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Ethnic groups in Brazil

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Ethnic groups in Brazil

Brazilian society is made up of a confluence of people of several different origins, from the original Native Americans, with the influx of Portuguese colonizers,[1] Black African slaves,[1] and recent European,[1] Arab and Japanese immigration. Other significant groups include Koreans, Chinese, Paraguayans and Bolivians.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Brazilian culture has promoted racial integration and mixing.[2]

Historic background

The Brazilian population was formed by the influx of Portuguese settlers and African, mostly Bantu and West African populations[3](such as the Yoruba, Ewe, and Fanti-Ashanti) slaves into a territory originally inhabited by various indigenous populations, mainly Tupi, Guarani and Ge[4] In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in what is known as Great Immigration,[5] new groups arrived, mainly of Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and German origin, but also from Japan, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.[6]

When the Portuguese reached what is now called Brazil in 1500, its native population was probably composed of about 2.5 million Amerindians.[7] Up to 1532, the Portuguese made no real effort to colonise the land, limiting to the establishment of “feitorias” to organise the trade of brazilwood.[8] When it became clear that this policy would result in the land being taken by other European powers – namely the French and the Dutch – the Portuguese Crown decided to effectively occupy the territory by fostering agricultural activities – especially sugarcane crops – in Brazil.[9] This resulted not only in the growth of the population of Portuguese origin, but also in the introduction of African slavery in Brazil.[9]

The population, however, only boosted in the 18th century, as a result of the discovery of gold and diamonds in the region known as Minas Gerais, which prompted massive populational movements from Portugal – as well as increased slave trafficking – to Brazil.

During the colonial period, the Portuguese prohibited any influx of other Europeans to Brazil.[10] In consequence, the Portuguese and their descendants constituted the overwhelming majority of the White population of colonial Brazil.[11] However, in the Southern Brazilian areas disputed between Portugal and Spain, a genetic study suggests that the predominant genomic ancestry of the Brazilian Gaúchos (inhabitants of the Pampas) may be Spanish, not Portuguese.[12][13] Also a small number of Dutch settlers remained in the Northeast after the Portuguese retook Dutch Brazil[14] and may have contributed to the demographic composition of Northeastern Brazil.[15]

Only in the 19th century, whence the colonial relation between Brazil and Portugal changed and the polity was renamed “United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and Algarves”, was the immigration of non-Portuguese allowed. Even then, however, and even after the country’s independence in 1822, immigration to Brazil was mainly Portuguese, though a significant number of German immigrants settled in the Southern region.[6]

In the mid-century, the crisis of the slave-based production in Brazil prompted the Brazilian elites to find new solutions for the work force needed for the expansion of Brazilian agriculture – especially the growing sector of coffee culture in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

European immigration

Brazilian demographics were strongly modified, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, by European immigration. Brazilian immigration policy was closely connected to the so-called “questão da mão-de-obra” (workforce issue), and planters’ concerns about how to replace the slave workforce; the reasons why the slaves were not simply transformed into free workers are a point of contention. As a result, the Brazilian government sought to attract European immigrants.

Combined with the European demographic crisis, this resulted in the immigration of about 5 million people, mostly European peasants, in the last quarter of the 19th century and first half of the 20th. The majority of these immigrants were either Portuguese or Italian (about 1,500,000 each), though significant numbers of Spaniards - which possibly include Portuguese emigrating from Vigo on false passports[16] - (690,000), Germans (250,000), Japanese (170,000), Middle Easterns (100,000, mostly people from what are now Syria and Lebanon arriving on Turkish passports), and Eastern Europeans (mostly Poles and Ukrainians arriving on Russian passports) also immigrated.[6]

There are few reliable statistics on the Brazilian population before the 1872 census, which counted 9,930,478, of which 3,787,289 Whites, 1,954,452 Blacks, and 4,188,737 pardos.[17] These figures do not yet reflect the influx of the five million immigrants mentioned above, since up to 1872 only about 270,000 immigrants had arrived in Brazil.[18] According to Judicael Clevelário's calculations, the total population of immigrant origin in 1872 would be of about 240,000 people;[19] consequently, the total White population of non-immigrant origin for that year would be of about 3,540,000 people at least.

The White proportion of the population increased rapidly between 1872 and 1940, mainly because of immigration, but also because the growth rate of the Black and parda population, which was very low during slavery, remained below the national average for some time after abolition.

Immigration to Brazil, by national origin, periods from 1830 to 1933
Origin 1830–1855 1856–1883 1884–1893 1894–1903 1904–1913 1914–1923 1924–1933
Portuguese 16,737 116,000 170,621 155,542 384,672 201,252 233,650
Italians 100,000 510,533 537,784 196,521 86,320 70,177
Spaniards 113,116 102,142 224,672 94,779 52,405
Germans 2,008 30,000 22,778 6,698 33,859 29,339 61,723
Japanese 11,868 20,398 110,191
Syrians and Lebanese 96 7,124 45,803 20,400 20,400
Others 66,524 42,820 109,222 51,493 164,586

Abolition of slavery (1888)

Further information: Slavery in Brazil

There seems to be no easy explanation of why slaves were not employed as wage workers at the abolition of slavery. One possibility is the influence of race-based ideas from the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which were based on pseudo-scientific theories of White superiority. On the other hand, Brazilian latifundiaries had been using slave manpower for centuries, with no complaints about the quality of this workforce, and there were not important changes in Brazilian economy or work processes that could justify such sudden preoccupation with the "race" of the labourers. Their embracing of those new racist ideas, moreover, proved quite flexible, even opportunist: with the slow down of Italian immigration since 1902 and the Prinetti Decree, Japanese immigration started in 1908, with any qualms about their typically non-European origins being quickly forgotten.

