People and Society, Ethnic Groups
mixed racial heritage, interracial relationships, open society, sugar plantations, percent black
Brazilís population is derived from three main ethnic sources. The earliest secure date for the arrival of Native Americans in Brazil is about 10,000 years ago. Europeans arrived in 1500, and for the next three centuries European immigration was restricted to only the Portuguese. African slaves came from West Africa, the Congo, Angola, and Mozambique. Relations between these groups created a complex population pattern of mixed races, described by an often subtle terminology based on colorófor example, preto (black), escuro (dark), mulato escuro (dark brown), or mulato claro (light brown).
Racial classifications in Brazil are not as sharply defined as in other nations. The Portuguese colonists who settled Brazil had a more relaxed attitude toward interracial relationships than other Europeans and often intermarried with Africans and Native Americans. In addition, racial classification often reflects an individualís economic or social standing. For example, a Brazilian of mixed racial heritage who has done well economically may be classified as white.
The white population tends to be slightly more prevalent in urban areas while the black and mulatto population is slightly more populous in rural areas. There are also some strong regional variations. In the Northeast, where large numbers of slaves were imported during colonial times to work the sugar plantations, more than 70 percent of the people were recorded as black or mulatto in 1996. In the Southeast the population was classified as 66 percent white and 33 percent black or mulatto; in the South, which was settled mainly by European immigrants, more than 82 percent of the people were recorded as white. Brazil is widely regarded as a racially open society, with few ethnic tensions, and there is no recent history of legal discrimination. However, whites tend to occupy positions at the top of Brazilís social structure, while blacks often occupy the lower economic levels of society. Considerable room for social mobility exists among individuals with a mixed racial heritage.
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