Maria Aparecida (Cida) Silva Bento
Fellow Since 1993
CEERT - Centro de Estudos das Relações do Trabalho e Desigua
This profile was prepared when Maria Aparecida Silva Bento was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1993.
The New Idea
In Brazil, racial equality is myth masquerading as reality. Perhaps as many as 50 or 60 percent of the total population have African ancestors, and Brazilians pride themselves on their "melting pot" social character. The reality is that in Brazil's labor "pigmentocracy," black Brazilians are largely confined to low-skill jobs and face discriminatory employment practices in white collar occupations.After twelve years working in the corporate human resources field followed by four years addressing "labor discrimination" for the government, Cida Silva Bento concluded that a sharp, fresh intervention was required to move beyond the "business as usual" approach to racism that prevailed in the country. Thus, in 1991 Cida set up the Center for the Study of Inequality and Labor Relations as an independent organization to address racism and work issues. The Center's distinctiveness lies in its close link with Brazil's awakening Black Consciousness social movement and in its willingness to utilize a bold mix of "carrot and stick" tactics with its three main client groups–labor, employers and government. The Center's basic approach is radical and new. It begins by breaking open the myth of racial equality. The Center asserts the contrary view that legal equality, as provided for in Brazil's Constitution, as enforced by current public policies, is demonstrably failing to provide equal opportunity in employment for black Brazilians. "In Brazil," says Cida, "race matters. In fact, your basic life chances are shaped more by your race than any other factor one can document." Having captured its clients' attention with well-prepared documentation of racism and discrimination, the Center then exposes the false assumptions underlying work culture (e.g., that "workers" are a cohesive group of white males sharing common interests and problems) and challenges unions, employers and the state alike to reconsider their practices in light of the apparent inconsistencies and contradictions. Once its clients see both the evidence of discrimination and the absurdity of their unstated assumptions, they are ready to work with the Center to develop new assumptions and to derive new anti-racism policies.