Brazil In Black And White Two radically different ways of seeing race come into sudden conflict in Brazil, provoking a national conversation about who is Black? And who is not Black enough?
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Brazil In Black And White

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Brazil In Black And White

Brazil In Black And White

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GREGORY WARNER, HOST:

We're on the second floor of a government building in a lush corner of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. About a dozen job candidates are waiting here, in this echoey hallway, for their names to be called.

PEDRO ATTILA: I'm ready (laughter).

WARNER: Pedro Attila is the oldest of the job seekers. He's 44 years old - big guy.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: He tells me and my interpreter that he needs this job to give him his life back.

When you say that you'd have your life back, what piece of your life would you change first?

ATTILA: (Through interpreter) I'll enjoy not having to wear a uniform when I go to work.

WARNER: Pedro hates everything about his work uniform.

ATTILA: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: He hates the blue stripes, half the width of the white stripes.

ATTILA: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: He hates the three black buttons that start at the collar and then stop inexplicably at his sternum.

ATTILA: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: Pedro graduated a prestigious university, but that was 20 years ago. And he's got this nightmare that he'll bump into an old classmate - the classmate in a tie or blouse driving a nice car, Pedro in his uniform.

ATTILA: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: Pedro is here to change all that. Government jobs are a big deal in Brazil. They're jobs for life. He and the others have taken these day-long examinations, beating out thousands of others, though this final interview will have nothing to do with their skills.

What about you are you hoping they'll see?

ANDREA: Well, I hope that they see that (laughter) I'm not white, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: There is a new law in Brazil that gives more government jobs to black Brazilians. The catch, though, is this - anyone who wants one of these jobs has to prove to a panel of judges that he or she qualifies. And this is not so easy to determine in Brazil. In fact, if you ask Pedro what color he is...

How would you describe that shade? Do you compare it to, like, an actor?

ATTILA: Ah, (speaking Portuguese) Andy Garcia.

WARNER: Andy Garcia.

The Cuban-born actor who plays Italian gangsters.

ATTILA: Or Usher - singer, dancer.

WARNER: Or Usher?

ATTILA: Usher.

WARNER: Andy Garcia and Usher, the R&B singer - if you picture these two celebrities in your mind, Andy Garcia and Usher, Pedro believes he has a striking resemblance to both men - both men who, in America at least, would be nowhere near each other on the color wheel.

ATTILA: (Through interpreter) I have a black guy's nose, a black guy's lips but white guy's hair.

WARNER: And it's not just Pedro.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: Lots of people are worried their hair is too straight....

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Hair?

WARNER: ...Or their color is too light. One candidate I met said he searched for his skin tone on Wikipedia...

BRUNO: (Speaking Portuguese) Wikipedia.

WARNER: ...And only then decided, yeah, he was dark enough.

PAMELA: I don't know what they judge. I mean, my nose is not that big, so does that mean I'm not black?

WARNER: This sounds crazy. What are they going to do in that room? Are they gonna hold rulers up to people's lips and paint chips to their cheeks? And yet, this is the solution that Brazil has come up with to make Brazil less racist.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: What do you think is going to happen there inside?

WARNER: Here with me, reporting in this hallway, is Lulu Garcia-Navarro. She was the NPR correspondent for years from Brazil.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If they say that you don't fit the requirements, will you accept that? Will you think that that's fair?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: It seems so weird to tell someone what race they are.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I don't think they're telling them what race they are. It's about how black you look because their thing is you're going to suffer racism on the basis of the way you look. So if you look black enough, you qualify.

WARNER: I'm Gregory Warner. This is ROUGH TRANSLATION. We're a new show from NPR where we follow a conversation that we are having in the United States to a place where that conversation sounds very different. On this episode, what happens when Brazil, a country that's always prided itself on a thousand shades of brown, borrows an idea from the United States - an idea of black and white? We're going to meet the Brazilians who put that new box on the job application form - a box marked black.

