Racial equality

Lula gov’t celebrates 20 years of public policies to tackle racism and launches new measures

“No country in the world will be a democracy while skin color dictate opportunities,” said the president

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (Brazil) |
Lula signs acts to promote racial equality in a ceremony at Planalto Palace - Lula Marques / Agência Brasil

Two decades ago, the Human Rights National Program was instituted in Brazil, addressing racism as a priority. Since then, several public policies were implemented in the country focusing on racial equality promotion. The date was celebrated by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Workers’ Party) on Tuesday (21) in an event at Planalto Palace. 

“No country in the world will be a democracy while skin color dictate the opportunities people will have throughout their lives,” the leftist politician explained. In 2003, Lula was in his first presidential term when he promoted a set of public policies aimed at racial equality. 

One of the first actions was sanctioning Law 10,639, in January 2003. The legislation made it mandatory for the teaching of Afro-Brazilian and African culture and history in primary and high schools nationwide. The law was an important victory for Black movements and a response to demands to acknowledge and value Black culture and history in Brazil. 

President Lula gives title deeds of property to the Quilombola people from Serra da Guia, in the state of Sergipe / Photo: Reproduction/YouTube

In March of that same year, the Special Secretariat for Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR, in Portuguese) was created, responsible for coordinating policies to promote racial equality and implement affirmative actions in many areas, such as education, health, labor and culture. 

Another crucial public policy was the creation of racial quotas in public universities, which started at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) and expanded to other state and federal higher education institutions.

Racial quotas were fundamental to include more Black young students in higher education. Historically, Afro-Brazilians were excluded from this kind of opportunity. Anielle Franco, the current minister of Racial Equality of Brazil, was a racial quota student. She made a speech at the event:

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“I was a racial quota student at UERJ, and I’m proud of it. These measures strengthened my generation. As a consequence, the country has never seen the Ministries Esplanade as black as in 2023. But there are still few people; we need many more. Together, we [Black people] are 56 percent of this country,” said Franco.

Besides quotas, other affirmative actions were also implemented, such as reservation vacancies for Black people in civil service exams, the adoption of policies to value Black culture and the creation of the Statute of Racial Equality, which recognizes racial discrimination as a crime and establishes guidelines for the promotion of equality.

Touched, Anielle Franco celebrated the previous heads of the secretariat that is part of the ministry she heads. “There is no doubt that the last 20 years were the most representative of the history of the Black population. Deep roots generate very strong trees, such as SEPPIR. The federal government places the urgent fight against racism at the center of its decisions.” 

New package of measures 

In the event, Lula announced a set of public policies to be implemented by SEPPIR in actions to be taken together by other ministries. “This government is open to dialogue with civil society, the Black movement and human rights movements. It’s mandatory to rebuild the country and create public policies that are more inclusive,” he said. 

Lula signed five decrees: one to reserve vacancies in commission positions in the federal public administration; one that creates a working group for the new national program of affirmative actions; one that creates a working group for the Black Youth Lives Plan; and one that establishes a working group to tackle religious racism. 

Finally, the president signed title deeds of propriety for quilombolas, represented by the communities of Brejo dos Crioulos (Minas Gerais state), Lagoa dos Campinhos (Sergipe state) and Serra da Guia (Sergipe state).

Edited by: Nicolau Soares e Flávia Chacon