I Declare Myself Black | Translation
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Translated by MC Editorial
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Let’s go to Salvador de Bahía, in northeastern Brazil. It was an afternoon in March 2020, and 26-year-old Lindinês was on her way to the Federal University of Bahia.
She arrived at her assigned classroom on time and sat in the front row, near the door. It didn’t take long for her name to be announced, along with that of four other classmates.
When she got up, she felt her legs shaking. For a moment she thought that the others—almost 200 people—could see how nervous she was. Her heart was racing. She walked a few meters through a group of students, and with each step she felt sharp glances. Some pointed at her. But she would not let herself be intimidated.
She entered the room where they were waiting for her. She stopped in front of a table where five people were sitting. She took a deep breath, raised her head, and said firmly:
[Lindinês]: Eu Lindinês de Jesus Souza me autodeclaro como mulher preta.
[Daniel]: “I, Lindinês de Jesus Sousa, declare myself a Black woman.”
The silence of the room was broken by the sound of the camera that was there to record her dark skin, her abundant curly hair, her thick lips. A photo facing forward, another in profile, as if she were being booked by the police.
But the people examining her were members of the university’s “Commission on Racial Identification,” which on that day was tasked with verifying that students who claimed to be Black really were.
This was a rare occurrence in the history of Brazil, when having dark skin actually spelled an opportunity and not a problem. In 2012, under the government of Dilma Rousseff, a system known as “race quotas” was created to reserve slots for Black, indigenous and Brown students—that is, children of Blacks with whites, or Blacks with indigenous people. It was a measure that sought to mitigate years of social inequality in the country.
Just to give an example: Although in 2012, slightly over half of the population identified as Afro, 89% of the slots in universities were occupied by white students. And race quotas were an attempt to reverse this, at least in public universities.
That’s why it was strange for Lindinês to see, next to her that day, students with light eyes, fair skin, and straight hair—people who, like her, were there because they had also declared they were Black.
It was a fraud that had been around for some time, but one that Lindinês was prepared to face.
We’ll be back after a break.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Journalist Claudia Jardim picks up the story.
[Claudia Jardim]: Lindinês was born and raised in Salvador, the capital of Bahia, in northeastern Brazil. She lived with her mother, her father, two brothers and a sister in Itapuã, a fishing village and one of the main tourist spots in the city. Her childhood smelled of the sea. Her father was a worker on an oil platform and her mother sold everything she could in the neighborhood: yogurt, cosmetics, clothes.
From a very young age, she was taught to be proud of the color of her skin. But she was also taught that it has never been easy to be Afro in her country.
In the 16th century, more than 5 million Africans, trafficked and enslaved during the Portuguese colonization, arrived at Brazilian ports. They were forced to work in agriculture, mining, ports and domestic service. Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery. That wasn’t until 1888. But access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, and housing remained a problem for Afro-descendants for decades. Or rather, it still is.
Added to this is police violence. When Lindinês was a child in the nineties, she heard her mother repeat the same thing to her two older brothers:
[Lindinês]: Não sai de casa sem documento, não usa cabelo grande…
[Claudia]: Not to go out without their IDs, not to let their hair grow long…
[Lindinês]: Não se veste de qualquer jeito, não anda tarde na rua…
[Claudia]: Not to be sloppily dressed or wear flip-flops, and not to be out on the street late at night.
[Lindinês]: Não reage, não fala nada, pede ajuda, manda alguém chamar lá em casa, se tiver qualquer abordagem perto.
[Claudia]: They should not react if they were stopped by a police officer, and they always needed to call her if they needed help. Their mother was not exaggerating.
There is no official record of police violence at that time, but it was a threat that families like hers lived with constantly. We know, from testimonies and news, that this is a reality that has not changed much. In addition, according to 2020 data, in Bahia, the possibility of a Black person dying at the hands of the police is five times greater than that of a white person. Which adds up to a shocking statistic: Across Brazil almost 80% of the people who have died in interactions with the police are Black.
Although she was growing up in that world, her family functioned as a retaining wall. They treated her like an exceptional child, because of her discipline at school, her curiosity, her spark. When she was 7 years old, she started attending a public elementary school. There were other Black children from the same neighborhood there, but Lindinês’s grades were always the best.
She did so well that she won a scholarship to a high-level private religious school. A very expensive one for families like hers, who earned little and lived on the periphery.
The school was far from her house, in downtown Salvador. From Monday to Friday, she would wake up very early and would leave two hours before class to get there on time. And among a large majority of wealthy white students, Lindinês felt out of place. She couldn’t join her classmates when they made plans to go out, like going to the movies or eating ice cream on the beach.
[Lindinês]: Eu ficava na biblioteca para poder usar a internet, ler os livros da biblioteca de tarde na escola, com fome porque eu estudava de manhã.
[Claudia]: Since she did not have a computer at home, nor money to buy books, she stayed in the school library every afternoon and spent hours studying there. Even so, Lindinês continued to excel at school. She told me that for two years in a row, she was one of the top 3 students in the entire school.
It was around this time, at age 14, that she adopted one of her mother’s dreams as her own.
[Lindinês]: Minha mãe sempre quis ser médica, mas ela nunca me impôs nada, tipo assim ela nem falava muito sobre isso. Mas isso ficou ali, isso me pairava, né?
