationship? Maybe they fear the as yet untested potential of their own racial hatreds. Them, so humanist! Or, as Bernardo Lewgoy put it. A manicheistic syllogism if ever there was one, but one that tires with the monotony of its repetition.

Might it be that we should to a DNA test and subject ourselves to a Racial Tribunal to be able to participate in a debate which is of interest to all?

As Bernardo Lewgoy commented to me at the time:. I ask of my cowardly student friends how can someone fear to question another?

Fear of being called a racist and so as not to tell me other adjectives which are used to describe me. It is extremely difficult to discuss the matter without being accused of being a racist. Imagine, me of all people, Jew and anthropologist, racist.

This really upsets me. In it they propose the creation of extra places for Indians and Blacks in order to compensate for past suffering and contemporary exclusion. The bulk of the document lists the eight fallacies on which, he argues and I agree the policy of quotas is based:. The fallacy that the contemporary so called white segment has inherited the responsibility of its ancestors for slavery and for the absence of post abolition policies.

Those who are able to sit university entrance exams are a small relatively privileged minority of all colours. Maybe it is a good idea to encourage social bourgeoisification, but this should not be concealed behind the rhetoric of the inclusion of the discriminated masses.

The fallacy that discrimination may be combated through university entrance. The fallacy of suggesting automatic success to candidates without the technical expertise to follow a very specialised course. I gather that from time to time the subject reappears. The fact is that faculty are divided on the issue, some signing documents issued by the critics of quotas, others those written by their proponents.

This is hardly relevant, since we have studiously not criticised black activists as such but the enshrinement of their desire in the laws of the state. Velho and Viveiro de Castro identify racial quotas with a praiseworthy move towards cultural diversity on the part of the Brazilian state. Ian Hacking has this to say about social construction:. Social constructionists about X tend to hold that: 1 X need not have existed, or need not be at all as it is. X, or X as it is at present, is not determined by the nature of things; it is not inevitable.

A thesis of type I is the starting point: the existence or character of X is not determined by the nature of things. X is not inevitable. X was brought into existence or shaped by social events, forces, history, all of which could well have been different. Many social construction theses at once advance to 2 and 3 , but they need not do so. One may realize that something, which seems inevitable in the present state of things, was not inevitable, and yet is not thereby a bad thing.

But most people who use the social construction idea enthusiastically want to criticize, change, or destroy some X that they dislike in the established order of things. Where they differ is that the proponents of racial quotas may proceed to theses 2 and 3, but only in the long term. They appear to believe that Brazil is ontologically made up of blacks and whites. From there on the step to essentialization is a short one. Having established this truth which is the truth of the black activists, of course they then go on to justify quotas as a temporary policy to compensate for the suffering of one category at the hands of the other.

Bailey , Baran Thus, we argue that racial quotas as a self-fulfilling prophecy could play an important role in bringing about the premise upon which they are based. To agree or not to agree with a policy of quotas for Black students in Brazilian universities are two ideological positions in relation to society and the university, they are differences of points of view on what is better for the country.

They are not the results of a disciplinary exercise. Her view of the social life of anthropologists, rather akin to theories of rational choice, suggests that those men and women who do not agree with her act out of self-interest, bringing to bear their theory as ideology to conceal or justify their true intent. Thus, opponents of racial quotas are also generally accused of being white, elite and acting out of an interest to maintain their privilege.

This is possible within the framework of a certain social science or ideology? It is doubtful whether I would have reacted in the way I did had I not had this grounding in social anthropology. It is as clear as day to me that the imposition of racial categories by any state is bound to consolidate them first before the institutions of the state and ultimately in the subjectivity of its citizens.

Similar narratives are told by my friends in this debate, not least those Jews whose constructionist sociology dovetails with their abhorrence of any recurrence of racial definition. Boas was responsible for debunking race but also for inaugurating what Marvin Harris termed historical particularism Harris Cultural relativism became a shibboleth of those anthropologists who were and are cartographers of difference and diversity.

After all, much of the argument in defence of Amerindian rights in Brazil is based on their cultural specificity and its extreme longevity.

Those anthropologists, therefore, from their indigenous perspective, are more likely than other to find notions of diversity and difference more plausible, even when applied to situations not in any way similar to those which they are acquainted.

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Anthropologists are prominent amongst the proponents and critics of racial quotas. This article seeks to present the arguments on both sides of the debate and to speculate on why anthropologists have become so seriously divided on this issue. Racial discrimination is widely perceived as a matter of civil rights. But it is also a matter of civil rights that individuals be permitted to categorize themselves and their children according to their own sense of identity. Brazil may be no closer to racial democracy than other countries, but its system for establishing racial identity has many features from which the world has much to learn. In these days, such diversity makes for the wealth of a country. What could be further from the mixture idealized by Gilberto Freyre than the concept of distinct races?

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