JOAZ BERNARDINO: In English, it's a little bit different than Portuguese.

MARIO THEODORO: I will try to speak slow.

WARNER: And we're going to find out why it took Pedro so many years to check that box...

ATTILA: I'm not so black...

WARNER: ...And what the judges said when he did.

ATTILA: ...Visually.

WARNER: And we're going to listen in on a conversation that's happening right now all over Brazil - a conversation about who's black...

LU OLIVERA: He's black.

WARNER: ...And who's not...

JULIA MUNIZ: I don't see it.

OLIVERA: Really?

MUNIZ: Really.

OLIVERA: Oh, man.

WARNER: ...When ROUGH TRANSLATION returns.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: This is ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner.

OLIVERA: There you go. There's a different perspective on race right there.

WARNER: We're at an outdoor cafe in Rio. Rain is falling. A Samba band is in the background. And there's a couple here drinking coffee.

OLIVERA: My name is Lu Olivera.

WARNER: Lu is American.

OLIVERA: And this is my partner in crime - my partner in life - Julia.

WARNER: Julia's Brazilian.

MUNIZ: Julia Christina Gomez Muniz (ph) - what?

WARNER: And ever since they met three years ago, they've been having this conversation about who's black.

OLIVERA: In the United States, I'm light-skinned, but I'm black. And I get treated as such. Here...

MUNIZ: First time he told me he was black, I was confused.

OLIVERA: (Laughter).

MUNIZ: I said, what? (laughter) And he actually convinced me that he was black.

WARNER: How did he do that?

(LAUGHTER)

MUNIZ: He actually gave me a - I forgot the word - a palestra?

OLIVERA: Like a speech?

MUNIZ: A lecture?

OLIVERA: A lecture.

MUNIZ: A lecture on race.

WARNER: It wasn't just one lecture. It was actually several where Lu explained why someone with light skin in America could call themselves black. He told her about the history of segregation in America, all those legal doctrines that defined your race by who your ancestors were and not what you look like.

OLIVERA: I've never seen that a white person in skin could be black.

WARNER: Julia lectures Lu right back, saying that in Brazil, race is not about roots. If you look black, you're black. If you look white, you're white. Julia's brother calls himself white while Julia calls herself black - same parents.

MUNIZ: So I have black, white and mixed cousins.

WARNER: This idea of black, white and mixed - this actually goes all the way back to Brazil's history post-slavery because even though Brazil imported 10 times more African slaves than America did, after slavery ended, it never had any laws segregating races or barring marriage between blacks and whites. Interracial marriage is now more common in Brazil than almost anywhere in the world. And nearly half the country, 80 million Brazilians, don't call themselves black, and they don't call themselves white. Most of the people we met in that hallway waiting for that job interview - they call themselves...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: ...Pardo.

WARNER: Pardo.

ANDREA: I don't know the name in English. I am parda.

BRUNO: (Speaking Portuguese).

ANDREA: (Speaking Portuguese).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Speaking Portuguese).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: It means brown, or it can mean mixed race. And Pedro...

ATTILA: I'm Pedro.

WARNER: ...The guy who described himself as looking like Andy Garcia or Usher...

ATTILA: I'm single.

WARNER: ...He describes himself as pardo.

ATTILA: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: Mixed.

ATTILA: Pardo.

WARNER: It was only when I visited him in his apartment...

ATTILA: Living the humble life...

WARNER: On the far outskirts of Rio...

ATTILA: ...A simple life.

WARNER: ...That I understood better how Pedro could look in the mirror and see both Andy Garcia and Usher and why it would take him years to check a box marked black.

ATTILA: Come on, boys.

(SOUNDBITE OF CATS MEOWING)

WARNER: After feeding the cats, Pedro reaches up to this bookshelf. By the way, on the bookshelf, I see Russian history, Derrida, novels by Umberto Eco.

ATTILA: Yeah.