[Claudia]: Her mother had always wanted to study medicine, but she couldn’t go to college. She finished high school, and after two failed attempts at the admission exam, she abandoned the idea. It was something her mother didn’t talk about much. But it was enough that she mentioned it to Lindinês for her to not forget it. Little by little, Lindinês began to imagine herself wearing a doctor’s white coat. But when she told people what she wanted to do, many of them said:
[Lindinês]: Essa é outra coisa que o racismo opera sobre a gente né? Eu nunca tinha cara de quem queria fazer medicina.
[Claudia]: That she did not look like a doctor. They suggested other professions that were supposedly suited to someone like her.
[Lindinês]: Tinha cara de História, tinha cara de Direito, eu tinha cara de outras coisas. Por que você não faz enfermagem? Enfermagem parece um pouco mais com você.
[Claudia]: That she should study history, law, nursing or physical therapy, because in those areas, there were people who looked like her.
In the mid-2000s, it was not common for a Black person in the state of Bahia, much less a Black woman, to aspire to a career considered prestigious, such as medicine, which was occupied mostly by whites.
But none of that made her give up. Lindinês saw the world beyond the shores of Bahia. Around that time, at school she was assigned to read a book by American neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson, “Think Big.” Black like her, Carson had lived through class and racial violence in the United States, and had become one of the most respected doctors in his area.
[Lindinês]: Viveu algo muito parecido com tudo que eu vivo, conseguiu chegar muito longe e eu falei assim, acho que eu também consigo fazer grandes coisas.
[Claudia]: She read something that surprised her about him: in the late 80s he performed surgery on conjoined twins and both survived. And she thought that maybe she, too, would be capable of great things like him.
So, when she finished high school in 2011, she began to prepare for the entrance exam for the Federal University of Bahia, the most important in her state and one of the best in the country. She wanted to get into medical school, although she knew that the score she needed was very high.
But soon something changed. In 2012, just months after Lindinês finished high school—and after a lot of social pressuring— Brazil passed the law that we already mentioned: the law on social and race quotas, which makes it compulsory for public universities to take measures of racial inclusion. This means that they must reserve 50% of their slots for public and low-income school students and, of this total, 25% for Black, Brown, indigenous people and persons with disabilities.
When Lindinês found out about this law, she felt she had an opportunity.
[Lindinês]: “Pronto, pelos menos 50% das pessoas agora vão ser pessoas minimamente próximas a mim, vão ser pessoas parecidas comigo, então tenho mais chances.”
[Claudia]: Thinking that 50% of the people in medical school would look like her, that they would come from a social and racial background similar to hers, increased her chances of fighting for that slot in less difficult conditions.
Like her, many people saw the law as a historic reparation, a fundamental step to democratize access to higher education in Brazil and reduce social inequality. It was the most significant advance for the benefit of the Black and indigenous population since the abolition of slavery.
But not everyone in the country agreed, and many criticized the measure.
[Man]: Eu sou contra porque todos são iguais no mundo e as oportunidades têm que ser iguais a todos.
[Claudia]: Citizens like this one opposed the law, arguing that all people are equal and that everyone should have the same opportunities.
[Lawyer]: Isso feriria a meritocracia prevista no princípio republicano, ou seja, o sistema de mérito, aquela pessoa que fosse mais capaz, ou mais capacitada intelectualmente deveria ser o dono da vaga e que isso estaria sendo violado”.
[Claudia]: This audio is from a 2012 television program, where a lawyer says that the law goes against the meritocracy provided for in the republican principle, and that the most intellectually capable people are the ones who should get a slot in the university.
But it isn’t that simple. In Brazil, as in many countries in the region, public education is not the best, much less in contexts as precarious as the one where Lindinês grew up. This puts people like her at a disadvantage because slots in public university programs are limited, and before the quota law, the slots always ended up going to the students with the best scores in the admission exam. And, of course, it was no coincidence that the vast majority of those people were white and graduated from private schools, where they received a higher-quality education.
Lindinês had been one of the best students in her public school, yes… And she had studied at a private secondary school… But achieving a score that could compete with students who had gone to private schools all their lives was almost impossible. She just did not attain the same level.
[Lindinês]: Eu sabia que não conseguiria entrar em medicina jamais se não fossem as cotas.
[Claudia]: She says she knew that she never would have gotten into medical school if it weren’t for the quotas. Lindinês would compete for 25% of the slots with other people from the same social, economic and racial background. So, instead of competing with the highest grade of a white person from a private school, she would compete with the highest grade of the people who applied under the quota law.
Although that didn’t mean, of course, that she wouldn’t have to get the minimum score demanded by each college program. In the case of medicine at the University of Bahia, the one Lindinês wanted, that score was quite high compared to others.
Although she studied very hard, she could not get that minimum score.
[Lindinês]: Eu sempre soube que tinha que estudar muito para poder passar no vestibular. Fiz vestibular, não passa num ano, não passa no outro, não passa, eu fiz: Ah, não vou ficar aqui com a cara pra cima não.
[Claudia]: She took the exam one… two… three times, but couldn’t pass.
Three years passed this way, studying every day. She continued to live with her parents, and they supported her financially so that she could focus fully on passing the exam. They saw her as the great promise of their family and did not want her to be distracted by other things. Her only breaks from studying were during vacations, when she worked on the beach as an assistant to the vendors of acarajé, a typical dish from Bahia.
