Brazilian blacks need not apply

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SCANNING THE jobs section of a newspaper, Brazilians know what boa aparencia means. It translates literally as "good appearance required". But everybody, black or white, knows it means "no blacks need apply".

Hammered by an economic crisis that is likely to affect them more than anyone else, Brazilian blacks are increasingly speaking out against what they say is discreet but deep-rooted racism, in a country where studies indicate that a white man can earn twice as much as a black woman for the same job.

"Behind the words boa aparencia is the implication that blacks are ugly, that they can't sell anything," said Francisco Oliveira, editor of Raca, or Race, Brazil's first magazine for blacks.

He recalled a recent visit he made to a theatre, when he was wearing a black evening suit. "The theatre assumed I was somebody's bodyguard, and wouldn't let me in alone," he said. "Viola [a black Brazilian footballer] is always having the worst problems because he drives a Porsche. The police are constantly stopping him and accusing him of stealing the car."

Of its 155 million population, about half are considered black or of mixed race. Activists say this puts the black population at more than 80 million, making it the second biggest in the world, behind Nigeria. But in a recent government survey on racial origins, only five per cent described themselves as black. Perhaps because of prejudice, many people of mixed race tend to consider themselves more white than black.

"On the surface, racism and prejudice don't exist in Brazil," said Maria Amelia Rocha Lopez, editor-in-chief of Raca. "You might see a lot of blacks in our football team, or in music, but how many do you see in politics, government, business leadership? The image of equality is a farce. In reality, it's a lot different. We blacks call it 'cordial racism'."

The appearance of Raca followed the election of Sao Paulo's first black mayor, Celso Pitta, a former student at Leeds University. His success was seen as a breakthrough by many blacks, but last week he left office, not having troubled to stand for a second term.

His predecessor and mentor, Paulo Maluf, virtually drained the coffers of the country's largest city with public housing and other projects aimed at maintaining his constituency. With no money to run Sao Paulo, Mr Pitta became so unpopular, even among blacks, that he had to stop jogging in the city's big Ibirapuera park after being stoned by passers-by. "We expected more of him," said Mr Oliveira. "New York's mayor, David Dinkins, did far more for his black population than Pitta did."

Ms Rocha points to the circulation of Raca, launched two years ago, as evidence that blacks suffer most from Brazil's economic crisis. "When we launched with 200,000 copies, we sold out and had to print 100,000 more. After Brazil suffered the fallout from the Asian financial crisis last year, our sales fell to 120,000. Since the latest crisis [in the wake of Russia's financial meltdown], we're down to 70,000.

"The black population is already suffering more. Whenever there's a crisis, they're the first people who have to sacrifice. A lot of our readers are from the ghettos. To them, the magazine is a luxury, the first thing they have to drop when they lose their jobs."

Ms Rocha drew a pyramid chart, backed up by independent surveys, showing that if a white man earned $2,000 (pounds 1,200) a month, a white woman would earn $1,400 for the same job, a black man $1,200 and a black woman $1,000. "Brazilian society discriminates so well from the economic point of view," she said. "If you have plenty of money, there's no problem whether you're black, green or red. But if you're black and don't have money, things are terrible."