WARNER: And he pulls down this tin box. It's a box of photographs.

ATTILA: This is me a toddler - as a toddler.

WARNER: First, himself as an olive-skinned little boy.

ATTILA: Mom and Daddy.

WARNER: In the next photo from the '70s, his mom with shaggy, blonde hair, his dad in a wide-lapeled suit and...

ATTILA: ...They were white.

WARNER: They look white.

ATTILA: In color picture, you can see better.

WARNER: Yeah, they're actually whiter than me.

But the third picture in this box...

ATTILA: Uncle, aunts and...

MUNIZ: ...Pedro's mother's brothers and her sisters - and all of them are dark-skinned.

ATTILA: The black part of my family. And my mother is white.

WARNER: Was your mother treated differently because she was white in her family?

ATTILA: My mom was sent to Rio to have a better life.

WARNER: Because she was lighter-skinned, her parents pooled their money to send her to the big city.

ATTILA: She was sent here to win in life.

WARNER: To win in life. And while her siblings stayed back on the farm, she worked as a seamstress in Rio. That's where she met Pedro's father, an immigrant from Italy. They got married, had a long and happy life together. And weirdly, that is exactly the love story that the Brazilian government had hoped would happen.

It actually goes back to Brazil's policy after the end of slavery because, while in America, there were all these laws aimed to segregate blacks, Brazil's racist project was to whiten its population, to offer jobs and opportunities to Europeans like Pedro's dad. And Pedro, by all the racial science at the time, should've been born lighter-skinned.

ATTILA: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: Pedro says his mother loved him a lot, but she was very severe. Sometimes, she would call him black-y, little black boy, when he did something bad. And she was...

ATTILA: ...Pissed off - very, very angry. (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: There was one other word that she called him when she was angry.

ATTILA: Cidadao.

WARNER: Cidadao. It means citizen. It's a word the police use when they're arresting somebody.

ATTILA: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: The thing was his late mom didn't use these words that often...

ATTILA: Yeah.

WARNER: ...Which made the few times she did more painful.

ATTILA: I recognize that she - in her mind, this fact that I'm being black could not be good anytime for her. Sometimes, maybe, she would be a little upset. I don't know why because I'm the same skin of her family. But I don't know. People are strange (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Pedro's confusion about this - Lulu says it's also Brazil's confusion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's this idea in Brazil that somehow because everyone is so mixed, that everyone lives in harmony. That is actually the Brazil that I expected when I traveled there for the first time, taking on the job for NPR.

WARNER: That idea ended pretty quickly, like the first time she walked into a fancy restaurant in Rio.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You just see people that are lighter-skinned.

WARNER: She'd noticed that while doctors and lawyers in Brazil were lighter-skinned, the bus drivers and the domestic servants - black. This racial divide became something that she kept going back to in her reporting for NPR.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why is it that all the statistics show that most of the people who are shot and killed in Brazil - some 60,000 people a year are murdered - are predominately young, black men? And then talking to Brazilians about it, I often got accused of bringing my American, you know, racial eye to Brazil. And when you talk to darker-skinned Brazilians, oftentimes, unless they're involved in activism, they do not see race as an issue. They do not talk about being discriminated against because they're black.

WARNER: Did you feel at all that...

I asked Pedro...

...Teachers...

...Did he face racism in the classroom?

ATTILA: No. No.

WARNER: ...Or maybe as an officer in the army.

And so in the army...

ATTILA: No. No.

WARNER: ...Or later in job interviews.

ATTILA: No. (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: Then in 2014, Pedro was applying for a job with the civil service. And he saw this new question appear on his job application form.

ATTILA: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: Concorrencia means what?

ATTILA: (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: Concorrencia?

ATTILA: You are running for black spaces.

WARNER: A box that he could check...

ATTILA: Yeah, Negroes.