After those three failed attempts, Lindinês, aged 21, decided it was time to apply in a different field. And that’s what she did. In 2015 she applied to the same university, but to two programs where the minimum required score was lower: pharmacy and health. The latter was a kind of preparatory program that, after three years, allowed students to migrate to other health areas, such as medicine. What she most wanted at this point was to start college. Lindinês passed the pharmacy exam on the first try and decided to enroll at once. Her family celebrated by going out to dinner.
[Lindinês]: E aí a gente festejou a entrada em Farmácia. Vai ser farmacêutica, é algo importante, é uma conquista.
[Claudia]: They told her that studying pharmacy was a victory, that they would finally see her studying at the most important university in her state.
Lindinês started classes in the second semester of 2015, and although she found it difficult to keep up with her algebra class, she kept attending without fail.
Three weeks later, the results of the admission exam to the bachelor’s degree program in health were published. She had passed that one too, and immediately decided to drop out of pharmacy.
Lindinês was excited when she transferred, but from the beginning her experience was not a pleasant one. Competition between students was devastating, and the environment was hostile.
[Lindinês]: As pessoas são desonestas, as pessoas são agressivas, as pessoas são maldosas. As pessoas sabotam umas às outras, então tipo assim as pessoas se fecham num grupo para se proteger.
[Claudia]: The students were dishonest and aggressive. They sabotaged each other all the time, because only the ones with the best grades would manage to transfer to a medical program. The only way to make it in that environment was to strengthen her group of friends to protect herself from others. Only that way could she focus on her goal.
But her good grades were not always enough to gain her the respect of her teachers and classmates. Lindinês was only one of four Black people in the group of 60 students. And racism was explicit.
There was one teacher in particular who made her feel terrible. He was a white man who treated everyone with great respect and always with a smile. Except her. Once, Lindinês questioned her grade on an exam and the teacher said:
[Lindinês]: Não se preocupe que você vai ficar ainda com 92, porque pra gente como você 92 é uma nota muito alta’ tipo assim para pessoas medíocres como você, medíocres a vida inteira, 92 é na média é muito alta.
[Claudia]: “Don’t worry, you’re going to get a 92, which for people like you is a very high grade.” Lindinês was furious. She felt that he was calling her mediocre, and she was anything but that.
After two and a half years, she had completed all the courses for a health degree, with high grades. Which meant that she could participate in the internal selection process for a degree in medicine. Furthermore, since she was a student who qualified to benefit from race quotas at the university, she would apply for one of those slots. But she decided to wait that year, because there was talk about something that intimidated her:
[Lindinês]: Porque no ano que eu formava o número de fraudadores era muito maior e isso me intimidou.
[Claudia]: That that year, the number of people committing fraud in the race quota system was very high. Many people were posing as Black to get into college.
But that this happened was no secret. Until 2019, all that was required to apply for a slot under the race quota was to submit a written self-declaration of your race. No one verified the information. Whoever said they were Black, indigenous or Brown, were accepted as such by the system. Period.
[Lindinês]: O caso mais gritante era de uma aluna que tinha uma alta extremamente competitiva, mas era branca, loira, de olhos verdes, morava na Pituba, bairro nobre aqui de Salvador.
[Claudia]: The most egregious case that Lindinês came across was a student who entered medicine benefiting from the race quotas… and even though she had very good grades, she was white, blonde, and green-eyed. And she lived in an upper-class neighborhood.
She also had classmates from her bachelor degree in health who had been admitted to the university by posing as Black. And what concerned her the most was that many of them could also request a transfer to medicine and fill one of the slots she wanted.
Lindinês saw these frauds in the quota system as another of the many irregularities in Brazil that did not have a clear solution.
[Lindinês]: Eu me sentia muito impotente contra aquilo. A gente discutia muito, ficava conspirando ‘o que a gente pode fazer pra derrubar essa galera, todo mundo sabe e ninguém faz nada.
[Claudia]: All that made her feel helpless. Sometimes, she conspired with her classmates on how they could expose these people. But they went around and around the idea, and couldn’t come up with any solution.
So she decided to postpone her graduation, hoping that a year later she would have less competition from people committing fraud.
While she waited, Lindinês got an internship in the emergency unit of a public hospital in Salvador. She was excited to apply what she had learned in college.
As usual, this atmosphere was hectic and intimidating. Lindinês’s job was to tell families where to check in at the hospital and where to wait for their injured relatives. Many arrived in serious condition, most of them victims shot by the police and with their bodies still handcuffed. And yes, most were Black.
[Lindinês]: Eu recebia mães pretas, órfãs de seus filhos, que chegavam sem a menor dignidade porque eram vistos como menos gente. Corpos pretos sendo violados por alunos brancos da faculdade de medicina de Salvador, que riam na mesma sala que uma mãe chorava a morte de seu filho.
[Claudia]: She says that she received Black mothers who had lost their children, and that the way they were treated by white students who were doing internships at the hospital was disrespectful. They abused them, the patients, and the bodies, time and again.
She remembers seeing, for example, how the wounded were placed on frozen iron stretchers so that the mattresses would not get “stained with blood.”
And when nothing more could be done to save the patient, medical students saw an opportunity to practice some medical exercises.
[Lindinês]: Eu via eles entubando uma pessoa que já estava morta. Eles enfiando a cânula num corpo que não tinha dignidade mais, assim, e eles queriam ter a oportunidade de entubar e tipo, aquele corpo podia passar por aquilo, entendeu?
