On Sunday, May 13, Brazil, the last country in the western hemisphere to legally abolish slavery 130 years ago, celebrated its Abolition of Slaves holiday. However, the date came on the heels of data released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, or IBGE, which reveals that during the fourth quarter of 2017, Black workers, on average, earned approximately US$325 less per month compared to white workers.
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The amount exceeds the national minimum wage by roughly US$60, calling into question the legacy of slavery from an economic standpoint and how it expresses itself.
“In Brazil, slavery permeated throughout society. People live side-by-side with slavery as if it were natural. When a society is built on such a foundation, change is very long and difficult and arduous,” said Maria Helena Machado, professor of the social history of slavery at the University of Sao Paulo.
Helena emphasized that slavery persisted in Brazil for hundreds of years and was marked not only by numerous revolts and the establishment of independent free societies – the most revered being Quilombo dos Palmares – but also the naturalization of slavery by Brazilian society as whole.
Slavery was officially abolished by the Brazilian state on May 13, 1888 with the passage of the Aurea Law. However, Douglas Belchior, a Black activist and founder of Uneafro-Brasil, numerically blueprints the country’s Brazil’s scant experience with freedom.
“Since the invasion of the country” by Portuguese sailors and their lot, land that would become known as Brazil claims a drastically reduced history of 517 years. Of that period “We’ve experienced, officially, 388 years of slavery.” Of the remaining 129 years “free of slavery,” Belchior deduced, Brazil fell victim to “two dictatorships” lasting 61 years.
Belchior concludes his thesis by simple subtraction. Brazilian society as a whole, more importantly taking into account its majority Black population, has only known 69 years of freedom if the past two years of senate-imposed President Michel Temer is not included in the final tally.
Of this total, those who experienced firsthand the harsh realities of slavery and dictatorships, according to Belchior, “haven’t been able to distinguish” between that and their so-called freedom.
This study echos previous reports showing systemic discrimination against Black people in Brazil. A 2016 report a Senate commission on youth murder found that one Black youth was killed every 23 minutes in Brazil in what some have called an “undeclared civil war.”