WARNER: ...That would give him this potential shortcut to this life that had always eluded him - a life of tie wearing and team managing and being respected like so many of his college classmates. All he had to do was check this box. And instead, Pedro would respond with his heartiest, most Santa-like...

ATTILA: No, no, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: And you know who else didn't check this box when she was applying for university? Julia, who we met with her American boyfriend at that rainy cafe.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIN)

MUNIZ: I knew I was black. But I thought I wouldn't apply via quota because I had a white education.

WARNER: This was happening all over Brazil. Dark-skinned people were not checking this box. And you know who was checking this box marked black? White people.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: So black activists decided to take action.

THEODORO: (Through interpreter) The most recent struggle has been to establish a way of checking or of obtaining proof of being black.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: How Pedro went from saying no, no, no to the box to checking it and then having to prove that he is black - when ROUGH TRANSLATION returns.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: I'm Gregory Warner, and this is ROUGH TRANSLATION.

THEODORO: OK, OK.

WARNER: To try to understand how Brazil came to the point of having judges decide what color people are, I ended up flying down to Brasilia, the administrative capital, to meet this guy.

So let me just get your name and your title correctly.

THEODORO: (Through interpreter) Mario Theodoro.

WARNER: Mario Theodoro has been a vice minister - now a Senate adviser, well-respected. But because of his dark skin, he still gets mistaken sometimes for a security guard.

THEODORO: Si.

WARNER: Mario helped pass a law meant to bring more blacks into the Brazilian elite.

THEODORO: Affirmative action is positive discrimination.

WARNER: And Mario talks about giving black Brazilians more role models in powerful places.

THEODORO: It's my dream.

WARNER: That's your dream?

THEODORO: Yes. (Speaking Portuguese).

WARNER: The affirmative action mandate, which became federal law in 2014, was incredibly ambitious - 20 percent of students accepted to federal university must be black, 20 percent hired for most civil service jobs. This was huge. Except when Mario looked at photographs of who was getting hired for these jobs and who was accepted to these universities, he was shocked. He shows me this one photo.

THEODORO: (Through interpreter) A photograph of a class of medical students at the University of Pelotas in the south of Brazil.

WARNER: So the photo's of 51 smiling medical students in 51 bright white lab coats. According to the quota, at least 10 of them - 20 percent - should be black. But when Mario looks at this photo, he thinks...

THEODORO: (Through interpreter) All of them are white.

WARNER: There is one dark-skinned face in this photograph, but that guy is an exchange student from Africa. He wasn't part of the quota. It wasn't just this one photo. Lots of people told me about other photos like this.

JOAZ CARVALHO: I have paper clips - hundreds.

WARNER: Here's another architect of affirmative action, Joaz Carvalho. He shows me a clip of another student with white features who checked the box and got in under this quota.

CARVALHO: It's what you call in Portuguese descarrado - how you say it?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: Shameless.

CARVALHO: A shameless person, right?

WARNER: And the solution that he and other activists came up with was exactly what we saw in that hallway. Every candidate who checks that box has to have their race verified by what's now called an anti-fraud commission. The judges on it are volunteers from the university or the government office.

Do you give them objective characteristics like - more subjective?

CARVALHO: No, it's not necessary. It's not necessary - give a group of characteristics. (Through interpreter) One time a leader of the black movement in Brazil was asked, how am I going to know who's black in Brazil? And the man responded, ask a police officer. It's perfect. (Laughter) It's a perfect boundary between white and black people. It's a joke.

(Through interpreter) But I really did give some thought to the possibility of having the commission made up of police officers.

WARNER: The job of every judge on these panels is to see each candidate as a racist would see them, which gets tricky. Officially, the quotas are for black and brown Brazilians. But it's not actually for everyone who calls themselves brown.

BERNARDINO: The pardo, the pardo.

WARNER: Joaz Bernardino (ph) helped design the anti-fraud commission.

BERNARDINO: The pardo - like that.

WARNER: And here he grabs a piece of paper from his desk - we're at the University of Brasilia. On the top, he writes...

