Ironies of citizenship: Skin color, police brutality, and the challenge to democracy in Brazil

Michael J. Mitchell, Charles H. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Despite the transition from authoritarian rule to a democratically elected government in 1985, there remains in Brazil a persistent gap between the formal principles and the actual practices of democracy. The gap is particularly manifest in the daily contacts between citizens and representatives of state authority, especially regarding the treatment of Afro-Brazilians. Analyses of the "regulated" and "relational" character of citizenship in Brazil, as well as observations about the attitudinal dispositions of the members of the criminal justice system, suggest that Afro-Brazilians are likely to benefit from fewer protections compared to whites and are more likely to suffer discrimination at the hands of the police. Analyses of the 1988 National Household Survey (PNAD-88) support both hypotheses: Net of statistical controls for key socioeconomic indicators, Afro-Brazilians are more likely than whites to be the victim of assault, and they are more likely to be assaulted by the police. The findings show how the perceptions of class, color, and criminality produce differential protections and treatments inconsistent with the attributes of universal citizenship. Our analysis points more generally to the formidable institutional and cultural challenges that confront the attempt to fully consolidate a democratic regime in Brazil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1001-1020
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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