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Affirmative Action

By Courtney Plante

Affirmative Action: Current Mechanisms for Rectifying Social Ills

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After spending a short time in Brazil and being reminded quite often of the social similarities between that country and the United States, I have begun to take a closer look at programs that have been put in place to combat racism in Brazil. Of particular importance to me is the way that Brazil, as a blossoming country that often models structures implemented by the US, deals with the struggle for racial equality.

It seems that Brazil has a unique opportunity to gain some insight: on the one hand, the United States has already “developed” both financially and socially, so it seems crucial that the Brazilian government note the downfalls that have come from the “American way”. On the other hand, there is an argument to be made (mostly by Americans) that the United States is best because it has more experience in dealing with racial hierarchies through the legal system. While this argument is faulty at best, it is true that social progress in Latin America has often been influenced by the American Civil Rights movements. However, although America is the number one superpower in the world, we are unwilling to implement social policies to uplift the people that we deem as less-than. And finally, there exists the opinion that because the two countries are so vastly different in so many instances, from formation to environment to public opinion, that perhaps Brazil and the United States cannot be compared socially at all. Below are two major events in the realm of affirmative active and the law.

In Fisher v. University of Texas, decided a mere week ago, the majority opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy, expressed concern that affirmative action programs at public universities and colleges were not using a demanding enough standard. Although the Court did not answer any constitutional questions in hearing the case, the opinion will likely mean that Texas’ program (and many others) is in jeopardy. In a statement issued after the case, plaintiff Ms. Fisher said that she was “grateful to the justices for moving the nation closer to the day when a student’s race isn’t used at all in college admissions.”

In 2012, the Brazilian government set into motion one of the most expansive affirmative action laws in the Western Hemisphere. Signed into law by current President, Dilma Rousseff, the measure is intended to create equality amongst the Brazilian people. Despite some foreseeable opposition, The Law of Social Quotas only received one senatorial vote against it in the month of its initiation. The law, which came after a supreme court decision that upheld the imposition of racial quotas at the University of Brasilia, gives the 59 federal universities only four years to ensure that 50% of each entering class is from the public school population. Likewise, public universities must designate placements in their entering class in a way that corresponds with the racial composition of each of Brazil’s states. The former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has been quoted as saying that he is “completely in favor” of new the race-based quotas. Try finding a black doctor, a black dentist, a black bank manager, and you will encounter great difficulty,” Mr. da Silva said. “It’s important, at least for a span of time, to guarantee that the blacks in Brazilian society can make up for lost time.”

Despite the different ways that the two countries approach racial hierarchies, the fact that both countries have implemented race-based affirmative action programs is good. Because of the racial hierarchies that are present in both countries, it is important that the US and Brazil have recently taken a look at their respective programs. To be sure, these two instances of challenges to race-based affirmative action programs are to be followed by more. Regardless of the future of quotas, both the US and Brazil have the ability to fairly provide equality.


Adam Liptak, “Justices Step Up Scrutiny of Race in College Entry,” June 24 2013. NY Times. Available at

Fisher v. University of Texas, 631 F.3d 213.

Simon Romero, “Brazil Enacts Affirmative Action Law for Universities,” Aug 30, 2012. NY Times. Available at

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