[Claudia]: Students intubated deceased Black people and treated them with no dignity.
[Lindinês]: Isso me violentava todo o dia. Todo dia eu saia da sala de espera e ia para o banheiro chorar.
[Claudia]: Every day, she locked herself up in the bathroom and cried. She felt that violence as something personal.
[Lindinês]: Me ajudou a ver a necessidade de ter alguém parecido que entendesse minimamente o que aquelas mães, aquelas pessoas, aquelas mulheres pretas passavam…
[Claudia]: She says this experience helped her see the need for Black mothers and women who come to the hospital to be cared for by someone who understands their reality. Especially in a country like Brazil, where, in 2018, only 18% of doctors self-identified as Black.
Representing her people with a white coat on became her main motivation.
Finally, in 2019, after completing a year-long internship at the hospital, Lindinês applied to the medical school. There were more slots for the Salvador campus, but because this was in the capital of Bahia, the competition would be greater. So she decided to apply to another campus of the same university, one that is in the interior of the state, more than 500 kilometers away from the capital and from her home. She might have a better chance there. Although for that year, only two of the total of 9 slots were for students under the race quotas to which Lindinês could apply. In any case, she decided to sign up for one of those two slots.
She didn’t need to take another exam to get into medicine, because the university evaluated the average grades in the health degree records. Those with the best scores would be selected. Lindinês only had to fill out an online form with her personal information and indicate her interest in at least three degrees in the healthcare area. She chose medicine, dentistry as the second option, and public health in third place.
A little over a month later, the day came when the list of selected candidates would be announced. It was February 3, 2020 and Lindinês went to her grandmother’s house to receive the news. When she arrived, she sat in front of the computer and opened the page where the results were posted for medicine.
Her name was there—but in third place on the list of candidates who were competing for the two spots under the race quotas.
[Lindinês]: Fiquei em choque, fiquei estática porque para mim o sonho tinha acabado, tipo assim, vou viver uma vida de frustração. Seja o que for o que eu vou fazer não vai ser o que eu queria e vou ter que conviver com isso.
[Claudia]: Lindinês was shocked. She thought her dream was over and she knew that whatever path she chose would be a lifetime of frustration for not getting into medicine.
She opened the computer search engine again to find out whether she had made her second option, dentistry. And yes, she had been admitted. But she had never seen herself as a dentist. It was not what she wanted.
The news fell like a bombshell on the family. One of the most affected seemed to be her mother. She suggested they go to Lindinês’s sister’s house to pass the bitter moment. The women there would give her the necessary support. She was fine with that, and as she was getting ready to go out, her cell phone started ringing. It was her friends, but not with messages of encouragement. Before opening the messages, Lindinês’s frustration was with herself, for not having been able to get a slot—until she saw what they wrote to her:
[Lindinês]: Lindi, que ficou nas duas cotas, são duas brancas, são duas brancas e me enviaram fotos.
[Claudia]: The two slots for medicine under the race quota had been awarded to two White girls posing as Black. They sent her photos for her to see. And yes, they were both white. One had straight, dark brown hair and was in a bathing suit on a walkway overlooking the sea. The other one also had straight hair, makeup and was wearing a black blouse. She was looking to the side, as if posing for a studio photo.
They did not appear to be part of the Afro-descendant or indigenous groups of Brazil.
[Lindinês]: Lindi você tá sabendo, o que você vai fazer?’ Eu disse, não vou fazer nada, estou cansada.
[Claudia]: Her friends kept asking, “What are you going to do about it?” She told them that she didn’t know, that she was tired.
[Lindinês]: A minha vida é toda de questionar. Eu questiono da hora que eu acordo a hora que eu durmo, porque eu tô sempre nesse lugar de que tenho que me defender, de ter que estar provando que eu sou digna das coisas, que eu conquistei as coisas, então para mim é muito cansativo esse lugar.
[Claudia]: She says that she’d spent her entire life questioning everything, every day. She felt exhausted from always having to defend herself, from having to prove that she deserved what she had accomplished. She felt that she couldn’t take it anymore.
When she got to her sister’s house, she cried for hours. Not getting in because of fraud was beyond personal frustration.
[Lindinês]: Não era justo com meu povo. Toda vez que um de nós ascende, a gente carrega uma família. A gente estava sendo privado, várias famílias pretas estavam sendo privadas de ascender socialmente por causa de descaração de gente branca.
[Claudia]: She felt it was an injustice to her people. She says that every time a Black person rises in the social ranks, they rise above themselves, and so does their family. It pained her to know that so many families like hers were being denied opportunities.
But Lindinês’s case was not isolated. Between 2013 and 2020, 4,000 students across the country reported fraud in the use of social and race quotas at different universities.
The problem was so widespread that both the Federal University of Bahia and others in the country had tried to deal with it since 2019 by creating identification commissions.
These commissions work like this: They summon students who declare themselves Black, Brown or indigenous, and verify that their phenotypic traits correspond to their self-declaration. What they look at is skin shade, hair texture, and the shape of the lips and nose. If, according to the majority of the five regular members of the commission, these characteristics correspond to what is considered a Black, Brown or indigenous person in Brazilian society, the student can access race quotas.
At this point it’s important to clarify something. In order to apply under race quotas, the rule considers not only how persons see themselves, but also how they are seen by Brazilian society. The law does not explain why, but it does make some sense. In Brazil, as in many other countries, skin color is what often determines the place a person occupies in the world—their experiences and access to opportunities. This is partly why the skin color of family members is not evaluated. And only each person’s individual experience, due to their physical features in the present, is taken into account.