An important, and usually ignored, part of this equation was the political situation in Brazil, during the final crisis of slavery. According to Petrônio Domingues, by 1887 the slave struggles pointed to a real possibility of widespread insurrection. On October 23, in São Paulo, for instance, there were violent confrontations between the police and rioting Blacks, who chanted "long life freedom" and "death to the slaveowners".[20] The president of the province, Rodrigues Alves, reported the situation as following:

The massive flight of slaves from several fazendas threatens, in some places in the province, public order, alarming the proprietaries and the productive classes.[21]

Uprisings erupted in Itu, Campinas, Indaiatuba, Amparo, Piracicaba and Capivari; ten thousand fugitive slaves grouped in Santos. Flights were happening in daylight, guns were spotted among the fugitives, who, instead of hiding from police, seemed ready to engage in confrontation.

It was as a response to such events that, on May 13, 1888, slavery was abolished, as a means to restore order and the control of the ruling class,[22] in a situation in which the slave system was almost completely disorganised.

As an abolitionist newspaper, O Rebate, put it, ten years later,

Hadn't the slaves fled massively from the plantations, rebelling against the masters (...) Hadn't them, in more than 20,000, gone to the famous quilombo of Jabaquara (out of Santos, itself a center of abolitionist agitation), and maybe they would today be still slaves (...) Slavery ended because slaved no longer wanted to be slaves, because slaves rebelled against their masters and against the law that enslaved them (...) The law of May 13th was nothing more than the legal recognition - so that public authority wasn't discredited - of an act that had alreacy been accomplished by the mass revolt of slaves.[23]

Another factor, also usually neglected, is the fact that, regardless of the racial notions of the Brazilian elite, European populations were emigrating in great numbers - to the United States, to Argentina, to Uruguay - which African populations certainly weren't doing, at that time. In this respect, what was new in "immigration to Brazil" was not the "immigration", but the "to Brazil" part. As Wilson do Nascimento Barbosa puts it,

The collapse of slavery was the economic result of three conjugated movements: a) the end of the first industrial revolution (1760-1840) and the beginning of the so-called second industrial revolution (1880-1920); b) the lowering of the reproduction costs of the White man in Europe (1760-1860), due to the sanitary and pharmacological impact of the first industrial revolution; c) the raising costs of African Black slaves, due to the increasing reproduction costs of Black men in Africa.[24]

Racial and ethnic theories

Immigration discussion and policy in the 19th century

As the Brazilian elites perceived the oncoming abolition of slavery as a problem, various alternatives were discussed. While very few remained stuck with the idea of preserving slavery, some proposed the reintegration of "national workers" (which was understood as including the soon-to-be former slaves) into a "free-labour" system; others proposed Chinese immigration. It was against these positions, not against any imaginary African immigration, that racial arguments were made. So, besides a dispute "immigrantists" and "anti-immigrantists", there was also a debate between pro-Chinese and pro-European immigrantists; the latter also were divided between those, like Nicolau Moreira, who defended not only European immigration, but also a land reform, so to attract immigrants as small farmers, and those who wanted immigrants as wage labourers for the plantations.

In Brazil, particularly in São Paulo, the dominant idea was that national workers were unable to develop the country, and that only foreign workers would be able to work in a regime of "free" (i.e., wage) labour. The goal was to "whiten" Brazil through new immigrants and through future miscegenation in which former slaves would disappear by becoming “whiter”.[25]

In 1878, ten years before the abolition of slavery, Rio de Janeiro hosted the Congresso Agrícola (Agricultural Congress) and that meeting reflected what the Brazilian elite (especially coffee planters) expected from their future workers.[26] Although national workers were an option to some of the participants, especially to those not from São Paulo, most of them, under the lead of coffee planters from São Paulo, agreed that only immigration would be good to Brazil,[27] and, moreover, European immigration. The Congresso Agrícola showed that the elite was convinced that Europeans were racially and culturally superior to other “races”.

Although discussions were situated in a theoretical field, immigrants arrived and colonies were founded through all this period (the rule of Pedro II), especially from 1850 on, particularly in the Southeast and Southern Brazil.

These discussions culminated in the Decree 528 in 1890, signed by Brazil's first President Deodoro da Fonseca, which opened the national harbors to immigration except for Africans and Asians. This decree remained valid until October 5, 1892 when, due to pressures of coffee planters interested in cheap manpower, it was overturned by Law 97.[28]

As a result of those discussions and policies, Brazil experienced immigration mostly from countries such as Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Poland during the end of the empire and the beginning of the republic period (late 19th and early 20th centuries). Later immigration, from 1908 on, was not so much influenced by that race discussions and Brazil attracted, besides Europeans, more immigrants from Lebanon, Syria and Japan, for example.