BERNARDINO: White here...

WARNER: Black on the bottom - no, scratch that.

BERNARDINO: I don't know why I'm putting white in the top (laughter).

WARNER: New sheet of paper - black on top, white on the bottom. And on the long space between those two, he writes...

BERNARDINO: Pardo from here to here. So for example - for me, the pardo, who are here...

WARNER: So you're drawing - (laughter) OK, you just put a line straight through the pardo category...

BERNARDINO: Yeah.

WARNER: ...Which - millions of Brazilians call themselves that.

BERNARDINO: Yeah, yeah, yeah, people - yeah.

WARNER: And you're saying that some brown people - some pardo people are really more white.

BERNARDINO: Yeah, more close to the white.

WARNER: In Brazil, they live as white people.

BERNARDINO: Yeah, they could.

WARNER: If you ask people to be either black or white...

BERNARDINO: Yeah, exactly.

WARNER: And it's easier...

BERNARDINO: Just put away the word pardo.

WARNER: But isn't pardo - isn't that what Brazil is all about?

BERNARDINO: I think that you are right. But the problem is when we define ourselves as pardo and say that we don't have racial problem in the country.

WARNER: The first time that Pedro was ever tempted to check that affirmative action box came when he saw an opening for a job - a job at City Hall in exactly his field.

ATTILA: Good job.

WARNER: Yeah.

ATTILA: Very good job.

WARNER: That sounds like a very good job.

ATTILA: Very good job.

WARNER: He studied harder for this test than any other, and he beat out thousands of applicants to score in ninth place. And there were 10 spots. But two of those 10 were for the quota, and Pedro had not checked the box.

So if you had applied in the quota track...

ATTILA: ...Yeah...

WARNER: ...You would have made it.

ATTILA: Yeah. I would've made it.

WARNER: You would've have had the job.

ATTILA: Yeah (laughter).

WARNER: So how did that feel?

ATTILA: Oh, shit (laughter).

WARNER: That was the moment. He decided he's going to check that box. And he goes on this months-long quest to understand what that actually means to him. He reads books from the library on black history. He watches a ton of sketch comedy from America.

ATTILA: "Saturday Night Live" - you know? (Laughter).

WARNER: The next job he applies for, he gets the callback. So by the time he arrives...

ATTILA: (Speaking Portuguese)

WARNER: ...In this hallway...

No. No. You're on time.

He's ready.

ATTILA: I'm ready (laughter).

WARNER: When the door opens, he walks in.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CLOSING)

WARNER: Once inside, Pedro will sit in a chair in front of five people of different shades. And they'll ask him one question, why had he applied to the quota? His answer will not matter. What will matter is how they see him.

You remember that photograph of medical students where all the affirmative action candidates look white? Once that photo went public, people got really angry. Twenty-four students from that school were expelled for this new thing in Brazil, racial fraud. And what is happening in this country is even bigger than just who gets a job or a university slot. Affirmative action is changing how people see each other and see themselves. Take Julia, who we met in that rainy cafe. As a student years ago, she didn't check the box. But today...

MUNIZ: Oh, yeah.

WARNER: ...She definitely would.

MUNIZ: We need to see more black people in universities. And maybe if I had applied to the quota, I would be there. Maybe.

WARNER: I mean, do you feel like you would pass a commission?

MUNIZ: Oh, sure. They couldn't see me as white. They would see me as something towards to black. So it must be black.

WARNER: When I asked Julia this question - whether she'd be seen as black by the commission of judges - it was just a question I was asking everyone in Brazil as part of this story we were reporting. Julia is maybe the shade of Whitney Houston. It never crossed my mind to doubt her identity as a black woman. But as we were talking in this rainy outdoor cafe, a homeless guy approached our table.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: (Speaking Portuguese).

