Social Issues

Racism in Brazil, subtle but deadly

By Nayara Batschke

Sao Paulo, Jun 9 (efe-epa).- Despite a childhood of extreme poverty Liliane Rocha has forged a successful career as an executive consultant, entrepreneur and author.

The businesswoman, 38, has also had to overcome another obstacle – racism, which is subtle in Brazil but often synonymous with early death.

Rocha grew up in an 18-square-meter hut in Guarulhos, a metropolitan region of Sao Paulo, until the age of nine.

Her life changed after she attended university and got a position at a multinational company.

It was only when the internship began that she first realized the racial abyss that exists in Brazil.

“In my family there are blacks, in the places where I circulate there are blacks, in the subway there are blacks,” she says in an interview with Efe.

“But when I entered my first company, I realize that there are no blacks.”

Brazil has the largest African diaspora population in the world but huge social inequality, 75 percent of poor people are from this background.

Very few black or multiracial people in the country attend university or can find secure employment.

Rocha says the country’s racism problem does not depend on social class, education or profession and she has experienced it in the corporate environment and on nights out with friends.

“One of the stories that affected me most was when a supervisor told me during a job evaluation that I should straighten my hair and wear refined clothes because I was black,” she recalls.

She says she realized that for blacks “technical competence, intelligence or experience” is not enough and they also have to “hide traces of our ethnic group”.

Rocha has a degree in public relations, a postgraduate in sustainability, a master’s in public policy and has written a book on inclusive leadership in business.

She has received international awards, speaks three languages ??and teaches classes in some of the most recognized universities in the country.

Despite this, she is often forced to deal with confused and reproachful glances from people who think she does not belong in certain social settings.

“I went to visit a friend in one of the richest neighborhoods in Sao Paulo and when I was in the elevator a neighbor looks at me, looks at the clock and says ‘are you leaving now?

This isn’t the time domestic workers leave’,” she says.

She was raised by her mother and as a child was subjected to difficulties and prejudices because of her race, even though more than half of Brazil’s population has African ancestry.

“I slept in bus stations, I asked for money on the street, I was hungry,” she says.

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