Oliveira Vianna and the ideology of "Whitening"

The Brazilian government, as was commonplace at that time, endorsed positions expressed by Brazilian intellectuals. An example is a text, written by Oliveira Vianna, that was issued as introductory material to 1920 Census results. Many pages of Vianna's work were dedicated to the discussion of a "pure race" of white Brazilians. According to the text, written by Oliveira Vianna, the first Portuguese colonists who came to Brazil were part of the blond Germanic nobility that ruled Portugal, while the dark-haired "poor" Portuguese only came to Brazil later, in the 17th and especially the 18th century.[29]

According to Oliveira Vianna, the blond Portuguese of Germanic origin were "restless and migratory", and that's why they emigrated to Brazil. On the other hand, the Portuguese of darker complexions were of Celtic or Iberian origin and came when the Portuguese settlement in Brazil was already well established, because, according to him, "The peninsular brachyoids, of Celtic race, or the dolicoides, of Iberian race, of sedentary habits and peaceful nature, did not have, of course, that mobility nor that bellicosity nor that spirit of adventure and conquest".[29]

The text reported the different levels of intelligence found among blacks and highlights the existence of "lazy blacks" (Gêgis and Angolans) or "laborious blacks" (Timinins, Minas, Dahomeyanos) and also the existence of "peaceful and obedient blacks" and of "rebels and fierce" ones. Vianna also compares the "morality" and intellectual level found among blacks and reports that Gêgis, Krumanos and Cabindas revealed the "mental inferiority, typical from the lowest types of the black race".[29]

Gilberto Freyre's work

In 1933, Brazilian anthropologist Gilberto Freyre published his famous book Casa-Grande & Senzala (English: The Masters and the Slaves). The book appeared at a moment when there was a widespread belief among social scientists that some races were superior to other ones, and in the same period when the Nazi Party in Germany was on the rise. Freyre's work was very important to change the mentality, especially of the white Brazilian elite, who considered the Brazilian people as "inferior" because of their African and Amerindian ancestry. In this book, Freyre refuted the idea that Brazil would have an "inferior race" because of the race-mixing.

Then, he pointed the positive elements that permeate the Brazilian cultural formation because of miscegenation (especially between Portuguese, Indians and blacks). Freyre's book has changed the mentality in Brazil, and the mixing of races, then, became a reason to be a national pride. However, Freyre's book created the Brazilian myth of the Racial democracy, so that Brazil was a "post-racial" country without racism. This theory was later challenged by several anthropologists who claim that, despite the race-mixing, the white Brazilian population still occupies the top of the Brazilian society, while Blacks, Indians and mixed-race people are largely found in the poor population.

Gilberto Freyre on the criticisms that he received

The life of Gilberto Freyre, after he published Casa-Grande & Senzala, became an eternal source of explanation. He repeated several times that he did not create the myth of a racial democracy and that the fact that his books recognized the intense mixing between "races" in Brazil did not mean a lack of prejudice or discrimination. He pointed out that many people have claimed the United States to have been an "exemplary democracy" whereas slavery and racial segregation were present throughout most of the history of the United States.[30]

"The interpretation of those who want to place me among the sociologists or anthropologists who said prejudice of race among the Portuguese or the Brazilians never existed is extreme. What I have always suggested is that such prejudice is minimal (...) when compared to that which is still in place elsewhere, where laws still regulate relations between Europeans and other groups".

"It is not that racial prejudice or social prejudice related to complexion are absent in Brazil. They exist. But no one here would have thought of "white-only" Churches. No one in Brazil would have thought of laws against interracial marriage (...) Fraternal spirit is stronger among Brazilians than racial prejudice, colour, class or religion. It is true that equality has not been reached since the end of slavery (...) There was racial prejudice among plantation owners, there was social distance between the masters and the slaves, between whites and blacks (...) But few wealthy Brazilians were as concerned with racial purity as the majority were in the Old South". [30]

Racial legislation

A persistent Brazilian myth is the idea that racism in Brazil was never enshrined in legislation as it was the United States or South Africa. This idea has been propagated even by progressist, anti-racist intellectuals such as Darcy Ribeiro, who mistakenly holds that in Brazil, "miscegenation was never a crime or a sin". The myth of a purely informal racism, however, is false;[31] there was plenty of racist legislation in Brazil, even though it never acquired the systematic character of American or South African apartheid regimes.

During the colonial period, discriminatory laws were commonplace. Non-Whites were banned from the goldsmith craft (1621). In São Paulo, non-Whites were forbidden, under the penalty of prison, from using guns (1713). Descendants of Jews, Moors, Blacks, as well as those married to women of such extractions, were banned from public offices (1671). Blacks and mulattos were forbidden from "dressing as Whites" (1745). The arrival of the Royal family didn't change this: when a provincial militia was formed in Rio Grande do Sul, it was established that the members should be "White", this being defined as "those whose grand-grandparents were not Black, and whose parents were free-born" (1809). Nor did this change with independence: a complementary law to the 1824 Constitution forbade "Blacks and lepers" from being instructed in schools. Brazilian troops were segregated until the fall of the Empire.[32]

On July 28, 1921, representatives Andrade Bezerra and Cincinato Braga proposed a law whose Article 1 provided: "It is prohibited in Brazil immigration of individuals from the black race." On October 22, 1923, representative Fidélis Reis produced another project of law on the entry of immigrants, whose fifth article was as follows: 'It is prohibited the entry of settlers from the black race in Brazil and, to Asians, it will be allowed each year, a number equal to 5% of those existing in the country.(...)'. Both bills were decried as racist and rejected by the Brazilian Congress.[33]

In 1945, the Brazilian government issued a decree favoring the entrance of European immigrants in the country: "In the admission of immigrants, the need to preserve and develop, in the ethnic composition of the population, the more convenient features of their European ancestry shall be considered".[34]