OLIVERA: (Speaking Portuguese)

WARNER: The guy is black, very dark-skinned. He's also very drunk. He tells us that a woman's body is like a guitar. Her hair is the strings. And then nature smells like grass. And then he leaves. And he says thank you, obrigado.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: (Speaking Portuguese)

MUNIZ: (Laughter) OK. (Speaking Portuguese).

OLIVERA: Did you realize what he just called her at the end, the last word that he called her? He called her India - indigenous.

MUNIZ: He's a black guy.

OLIVERA: He's a black guy.

MUNIZ: He doesn't see me as black.

OLIVERA: He doesn't see her as black.

MUNIZ: Even my black friends - they have problems admitting that I am black.

WARNER: You can hear the rain now. It's really starting to pour. And Julia starts telling me about all these friends, especially those friends who were most engaged in black causes, who tell her she's not black enough.

MUNIZ: I have this friend Samantha that I love. She's engaged in the black community. She would look at me and say, oh, you're not black. And I would do - hey, it's the same arm to arm. This is the same color. She says, no, it's not. Stop it. Stop trying being black. You're not.

WARNER: She said, stop trying to be black. You're not.

MUNIZ: Yeah. I get confused because she's not the only one. And maybe because of what I did to my hair - my natural hair is curly, like black curly. And I had it straightened. What do I have to do to be black? You know, change my hair, change my style? Must we behave differently?

OLIVERA: (Grunting).

WARNER: And right here, her boyfriend Lu does this thing which lots of couples do. He quietly kind of grunts. And Julia immediately seems to know what he's talking about. She whips around, challenges him in Portuguese.

MUNIZ: (Speaking Portuguese). (Laughter).

WARNER: They talk for a little bit. And then I ask him what he said, and he's caught off guard.

Wait, what did you answer?

OLIVERA: She says - she asks these very important questions. And then I'll just like - well, yeah. It's hard, you know? She's asked these questions...

WARNER: ...And how do you feel when he says yeah?

MUNIZ: I feel sad, actually.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: After I said goodbye to Lu and Julia, I showed her photo to Joaz Bernardino. He's the sociologist who helped draw that line in pencil between white and black. And he says Julia is actually on that line.

BERNARDINO: She is, for me, in the limit of one or the other because of the kind of the hair.

WARNER: Wait. Because her hair is straight, she's on the borderline.

BERNARDINO: Yeah. Yeah.

WARNER: So let's say she's a girl with straightened hair. So if she went and got her hair more natural...

BERNARDINO: Yeah. Probably.

WARNER: ...Then she'd do better on the commission.

BERNARDINO: Yeah. Probably. Probably, she would be considered a black person.

WARNER: But if she has straight hair, she may be of doubt.

BERNARDINO: Yeah. It's like, for me, it's not a problem. I'm not focusing my observation in these edge people.

WARNER: The professor keeps using this word for Julia.

BERNARDINO: She is exactly the edge. She is in between.

WARNER: And he's not really worried about the in-betweeners. His goal is to get black people in Brazil to finally recognize themselves as part of a group.

BERNARDINO: Until the affirmative action program, we didn't have a positive reason for people to identify themselves as black. For the first time, we're having this good reason for people to identify as black.

WARNER: And he says to have that identity mean anything, it has to have edges. It has to be exclusive. He says, even though that means that his own 16-year-old son may be too light-skinned to pass a commission.

BERNARDINO: He will apply for the university this next year, so I have to talk about that with him.

WARNER: You mean if he decides to apply through the quota, you might have to tell him, umm.

BERNARDINO: Yeah, yeah.

WARNER: What will you talk about? What will you say?

I kept asking him how, as a dad, do you have that talk? Like, how do you say, sorry, I know I'm black, but you're not quite?

BERNARDINO: It's difficult, no. It's difficult to talk about fluidity, no.

WARNER: At first, I think that he's agreeing with me - that this is a difficult conversation to have, a difficulty that affirmative action has in some way introduced. Until I realize, no, I've misunderstood him. He is not saying that this is a problem with affirmative action. He's saying it's a problem for me to grasp - me, that is, the American.