And let’s remember that the legal quotas are also intended for low-income people, regardless of their skin color. Public universities must reserve 25% of their slots for students from public schools and families with an income below one minimum wage.
But, as we said, there was a loophole in these commissions. They did not evaluate the phenotype of students who had entered the university before this double verification was created, in 2019. All people needed to do was submit a self-declaration. And once enrolled in the university, students could transfer from one major to another using race quotas without having to repeat the process. As was the case with the white girls who took Lindinês’s spot.
And she, who had postponed her application to medical school for a year thinking she would have a better chance of getting a slot, was very disappointed. She was sad, but also angry. It was dawn when she managed to calm down and was able to tell her sister what had happened in more detail. Her sister suggested two ways out:
[Lindinês]: Se você não quiser fazer nada, a gente não faz nada, mas também nunca mais a gente fala neste assunto.
[Claudia]: If she didn’t want to do anything, it was fine, but she would have to forget about the issue, bury it and never mention it again.
[Lindinês]: E a segunda opção é vamos fazer o que a gente puder, o que estiver ao nosso alcance, para que a justiça seja feita.
[Claudia]: And the second option was to do everything possible to demand justice. If they decided to fight, they had very few days to lodge the complaint at the university.
[Lindinês]: Agora, você tem que decidir aqui e agora porque não podemos perder tempo.
[Claudia]: She had to decide at that moment. There was no time to lose.
Her sister said, “The slot is yours. Are you going to give away something that is yours?”
So, with the support of her mother and her sister, Lindinês plucked up her courage and said:
[Lindinês]: Eu fiz, então tá, a gente vai fazer, conseguiu me convencer.
[Claudia]: “Let’s do it. You’ve convinced me.”
[Daniel]: We’ll be back after a break.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Before the break, Lindinês discovered that the slots available under the race quota for admission to medical school at the Federal University of Bahia had been awarded to two white girls. But it would not stay like that. She decided she would do whatever it took to claim what was hers.
Claudia Jardim continues the story.
[Claudia]: As soon as Lindinês decided to file a complaint, her sister called an acquaintance who worked at another university in the state of Bahia and asked how they could report a case of fraud.
The woman told her that the first thing they had to do was file a complaint with the university’s Office of Student Assistance. And that, although prior fraud complaints had not been resolved, it was the protocol to follow before escalating her case to the state judicial system.
The deadline to lodge complaints was just two days away, so Lindinês decided to go the next morning. At the university’s Office of Student Assistance, she met with one of the officials, a Black woman like herself. She told her what had happened. She wrote her complaint on a piece of paper and signed it. The official uploaded the document to the university’s system that collected all kinds of complaints and said that she had to wait, that she would receive an email response in a few days.
But for Lindinês it wasn’t enough just to go to the university. She went out, took a bus and went directly to the Bahia Secretariat for Racial Advancement and Equality. There she again presented her complaint, to the Observatory of Structural Racism. What she told them was no surprise to anyone. Officials had received dozens of cases like Lindinês’s from different public universities in Bahia. So the person who received her complaint called a collective of Black lawyers in Bahia to see whether they could help her. One of them, Adalice Gonçalves, heard her story and did not hesitate to take the case. She would not charge her anything. She gave Lindinês the address of her office and they agreed to meet two days later.
When Lindinês left, she got a call from a journalist from the daily Correio da Bahía, one of the leading newspapers in the state. They wanted to interview her. Lindinês’s sister, who had a degree in communication science, had sent a message to a group of journalists on WhatsApp, telling them about the quota fraud at the university, and said her younger sister was fighting for her slot. She sent Lindinês’s phone number for anyone who might wish to interview her.
Lindinês told them her story, but she asked them to keep it anonymous.
[Lindinês]: Eu realmente temo. Apesar de todo mundo saber que sou eu, não quero botar minha cara agora no jornal, porque eu não posso garantir a minha segurança. Eu tô fazendo tudo isso, mas eu tô me deslocando de ônibus porque é o meu meio de transporte, eu fico o tempo todo muito vulnerável.
[Claudia]: She says she feared for her safety. And although many people in the university scene knew she had filed the fraud complaint, she did not want to see her face printed in the newspaper. She was afraid of being recognized. The journalist agreed and, the next day, the newspaper ran a headline that said,: “I feel like garbage, made invisible, says a student who denounces quota fraud at the Federal University of Bahia.”
Two days later, Lindinês went to the office of attorney Adalice Gonçalves, also Black like her.
She explained that she could request a review of her grades, the only way provided by the university to file a new lawsuit, and that they would include the complaint of racial fraud on the same document, with the hope that the irregularity would reach the ears of the president of the university. They had to hurry. They only had a few hours left. They spent the night calculating the grades and together they wrote the document that would be signed by Lindinês.
In the days that followed, Lindinês continued to receive messages from her classmates asking how she was doing and whether the university had given her any answers.
Some started a campaign on the Change.org platform. They wanted to collect signatures asking the university to review who the students were who had been admitted under quotas. Other people from the university also approached her to offer whatever help she needed. Lindinês only asked that if they knew of prior frauds, to not keep them quiet, but to report them to the president of the university to show that hers was not an isolated case.