The degree of miscegenation in Brazil has been very high, as Brazil was colonized by male Portuguese adventurers who tended to procreate with Amerindian and African women.[35][36] This made possible a myth of "racial democracy" that tends to obscure a widespread discrimination connected to certain aspects of physical appearance:[37] aspects related to the concept of cor (literally "colour"), used in a way that is roughly equivalent to the English term "race" but based on a combination of skin colour, hair type, and shape of nose and lips. It is possible for siblings to belong to different "colour" categories.[38] So a "White" Brazilian is a person perceived and socially accepted as "White", regardless of ancestry or sometimes even immediate family.[39]

While miscegenation has been one factor leading to a Brazilian population with features ranging from the stereotypically African to the stereotypically European, a second has been "assortative mating". The genome of the first generation offspring of European fathers and African mothers was 50% European and 50% African, but the distribution of the genes that affect relevant features (skin colour, hair type, lip shape, nose shape) was random. Those of the second generation with features considered closer to a "White" stereotype would have tended to procreate with others like themselves, while those considered closer to "Black" would also have tended to procreate among themselves; in the long term producing "White" and "Black" groups with surprisingly similar proportions of European and African ancestry.[40]

Miscegenation has also been intense between immigrants and their descendants and the previous inhabitants of the country.

IBGE’s racial categories

The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), that conducts censuses in Brazil since 1940, racially classifies the Brazilian population in five categories: branco (white), pardo (brown), preto (black), amarelo (yellow), and indigenous. As in international practice,[41] individuals are asked to self identify within these categories.

The following are the results for the different Brazilian censuses, since 1872:

Brazilian Population, by Race, from 1872 to 20001 (Census Data)
Race or Colour Brancos (whites) Pardos (browns) Pretos (blacks) Caboclos Amarelos (yellows) Indigenous Undeclared Total
18722 3,787,289 3,801,782 1,954,452 386,955 - - - 9,930,478
1890 6,302,198 4,638,4963 2,097,426 1,295,7953 - - - 14,333,915
1940 26,171,778 8,744,3654 6,035,869 - 242,320 - 41,983 41,236,315
1950 32,027,661 13,786,742 5,692,657 - 329,082 -5 108,255 51,944,397
1960 42,838,639 20,706,431 6,116,848 - 482,848 -6 46,604 70,191,370
1980 64,540,467 46,233,531 7,046,906 - 672,251 - 517,897 119,011,052
1991 75,704,927 62,316,064 7,335,136 - 630,656 294,135 534,878 146,521,661
2000 91,298,042 65,318,092 10,554,336 - 761,583 734,127 1,206,675 169,872,856

^1 The 1900, 1920, and 1970 censuses did not count people for "race".

^2 In the 1872 census, people were counted based on self-declaration, except for slaves, who were classified by their owners.[42]

^3 The 1872 and 1890 censuses counted "caboclos" (White-Amerindian mixed race people) apart.[43] In the 1890 census, the category "pardo" was replaced with "mestiço".[43] Figures for 1890 are available at the IBGE site.[44]

^4 In the 1940 Census, people were asked for their "colour or race"; if the answer was not "White", "Black", or "Yellow", interviewers were instructed to fill the "colour or race" box with a slash. These slashs were later summed up in the category "pardo". In practice this means answers such as "pardo", "moreno", "mulato", "caboclo", etc.[45]

^5 In the 1950 Census, the category "pardo" was included on its own. Amerindians were counted as "pardos".[46]

^6 The 1960 Census adopted a similar system, again explicitly including Amerindians as "pardos".[47]

According to the 2008 PNAD,[48] the Brazilian population is composed by:

  • Brancos (white) (48.43% of the population);
  • Pardos (brown) (43.80%);
  • Pretos (black) (6.84%);
  • Amarelos (yellow) (0.58%);
  • Indigenous (0.28%);
  • Undeclared (0.07%).


As the IBGE itself acknowledges, these categories are disputed, and most of the population dislike it and does not identify with them.[49] Most Brazilians see “Indígena” as a cultural rather than racial term, and don’t describe as such if they are part of the mainstream Brazilian culture; many Brazilians would prefer to self-describe as “morenos” (literally, “tanned” or “brunettes”);[50] some Black and parda people, more identified with the Brazilian Black movement, would prefer to self-describe as “Negro” as an inclusive category containing pardos and pretos;[51] and if allowed to choose any classification, Brazilians will give almost 200 different answers.[52]

According to the American scholar Edward Telles,[53] in Brazil there are three different systems related to "racial classification" along the White-Black continuous.[54] The first is the Census System, which distinguishes three categories: "branco" (White), "pardo", and "preto" (Black).[55] The second is the popular system that uses many different categories, including the ambiguous term "moreno"[56] (literally, "tanned", "brunette", or "with an olive complexion").[57] The third is the Black movement system that distinguishes only two categories, summing up "pardos" and "pretos" as "negros".[58] More recently, the term "afrodescendente" has been brought into use.[59]

The first system referred by Telles is that of the IBGE. In the census, respondents choose their race or color in five categories: branca (white), parda (brown), preta (black), amarela (yellow) or indígena (indigenous). The term "parda" needs further explanation; it has been systematically used since the census of 1940. People were then asked for their "colour or race"; if the answer was not "White", "Black", or "Yellow", interviewers were instructed to fill the "colour or race" box with a slash. These slashes were later summed up in the category "pardo". In practice this means answers such as "pardo", "moreno", "mulato", and "caboclo". In the following censuses, "pardo" became a category on its own, and included Amerindians,[46] which became a separate category only in 1991. So it is a term that describes people who have a skin darker than Whites and lighter than Blacks, but not necessarily implies a White-Black mixture.