BERNARDINO: So it's a great challenge to you. Your mind is used to fixed and rigid.

WARNER: The affirmative action policy in Brazil has a 10-year time frame. It expires in 2024, which means that there is a lot riding on this little window - this relatively brief experiment in a totally different way of seeing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: So thumbs up, thumbs down?

Back to the hallway where we've been waiting patiently with the other job seekers - finally, the door opens. And Pedro emerges.

ATTILA: It was very fast.

WARNER: Very fast?

And he's beaming. He holds himself taller. He suddenly speaks English a lot better.

ATTILA: It was five people. And they looked at me. They asked me, why had I run to quotas?

WARNER: Why did you apply through the quotas?

ATTILA: Yeah, and I said because it's a moral obligation.

WARNER: It's a moral obligation?

ATTILA: Yeah, and I signed the document. And I left happy (laughter) as fresh as a daisy (laughter).

WARNER: How are you feeling?

ATTILA: I'm feeling great. I'm keeping the spark alive.

WARNER: The spark of?

ATTILA: Of history, of fights and of a better Brazil, (laughter) yeah.

WARNER: Pedro walks off in his uniform. He's going to work. Three days later, the judgments of the panel are released.

(SOUNDBITE OF RING)

WARNER: Three people were rejected.

(SOUNDBITE OF RING)

WARNER: And as for Pedro?

ATTILA: Yeah, I was approved, yeah, on the commission, yeah.

WARNER: He says he hopes to prove that a black man can do a job as well as a white man. And he says black man, not pardo man.

ATTILA: Yeah, I feel more connected. And I needed to be more connected. In the past, I thought pardo was a big distance to black. Joining the process, joining the fight, I became feeling myself closer. It was not intentional.

WARNER: It wasn't Pedro's intention, but it was by design.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: That's it for this week's ROUGH TRANSLATION. If this is the kind of thing that you'd like to have in your podcast feed, take a second, head over to Apple Podcasts and give us a review. It helps people discover the show. Stay tuned for a preview of next week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JESS JIANG, BYLINE: Hey everybody, I'm Jess Jiang, the producer of ROUGH TRANSLATION. Next week, we're going to a country where fake news helped spark a real war. Fake news coming from Russia has been streaming over the border into Ukraine in extreme doses.

WARNER: And so what do you think Americans can learn from Ukraine example? What's the lesson for us?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #9: Yeah, the very first lesson - do not ignore this problem because it allowed Russian media to influence local people to kill each other.

JIANG: We're going to the frontlines of an information war that's being fought with real bullets. That's next week on ROUGH TRANSLATION.

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WARNER: This episode was produced by Jess Jiang and edited by Marianne McCune. Special thanks to Valdemar Geo from NPR's Latin America bureau, also to interpreters Catherine Osborn, Courtney Crumpler (ph) and Fraser Robinson and professor Reginald Daniel and Daunasia Yancey for introducing us to Lu and Julia. Thanks to Keith Woods, Sam Sanders, the Code Switch team and the Planet Money team for editorial guidance. Thank you to Lu Olkowski, Laura Starecheski, Andy Huether and Michael May. Katie Daugert fact-checked this episode. Thanks to our ROUGH TRANSLATION advisory team, Neal Carruth, Alex Goldmark, Anya Grundmann and Steve Nelson.

We would love to hear from you - what you thought of this episode.

Tell us your own perspective-shifting travel story. We got a lot more episodes to make and countries to visit. You can write us at roughtranslation@npr.org. We'll also post that photo of the medical students, some of whom were expelled for racial fraud. You'll find that on npr.org/roughtranslation or on our Facebook page. Original music for this episode was composed by John Ellis. Additional music from Blue Dot. I'm Gregory Warner, back next week with more ROUGH TRANSLATION.

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