One Black Man Navigates Rio's Racial Divide

source: reuters
19

In 2017, he got a full scholarship to the social sciences program at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio (PUC-Rio), a private school that has minted central bank presidents and movie stars. Luther's rare opportunity and daily routine are reminders of the disparities in Brazilian society and Rio in particular, where a police raid killing dozens in May stirred fresh debate about the dangers and disadvantages facing Black men like him. Luther, 38, had previously passed up college for work to support his family, including a job sweeping streets with the municipal cleaning agency since 2009. "Many students like me start working when they are very young," said Luther, who comes from humble roots in the northern reaches of Rio, more than two hours from campus. "This reduces the time and structure they need to be able to compete with children of the elite." Studying at PUC-Rio has put Luther's dreams within reach, while bringing him face-to-face with the overwhelmingly white elite of a country where 54% of people have African ancestry. In 2000, the national census found white Brazilians were five times more likely to have attended university than their Black, mixed race and indigenous peers. "Because there are so few Black people at this renowned university, many view Black folks as servers, not as fellow classmates," Luther said, recalling awkward run-ins on campus. In one case, a woman mistook Luther for an elevator operator. In another, someone tried to pay him for a cup of coffee, confusing him with cafeteria staff.

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