Telles' second system is that of popular classification. Two IBGE surveys (the 1976 PNAD and the July 1998 PME) have sought to understand the way Brazilians think of themselves in "racial" terms, with the explicit aim of adjusting the census classification (neither, however, resulted in actual changes in the census). Besides that, Data Folha has also conducted research on this subject. The results of these surveys are somewhat varied, but seem to coincide in some fundamental aspects. First, there is an enormous variety of "racial" terms in use in Brazil; when Brazilians are inquired in an open ended question, from 135 to 500 different race-color terms may be brought. The 1976 PNAD found 136 different answers to the question about race;[60] the July 1998 PME found 143.[61] However, most of these terms are used by very small minorities. Telles remarks that 95% of the population chose only six different terms (branco, moreno, pardo, moreno-claro, preto and negro); Petrucelli shows that the 7 most common responses (the above plus amarela) sum up 97%, and the 10 more common (the previous plus mulata, clara, and morena-escura) make 99%.[62]

Petrucelli, analysing the July 98 PME, finds that 77 denominations were mentioned by only one person in the sample. Other 12 are misunderstandings, referring to national or regional origin (francesa, italiana, baiana, cearense). Many of the "racial" terms are (or could be) remarks about the relation between skin colour and exposure to sun (amorenada, bem morena, branca-morena, branca-queimada, corada, bronzeada, meio morena, morena-bronzeada, morena-trigueira, morenada, morenão, moreninha, pouco morena, queimada, queimada de sol, tostada, rosa queimada, tostada). Others are clearly variations of the same idea (preto, negro, escuro, crioulo, retinto, for Black, alva, clara, cor-de-leite, galega, rosa, rosada, pálida, for White, parda, mulata, mestiça, mista, for "parda"), or precisions of the same concept (branca morena, branca clara), and can actually grouped together with one of the main racial terms without falsifying the interpretation.[62] Some seem to express an outright refusal of classification: azul-marinho (navy blue), azul (blue), verde (green), cor-de-burro-quando-foge (literally, "the color of a donkey that has ran away", a Portuguese humorous term for a color that cannot be determined).

Petrucelli grouped those 136 terms into 28 wider categories.[63] Most of these 28 wider categories can be situated in the White-Black continuum when the answers to the open-ended question are compared to the answers in the IBGE format:

Category Frequency White Brown Black Amerindian Yellow Total difference between White and Black
branca (White) 54.28% 98,96% 0,73% 0,11% 0,07% 0,14% 100,00% 98,85
loira (Blonde) 0.05% 95,24% 0,00% 4,76% 0,00% 0,00% 100,00% 90,48
brasileira (Brazilian) 0.12% 91,20% 6,05% 2,27% 0,00% 0,47% 100,00% 88,93
branca + (adjectivated White) 0.14% 86,47% 9,62% 0,00% 3,91% 0,00% 100,00% 86,47
clara (of light colour) 0.78% 86,40% 11,93% 0,35% 0,14% 1,18% 100,00% 86,05
galega (Galician) 0.01% 70,99% 19,78% 0,00% 0,00% 9,23% 100,00% 70,99
castanha (Brown) 0.01% 63,81% 36,19% 0,00% 0,00% 0,00% 100,00% 63,81
morena clara (light Morena) 2.92% 38,35% 57,12% 1,46% 2,27% 0,81% 100,00% 36,89
jambo 0.02% 14,47% 77,96% 2,39% 5,18% 0,00% 100,00% 12,08
morena 20.89% 13,75% 76,97% 6,27% 2,62% 0,38% 100,00% 7,48
mestiça, mista (miscigenated, mixed) 0.08% 17,29% 59,44% 14,96% 7,60% 0,70% 100,00% 2,33
parda (Brown) 10.40% 1,03% 97,25% 1,40% 0,21% 0,10% 100,00% -0,37
sarará 0.04% 9,09% 60,14% 23,25% 0,00% 7,53% 100,00% -14,16
canela (of the colour of cinammon) 0.01% 11,13% 57,55% 26,45% 4,87% 0,00% 100,00% -15,32
mulata (Mulatto) 0.81% 1,85% 71,53% 25,26% 1,37% 0,00% 100,00% -23,41
marrom, chocolate (Brown, chocolate) 0.03% 4,56% 57,30% 38,14% 0,00% 0,00% 100,00% -33,58
morena escura (dark Morena) 0.45% 2,77% 54,80% 38,05% 4,15% 0,24% 100,00% -35,28
escura (of dark colour) 0.38% 0,59% 16,32% 81,67% 1,42% 0,00% 100,00% -81,08
negra (Black) 3.14% 0,33% 6,54% 92,62% 0,50% 0,02% 100,00% -92,29
preta (Black) 4.26% 0,37% 1,73% 97,66% 0,17% 0,06% 100,00% -97,29

The other categories, except, naturally, for "amarela" (Yellow) seem related to Amerindian "race":

Category Frequency White Brown Black Amerindian Yellow Total
vermelha (Red) 0.02% 58,97 8,22 0,00 21,56 11,24 100,00
cafusa 0.01% 6,02 65,14 22,82 6,02 0,00 100,00
caboverde (Capeverdian) 0.02% 0,00 48,72 23,08 28,21 0,00 100,00
cabocla 0.02% 3,60 49,37 10,43 36,60 0,00 100,00
bugre (Indian) 0.00% 12,50 37,50 0,00 50,00 0,00 100,00
amarela (Yellow) 1.11% 3,27 0,98 0,24 0,15 95,36 100,00
indígena (Indigenous) 0.13% 0,44 2,12 0,00 96,13 1,30 100,00

