The US Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday for and against the affirmative action policy at the University of Texas.
But the debate over the role race plays in the allocation of opportunities is not unique to the United States.
Brazil recently enacted its own nationwide affirmative action law.
Tanya Hernandez, a law professor at Fordham University has studied Latin America’s law and wrote a piece in the Huffington Post about Affirmative Action in Brazil.
She says Brazil’s new law is a radical approach of social inclusion.
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Marco Werman: I am Marco Werman; this is The World. You’ve probably heard that affirmative action in the United States is under fire. The U.S. Supreme Court today heard arguments in a case that centers on the University of Texas and its use of race as a factor in some admission decisions. Critics hope the Court will order a roll-back on affirmative action policies at Universities across the country. This debate over how race should influence the allocation of opportunities in the society is not unique to the U.S. Other countries have come to their own conclusions. We’re going to examine how this issue is dealt with in two very different places, France and Brazil. We’ll begin with Brazil. Tanya Hernandez is a professor of law at Fordham University. She’s written on the Huffington Post website about Brazil’s recent adoption of a nationwide affirmative action law. Now professor, we’ve seen how the case of Fisher v Texas has stirred up the debate over affirmative action again in this country. You’ve looked at affirmative action in Brazil; they’ve got a new policy. Describe it to us.
Tanya Hernandez: Well, just this past August, the Brazilian legislation created a law called the Law of Social Quotas. What it does is it mandates now for public universities to reserve half of all new admission spots first for Brazilians from public schools. What that means is that it’s a grace-neutral quota in the first step, but many of the public students are students of African descent and so, informally, it is a way of creating a quota for them. But, even after that is done, the new law also sets aside seats for students of African descent in accordance with their population numbers for each of the public university jurisdictions. So, depending on if you’re in the north or the south, the proportion numbers may be different and so the amount of seats reserved will vary according to the region of the country that you’re in.
Werman: It seems really progressive but it also sounds kind of complicated.
Hernandez: It is complicated because what the Brazilian law is seeking to do is to acknowledge the extent to which race and class overlap and so that the concerns that they have in redressing inequality pertain to not only stigma against persons of African descent but the way in which the long legacy of stigma and slavery have placed so many persons of African descent within low socio-economic statuses. And so, the law seeks to sort of reach out and make sure that they are targeting the students who need it the most.
Werman: Brazil, apparently, is not unique in Latin America. There are other countries that have laws or provisions for minorities.
Hernandez: That’s correct. Indeed, Colombia, Uruguay, even Ecuador all have some form of program for either scholarships or outright set-asides for students in their public universities as well.
Werman: Professor, how does your understanding of affirmative action policies around the globe orient your thinking about affirmative action here in the United States?
Hernandez: Looking at the rest of the globe, it puts into great relief the extent to which the United States has a very narrow perspective about affirmative action. It thinks in terms of individuals and their individual rights as opposed to thinking about the ways in which the needs of society at large would benefit from programs of inclusions. And so, when we look at the Brazilian context and Colombia and other places, those are nations that instead very concerned about what the social exclusion of persons of African ancestry means to the entire nation, and their ability to be true democracies as opposed to the particulars of any one individual and their resentment, or what have, about being excluded from the university of their choice.
Werman: Professor Hernandez, very good to speak with you.
Hernandez: Thank you.
Werman: Tanya Hernandez, professor of law at Fordham University and the author of Racial Subordination in Latin America.
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