But not everyone supported her. Other classmates started a campaign against her in the WhatsApp group of the bachelor of health. They were the children of very wealthy people in Bahia, including large landowners.
[Lindinês]: A galera dizendo que eu era recalcada, que eu era desonesta. Ah, desferindo vários chingamentos, Invertendo totalmente os valores, deturpando tudo.
[Claudia]: They said that she was resentful, dishonest, and threatened to beat her up. That she was destroying many people’s dreams of becoming doctors.
Meanwhile, the media did not stop looking for her. She agreed to do interviews, but continued to speak on condition of anonymity.
Two weeks after she decided to report her case, Lindinês found out that her claim had been heard by the authorities. The university posted a call on its website summoning all quota students to appear before the identification commission the following week. Dozens of students would have to make a public self-declaration in person so that the members of the commission could verify that they were indeed Black, Brown or indigenous.
Lindinês says that when she saw the summons, she felt heard, made visible.
[Lindinês]: Quando anunciou me senti ouvida, vista. Algo que nos anos anteriores a gente falava no curso que deveria ter, que deveria acontecer e que até aquele momento não existia. Nunca imaginei que ia acontecer pelas minhas mãos.
[Claudia]: And that she never imagined that that change she had talked about so often with her classmates would occur thanks to her action.
The Commission on Racial Identification called students to appear in early March 2020. Then the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and many countries were implementing quarantine measures. But in Brazil, the government of Jair Bolsonaro downplayed the severity of the pandemic, so the spread of the virus did not interfere with the work of the identification commission.
The day finally came. That afternoon, Lindinês took a bus to the campus in the capital, Salvador, about 25 kilometers from her house. She had to go alone. Her sister and her brothers could not get off from work, and her mother had to take care of her grandmother, who was ill.
And this brings us to the scene that began this story.
When she entered the room, all eyes turned to her. The room was packed with students scheduled to make their public self-declaration. There were relatives accompanying their children. The atmosphere was heavy. They looked down their noses at her.
For some, being there was a second opportunity to show that they had been harmed by fraud. For others, Lindinês was to blame for what would happen to their future.
[Lindinês]: Todos meus colegas brancos lá, me odiando.
[Claudia]: Her white classmates hated her. And they were willing to do anything to pass themselves off as Black.
[Lindinês]: Que resolveu entrar na, na transição capilar naquela semana, com foto dos parentes de algemas nos pés dizendo ‘Ai meu avô foi escravo’, teve gente que apareceu com advogado…
[Claudia]: She says there were people who had artificial tans. Others shaved their hair so as not to show that it was straight. There were classmates who brought photos of their Black grandparents to say that they had been enslaved. And also people who came with their lawyers saying that the commission was illegal, because they had already been accepted as beneficiaries of the quotas before the double verification existed.
[Lindinês]: Pessoas que a gente sabia que tinha dinheiro e que além de se fazer de louco fingindo que era preto, se fazia de louco fingindo que era pobre.
[Claudia]: And in addition, there were people with money who not only pretended to be Black, but also pretended to be poor.
Lindinês was very nervous. She sat in the row closest to the door because she wanted to have an escape route in case someone wanted to attack her. While she waited for the session to begin, the people in the room did not stop talking. Lindinês avoided looking in the direction of the students who could not even remotely pass themselves off as Black. She wanted to avoid any confrontation because, according to her, everyone knew that she was the reason they were there. She tried to relax by listening to music while she awaited her turn, but it didn’t work. Her heart was racing. She called her mother hoping she could calm her down. It was good listening to her, she felt supported, but she was still very nervous.
[Lindinês]: Não sei como meu corpo não pulava do chão de tão nervosa que eu estava.
[Claudia]: Her legs were shaking so much from anxiety that she doesn’t know how her whole body didn’t start jolting.
At the beginning of the session, one of the members of the commission explained the importance of the quota law, its role of historical reparation and inclusion. Then he kicked off the self-declaration: He stated his full name and declared himself white. And yes, his skin was light. There was silence in the room.
Lindinês watched the other students attentively to see their reaction.
[Lindinês]: Ai as pessoas começam a se olhar. Aí olha pra cor do braço, olha pro colega do lado. Isso é muito bom, isso é fantástico. Aí tipo assim, várias pessoas, eu me autodeclaro preto, eu me autodeclaro pardo, eu me autodeclaro branco.
[Claudia]: People were observing themselves. They looked at their own arms, they looked at the person next to them… Meanwhile, the other officials of the commission continued with their own self-declarations: Blacks, Browns, Whites…
The discontent among the white students who were there to declare themselves Black was evident. If someone with the same skin color didn’t declare themselves to be Black, how could they?
[Lindinês]: É o que eu chamo de constrangimento pedagógico.
[Claudia]: It was a sort of pedagogical embarrassment, says Lindinês.
After the introduction of the commission members, the students were divided into groups of five and called into smaller rooms for self-declaration. Lindinês had lost track of time when it was her turn. She was the first of her group to stand in front of the commission.
She heard her name, stood up and walked through the other students. When she entered the room assigned to her, she stood before the commission with her head high and said in a firm voice what we heard at the beginning of this story:
[Lindinês]: Eu Lindines de Jesus Souza me autodeclaro uma mulher preta.
[Claudia]: I, Lindinês de Jesus Souza, declare myself to be a Black woman.