The remarkable difference of the popular system is the use of the term "moreno". This is actually difficult to translate into English, and carries a few different meanings. Derived from Latin maurus, meaning inhabitant of Mauritania,[64] traditionally it is used as a term to distinguish White people with dark hair, as opposed to "ruivo" (redhead) and "loiro" (blonde).[65] It is also commonly used as a term for people with an olive complexion, a characteristic that is often found in connection with dark hair.[66] In connection to this, it is used as a term for suntanned people, and is commonly opposed to "pálido" (pale) and "amarelo" (yellow), which in this case refer to people who aren't frequently exposed to sun. Finally, it is also often used as a euphemism for "pardo" and "preto".[67]

Finally, the Black movement system, in direct opposition to the popular system, groups "pardos" and "pretos" in a single category, "negro" (and not Afro-Brazilian).[68] This looks more similar to the American racial perception,[69] but there are some subtle differences. First, as other Brazilians, the Black movement understands that not everybody with some African descent is Black,[70] and that many or most White Brazilians indeed have African (or Amerindian, or both) ancestrals - so an "one drop rule" isn't what the Black movement envisages.[71]

Race and class

Another important discussion is the relation between social class and "race" in Brazil. It is commonplace to say that, in Brazil, "money whitens".[72] There is a persistent belief, both in academy and popularly, that Brazilians from the wealthier classes with darker phenotypes tend to see themselves and be seen by others in lighter categories. Other things, such as dressing and social status, also influence perceptions of race.

However, some studies, focusing in the difference between self- and alter-classification show that this phenomenon is far more complex than "money whitens". For instance, according to a study conducted by Paula Miranda-Ribeiro and André Junqueira Caetano among women in Recife, while there is significant inconsistency between the "parda" and "preta" categories, most women are consistently classified by themselves and interviewers into "brancas" and non-brancas. 21,97% of women were consistently classified as White, and 55.13% of women were consistently classified as non-White, while 22.89% of women where inconsistently classified. But the inconsistently classified women reveal an important aspect of economic "whitening". "Self-darkening" women, i.e., those who view themselves as "pretas" or "pardas" but are classified as "brancas" by the interviewers (4.08% of women) have above average education, while the 18.82% "self-whitening" women have a low average education, lower indeed than that of consistently non-White women.[73]

This, assuming, that there is a correlation between wealth and education,[73] would show that, rather than "Brazilians from the wealthier classes with darker phenotypes seeing themselves and being seen by others in lighter categories", either wealth affects their perception by others, but does not affect, or at least affects considerably less, their self-perception, or that wealth in fact affects their self-perception in the opposite way: it is poor people who are more prone to self-whitening. This, naturally, contributes to show that self-classification in censuses is in fact more objective than alter-classification; but most importantly, it shows that economic differences between Whites and non-Whites effectively exist.

It is important to notice that the alter-classification in this survey was made by a group of college students, i.e., mostly middle-class people.

There are important differences in social position concerning "races". These differences encompass income, education, housing, etc. According to the 2007 PNAD, White workers wages were almost twice those of Blacks and “pardos”. Blacks and “pardos” earned on average 1.8 minimum wages, while Whites averaged 3.4 minimum wages. These differences cannot be exclusively attributed to differences in education: among workers with over 12 years of study, Whites earned on average R$15.90 per hour, while Blacks and “pardos” made R$11.40.

Among the 1% wealthiest Brazilians, only 12% were Blacks or “pardos”, while Whites made 86.3% of the group. Among the 10% poorest 73.9% were Black or “pardos”, and 25.5% of whites.

13.4% of White Brazilians were graduated, compared to 4% of Blacks and “pardos”. 24.2% of Whites were studying in a college or university, compared to 8.4% of Blacks and “pardos”. In 2007, 57.9% of White students between 18 and 24 years old were attending one. However, only 25.4% of Black and “pardo” students of the same age group studied at the same level. In 2000, the illiteracy rate among White people over 5 years old was 10.87%; among Blacks, 23,23%, and among “pardos”, 21,09%.[74]

Racial disparities

According to the 2007 Brazilian national resource, the white workers had an average monthly income almost twice that of blacks and pardos (browns). The blacks and browns earned on average 1.8 minimum wages, while the whites had a yield of 3.4 minimum wages. Among workers with over 12 years of study, the difference was also large. While the whites earned on average R$15.90 per hour, the blacks and browns received R$11.40, when they worked the same period. Among the 1% richest population of Brazil, only 12% were blacks and browns, while whites constituted 86.3% of the group. In the 10% poorest there were 73.9% of blacks and browns, and 25.5% of whites.

13.4% of white Brazilians were graduated, compared to 4% of blacks and browns. 24.2% of whites were studying in a College or University, compared to 8.4% of blacks and browns. In 2007, 57.9% of white students between 18 and 24 years old were attending a University or a College. However, only 25.4% of black and brown students of the same age group studied at the same level. Of just over 14 million illiterates in Brazil, nearly 9 million were black or pardo. The illiteracy rate among white people over 15 years old was 6.1%. Among blacks and browns of the same age group over 14%.[75]

Almost half of the Brazilian population (49.4%) is white. The browns form 42.3%, the black 7.4%, and the indigenous or "yellow", according to the IBGE, only 0.8%. The region with the highest proportion of browns is the north, with 68.3%. The population of the Northeast is composed of 8.5% of blacks, the largest proportion. In the South, 78.7% of the population is white.

Genetic studies


Genetic research on ancestry of Brazilians of different races has extensively shown that, regardless of skin colour, Brazilians generally have European, African, and Amerindian ancestors.

According to a genetic study about Brazilians, on the paternal side, 98% of the White Brazilian Y Chromosome comes from a European male ancestor, only 2% from an African ancestor and there is a complete absence of Amerindian contributions. On the maternal side, 39% have a European Mitochondrial DNA, 33% Amerindian and 28% African MtDNA.[76] This analysis only shows a small fraction of a person's ancestry (the Y Chromosome comes from a single male ancestor and the mtDNA from a single female ancestor, while the contributions of the many other ancestors is not specified).,[77] but it shows that miscigenation in Brazil was directional, between Portuguese males and African and Amerindian females.

Analyzing Black Brazilians' Y chromosome, which comes from male ancestors through paternal line, it was concluded that half (50%) of the Black Brazilian population has at least one male ancestor who came from Europe, 48% has at least one male ancestor who came from Africa and 1.6% has at least one male ancestor who was Native American. Analyzing their mitochondrial DNA, that comes from female ancestors though maternal line, 85% of them have at least a female ancestor who came from Africa, 12.5% have at least a female ancestor who was Native Brazilian and only 2.5% have at least a female ancestor who came from Europe.[78][79]

As for the complete genetic ancestry of Brazilians, research has shown that it is predominantly European, even among non-White Brazilians. According to another study (autosomal DNA) conducted on a school in the poor periphery of Rio de Janeiro the "pardos" there were found to be on average over 80% European, and the "whites" (who thought of themselves as "very mixed") were found out to carry very little Amerindian and/or African admixtures. "The results of the tests of genomic ancestry are quite different from the self made estimates of European ancestry", say the researchers. In general, the test results showed that European ancestry is far more important than the students thought it would be. The "pardos" for example thought of themselves as 1/3 European, 1/3 African and 1/3 Amerindian before the tests, and yet their ancestry was determined to be at over 80% European. [80]

Another autosomal DNA study, from 2010, also focused on the autosomal contribution (which is about the sum of the ancestors of each individual, the overall picture), found out that almost 80% of the Brazilian genes are of European origin in all regions except in the South where it stands for 90% of them (regardless of census classification).[81] "Ancestry informative SNPs can be useful to estimate individual and population biogeographical ancestry. Brazilian population is characterized by a genetic background of three parental populations (European, African, and Brazilian Native Amerindians) with a wide degree and diverse patterns of admixture. In this work we analyzed the information content of 28 ancestry-informative SNPs into multiplexed panels using three parental population sources (African, Amerindian, and European) to infer the genetic admixture in an urban sample of the five Brazilian geopolitical regions. The SNPs assigned apart the parental populations from each other and thus can be applied for ancestry estimation in a three hybrid admixed population. Data was used to infer genetic ancestry in Brazilians with an admixture model. Pairwise estimates of F(st) among the five Brazilian geopolitical regions suggested little genetic differentiation only between the South and the remaining regions. Estimates of ancestry results are consistent with the heterogeneous genetic profile of Brazilian population, with a major contribution of European ancestry (0.771) followed by African (0.143) and Amerindian contributions (0.085). The described multiplexed SNP panels can be useful tool for bioanthropological studies but it can be mainly valuable to control for spurious results in genetic association studies in admixed populations." The samples came from free of charge paternity test takers, thus as the researchers made it explicit: "the paternity tests were free of charge, the population samples involved people of variable socioeconomic strata, although likely to be leaning slightly towards the ‘‘pardo’’ group".[82]

According to another different study (also autosomal DNA from 2009), European ancestry predominates in the Brazilian population. The Brazilians as a whole, from all regions, and of all complexions, would lie more closely to the European group than to the African populations or to the Mestizos from Mexico, from the genetical point of view.[83] This shows that the genotypes of individuals in a miscigenated population does not necessarily match their phenotype.

According to another autosomal DNA study from 2008, by the University of Brasília (UnB), European ancestry dominates in the whole of Brazil (in all regions), accounting for 65,90% of heritage of the population, followed by the African contribution (24,80%) and the Native American (9,3%).[84]

An autosomal study from 2011 (with nearly almost 1000 samples from all over the country) has also concluded that European ancestry is the predominant ancestry in Brazil, accounting for nearly 70% of the ancestry of the population: "We estimated individually the European, African and Amerindian ancestry components of 934 self-categorized White, Brown or Black Brazilians from the four most populous regions of the Country. We unraveled great ancestral diversity between and within the different regions [...] In all regions studied, the European ancestry was predominant, with proportions ranging from 60.6% in the Northeast to 77.7% in the South [...] In all regions studied the European ancestry surfaced as uniformly preponderant, with proportions of 69.7%, 60.6%, 73.7% and 77.7%, respectively".[85] The 2011 autosomal study samples came from blood donors (the lowest classes constitute the great majority of blood donors in Brazil [86]), and also public health institutions personnel and health students. The study showed that Brazilians from different regions are more homogenous than previously thought by some based on the census alone. "Brazilian homogeneity is, therefore, a lot greater between Brazilian regions than within Brazilians region".[87]