The commission, made up of 5 people, Black and White, listened to her carefully, took notes, took her photograph, and asked whether she wanted to say anything else. Despite her nerves, Lindinês spoke:
[Lindinês]: Queria dizer que estou muito feliz, isso pra mim é um marco na minha vida porque finalmente justiça está sendo feita e que a gente vai ocupar as nossas vagas porque elas são nossas.
[Claudia]: She said she was happy and that that was a defining moment in her life, because she felt that justice was finally being done, because Black students like her would fill the seats that were theirs by law.
Then, Lindinês signed a document containing her self-declaration. The document passed from hand to hand among the 5 members of the commission. The decision would be made by simple majority and then posted on the university website.
Although, on the one hand, she was calm because the presence of the commission seemed to guarantee exposure of those who committed fraud, on the other hand, she felt violated.
[Lindinês]: Apesar de reconhecer a validade, acho um processo extremamente traumático e doloroso. Mas acho válido passar porque se é esse o jeito que a gente vai garantir que a vaga vai ser de um dos nossos, que seja.
[Claudia]: It was a traumatic and painful process, she says. But if that was the way to make sure Black people could get into college, it was worth it.
As soon as she woke up the next morning, she ran to the computer to refresh the university page. She hoped that the new list of students admitted to medical school had been published and that her name would appear there. Not in third place anymore, but at least second, maybe first. But there was nothing.
From that moment on, she spent almost all day in front of the computer, in an endless wait.
[Lindinês]: Eu olhava o site todos os dias, várias vezes ao dia. De manhã, de tarde, de noite, várias vezes.
[Claudia]: She refreshed the university website every day, several times. In the morning, afternoon and evening. Nothing.
Until a week later, a partial result came up. Next to the name of the people who had defrauded the system, there appeared the word ‘deferred,’ postponed. Among those were the names of the two white girls who had taken the slots when she applied. Something was happening. Lindinês was glad.
[Lindinês]: Sabia por conta da classificação geral, do resultado geral, quem eram os próximos né? Mas ainda não tinha saído a lista com meu nome.
[Claudia]: She says that from the exam results it was already clear who would be the next to be approved for the program. But the list with her name hadn’t been published yet, and she needed to see that. Of the 172 students who went through the evaluation by the commission, 31 did not meet the characteristics required by the regulation, and had to be expelled from the university. Of these, 11 were in medicine. And of course, the names of the students who committed fraud included the two white girls from Lindinês’s group. In a public document, the verdict of the commission says about each of them, “The candidate does not exhibit phenotypic traits that identify her as a Black person in Brazilian society.”
I tried to contact these two students to find out what they thought about all this, but it was impossible. I sent several emails to different departments of the university—office of the president, student group, communication counseling—requesting their contact information, but received no response. I looked them up on social media, with no results. And before closing this story, the university press consultant told me he could not share their phone numbers or emails.
Returning to Lindinês, months passed and the university did not publish the new admissions list. She felt she was in limbo.
One Friday afternoon, August 7, 2020, she was babysitting a friend’s children and was separated from her cell phone. She was watching movies with the children.
It was evening by the time she remembered to check her cell phone. When she looked at the screen, she had dozens of messages. The first thing she thought was that someone had died. But when she opened the first message, she was surprised.
It was from her group of university friends, and it said, “Congratulations, doctor, we are with you.” She did not quite understand what was happening, until someone told her:
[Lindinês]: Já saiu’. E eu fiz: Saiu o quê? ‘O resultado’. Nisso eu já comecei a tremer.
[Claudia]: “They’re out.” The results were finally out. Lindinês began to shake.
Anxious, she dropped everything and went to the university website. She had never had such a hard time typing the initials U F B A. On the screen was a blinking announcement of new admissions. And when she read her name, she couldn’t believe it.
[Lindinês]: Meu deus, me chamou. Me chamaram, me chamaram, me chamaram.
[Claudia]: “My God! They gave me the slot, they gave me the slot, they gave me the slot.”
It had been five long months of waiting since she had stood before the commission to declare herself Black. Her friend’s house was next door to her grandmother’s. Without much thought, she ran out, yelling, to tell her mother and her grandmother that she had made it. She couldn’t contain her excitement.
[Lindinês]: Aí sentei no chão da sala. Chorei nos pés da minha avó, chorei, chorei. Ela sentada na poltrona dela e eu fiz: “me chamaram, me chamaram”.
[Claudia]: Lindinês recounts that she sat on the floor of the living room, at her grandmother’s feet and told her, in tears, “They gave me the slot, they gave me the slot!”
And not only that. She told her that she was first on the list of medical students at the Vitoria da Conquista campus of the Federal University of Bahia.
[Lindinês]: Foi grandioso, foi épico. Porque junto tinha o nome de uma galera que também cumpria os requisitos e que como eu estavam mudando o destino de suas famílias.
[Claudia]: It was grand, epic, because now, next to her name, were people who played by the rules and could change the fate of their families. That was the most important thing to her.
By getting the university to admit the fraud, 31 Black and Brown students who had been excluded from the initial selection were guaranteed admission that year.
[Lindinês]: A gente conseguiu derrubar fraudador de todos os cursos.
[Claudia]: They managed to get impostors out of all the programs, not just medicine.
Finally, on August 17, 2020, the day arrived to send in the matriculation papers.
That same day, she graduated from the bachelor of health program. By then, the Brazilian governors had also implemented restrictions due to the pandemic. So their ceremony was online. But still, Lindinês says she dressed up for the party. She changed into a long fuchsia dress and arranged her hair so that her curls were perfectly voluminous.