According to an often quoted autosomal DNA study (from 2003) focused on the composition of the Brazilian population as a whole, "European contribution [...] is highest in the South (81% to 82%), and lowest in the North (68% to 71%). The African component is lowest in the South (11%), while the highest values are found in the Southeast (18%-20%). Extreme values for the Amerindian fraction were found in the South and Southeast (7%-8%) and North (17%-18%)". The researchers noted the possibility that these conclusions could be skewed because they mostly come from economically well-to-do individuals who have registered for paternity tests. ""But an alternative explanation is that since the bulk of our sample is composed of individuals who could pay for paternity determinations, it may reflect the marked socioeconomic differentials that exist among people of different ethnic extraction in Brazil. Results of the last (year 2000) census of the Brazilian population showed marked economic differences associated with ethnic/color classification. The average monthly income of people self-defined as ‘‘black or brown’’ is about 60.0% (South region) to 51.3% (Southeast) of the amount reported by self-classified ‘‘white’’ persons. Thus, people in a better economic condition are mostly of European extraction, thus at least partly explaining the different proportions observed here and in other samples".[88][89]

Several other studies have suggested that European ancestry is the main component in all Brazilian regions. A study from 2002 quoted previous and older studies (28. Salzano F M. Interciêência. 1997;22:221––227. 29. Santos S E B, Guerreiro J F. Braz J Genet. 1995;18:311––315. 30. Dornelles C L, Callegari-Jacques S M, Robinson W M, Weimer T A, Franco M H L P, Hickmann A C, Geiger C J, Salzamo F M. Genet Mol Biol. 1999;22:151––161. 31. Krieger H, Morton N E, Mi M P, Azevedo E, Freire-Maia A, Yasuda N. Ann Hum Genet. 1965;29:113––125. [PubMed]), saying that: "Salzano (28, a study from 1997) calculated for the Northeastern population as a whole, 51% European, 36% African, and 13% Amerindian ancestries whereas in the north, Santos and Guerreiro (29, a study from 1995) obtained 47% European, 12% African, and 41% Amerindian descent, and in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, Dornelles et al. (30, a study from 1999) calculated 82% European, 7% African, and 11% Amerindian ancestries.[90]

Descendants of colonial-era population

Sérgio Pena, a leading Brazilian geneticist, summed it up this way:

"The correlation between color and genomic ancestry is imperfect: at the individual level one cannot safely predict the skin color of a person from his/her level of European, African and Amerindian ancestry nor the opposite. Regardless of their skin color, the overwhelming majority of Brazilians have a high degree of European ancestry. Also, regardless of their skin color, the overwhelming majority of Brazilians have a significant degree of African ancestry. Finally, most Brazilians have a significant and very uniform degree of Amerindian ancestry! The high ancestral variability observed in Whites and Blacks suggests that each Brazilian has a singular and quite individual proportion of European, African and Amerindian ancestry in his/her mosaic genomes". [91]

Brazil's racial base are its colonial-era population, consisting of Amerindians, Portuguese settlers, and African slaves:

  • At least 50% of the Brazilian paternal ancestry would be of Portuguese origin.[92]
  • European ancestry predominates in the Brazilian population as a whole, in all regions of Brazil, according to the vast majority of all autosomal studies undertaken covering the entire population, accounting for between 65% to 77% of the heritage of the population."[81][82][83][84][85][88][89]
  • African ancestry is high in all regions of Brazil. 86% of Brazilians would have over 10% of their genes coming from Africans, according to a study based on about 200 samples from 2003 [93] The researchers however were cautious about its conclusions: "Obviously these estimates were made by extrapolation of experimental results with relatively small samples and, therefore, their confidence limits are very ample". A new autosomal study from 2011, also led by Sérgio Pena, but with nearly 1000 samples this time, from all over the country, shows that in most Brazilian regions most Brazilians "whites" are less than 10% African in ancestry, and it also shows that the "pardos" are predominantly European in ancestry, the European ancestry being therefore the main component in the Brazilian population, in spite of a very high degree of African ancestry and significant Native American contribution.[85] The African contribution was found to be thus distributed according to the 2011 autosomal study: 10,50% in the North region of Brazil, 29,30% in the Northeast of Brazil, 17,30% in the Southeast of Brazil and 10,30% in the South of Brazil.[85] According to an autosomal study from 2008, African contribution accounts for 24,80% of the heritage of the population[94] And according to an autosomal study from 2010, it accounts for 14,30% of the heritage of the population.[82]
  • Native American ancestry is significant and present in all regions of Brazil. .[81][82][83][84][85][88][89]


Descendants of immigrants

The largest influx of European immigrants to Brazil occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to the Memorial do Imigrante statistics data, Brazil attracted nearly 5 million immigrants between 1870 and 1953.[96][97] These immigrants were divided in two groups: a part of them was sent to Southern Brazil to work as small farmers. However, the biggest part of the immigrants was sent to Southeast Brazil to work in the coffee plantations. The immigrants sent to Southern Brazil were mainly Germans (starting in 1824, mainly from Rhineland-Palatinate, the others from Pomerania, Hamburg, Westphalia, etc.) and Italians (starting in 1875, mainly from the Veneto and Lombardia). In Southeastern Brazil, most of the immigrants were Italians (mainly from the Veneto, Campania, Calabria and Lombardia), Portuguese (mainly from Beira Alta, Minho and Alto Trás-os-Montes), Spaniards (mainly from Galicia and Andalusia) and smaller numbers of French (most came from the southern regions) and Dutch (from the Netherlands and Belgium).

Notably, the first half of the 20th century saw a large inflow of Japanese (mainly from Honshū, Hokkaidō and Okinawa) and Arab (from Lebanon and Syria) immigrants.

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