But she had fun with one little thing that she added deliberately:
[Lindinês]: Pus o vestido de havaianas, e pus no Instagram assim: Olha como a gente forma e com havaianas sempre no pé.
[Claudia]: She wore flip-flops, a national symbol in Brazil. And on her social media she shared a photo of her very formal look—but wearing flip-flops.
A lot of people were watching the graduation broadcast on YouTube. Her whole family was logged in—her father, her mother, her sister, her niece, her grandmother…
Lindinês was happy and nervous. Present at the graduation were the two girls who had defrauded the system. She was afraid that some hate campaign might appear against her on the chat. But no. On the contrary, she received messages of encouragement and strength.
[Lindinês]: Quando chamou meu nome, eu lembro que pessoas que eu não conhecia comentaram, tipo: ‘Parabéns Lindi. Isso aí, máximo respeito’, essas coisas não lembro exatamente mais.
[Claudia]: Messages like, “Congratulations, Lindi, my respects” and things like that.
She enrolled in medical school and began online classes on September 8, 2020. She would spend all day in front of the computer. Despite the restrictions of the pandemic, the university summoned students for some in-person practicums. The campus where she would go to study was outside the capital, in the city of Vitória da Conquista, more than 10 hours away by bus.
Since Lindinês was late starting her classes that semester—because she was waiting for confirmation of her admission—, she had missed one of the most significant ceremonies: the handing out of the white coat. These were required for the practicums, so Lindinês found a seamstress who would tailor one for her. Embroidered on the pocket on the left side was her name and the name of the program: Medicine. When it was finally ready, Lindinês put it on for her grandmother to see. For her, that moment was the long-awaited ceremony of her white coat.
[Lindinês]: Foi legal porque foi mais uma daquelas coisas que a gente diz: aconteceu, né? Eu não tô louca. Eu não tô sonhando, eu não tô dormindo, tá acontecendo, é verdade tem meu nome aqui, sou eu mesma, tem escrito medicina embaixo, então é o curso.
[Claudia]: She says that was the moment when she confirmed that everything that had happened was real. That it wasn’t a dream, that she wasn’t crazy. Seeing her name written next to the word “Medicine” on the white coat was all she had ever wanted for years. And when her grandmother saw her, she couldn’t stop smiling, satisfied.
It would be the first of the few times that her grandmother would enjoy seeing her dressed in the white coat.
In January 2022, her grandmother passed away.
When pandemic restrictions were partially lifted and in-person classes resumed, Lindinês was finally able to go to college. When she introduced herself, the noisy hall full of students suddenly fell silent. She sensed that some were still upset by her complaint. Lindinês nodded in greeting and entered the room. There were no complaints or insults.
And since then, Lindinês has taken the course with the seriousness that has been hers her since she was a child. She relies on her group of friends to get through the next few years of her studies, and looks to the future.
She has no doubt that every second of this entire struggle has been worth it—and not just for her. This 28-year-old Black woman knows that it is not just about a personal victory.
[Lindinês]: Quando eu entrei na faculdade coloquei minha família na faculdade. Não era Lindi que estava entrando. Era a neta de dona Candida, a filha de dona Palmira, a irmã de Juci, a tia de Marcela, a tia de Aisha.
[Claudia]: She says that when she got into the university, she got her whole family in. It wasn’t just Lindinês who was doing all this. It was the granddaughter of Candida, the daughter of Palmira, the sister of Juci, the aunt of Marcela and Aisha.
[Lindinês]: Minha sobrinha que tem um ano e meio vai ter uma tia que é médica. A medicina pra ela vai ser uma opção, não vai ser algo improvável. Ela não vai crescer sem nunca ter lidado com uma médica preta.
[Claudia]: Now her niece, who is still a baby, will have an aunt who is a doctor. For her, medicine will now be an option, not something improbable as it was for Lindinês. But also, she will grow up and will can be cared for by Black doctors, like her.
[Daniel]: Of the 53 students in her class, only Lindinês and 5 other classmates are Black, including a Haitian refugee. Lindinês continues studying at the university and, for now, plans to practice in the Unified Health System, the public system with free access for the entire population.
By 2022, after a decade of the quota law, the enrollment of Black, Brown and indigenous students in public and federal universities had increased 205%.
One of the white girls who had taken the race slot in Lindinês’s place sued, and a judge ordered the university to create an additional slot to accommodate her. The other was expelled.
In writing this story, we spoke with the Vice President of the Federal University of Bahia, Penildon Filho, and with Professor Juliana Oliveira from the university’s Commission on Racial Identification. We also spoke with Lindinês’s lawyer, Adalice Gonçalves, and with Professor Juarez Xavier, from the Paulista State University. We wish to thank the collective of Black lawyers in Bahia.
This episode was produced by Claudia Jardim. She is a Brazilian journalist, and lives in Thailand.
This story was edited by Camila Segura, Lisette Arévalo, Natalia Sánchez Loayza and me. Bruno Scelza did the fact-checking. Sound design is by Andrés Azpiri, with original music by Ana Tuirán.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Nicolás Alonso, Pablo Argüelles, Aneris Casassus, Diego Corzo, Emilia Erbetta, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Rémy Lozano, Selene Mazón, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Melisa Rabanales, Natalia Ramírez, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa y Luis Fernando Vargas.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.