Summary of Aims & Activities

The Comparative Human Relations Initiative examines power relations between people deemed to be "White" or "Black" by virtue of b_w2.jpg (10608 bytes)perceived "race" or "appearance" in Brazil, South Africa and the United States. We explore racism — the use of superficial characteristics to confer privileges on some people and disadvantage others — and how it operates and is maintained. We also examine reasons and ways to overcome racism's consequences.

Our focus is primarily on Blacks and Whites. This is not meant to reify "race" or to disregard the experiences of other groups who also suffer from forms of prejudice and discrimination in these countries. To the contrary, the Initiative’s work underscores the linkages between all forms of prejudice. There is value in a detailed examination of each piece of the complex puzzle of human relations in these countries, if we are to understand the whole.

Ultimately, the solution to racism, sexism and other linked and interacting forms of inequality will be found in broad, multifaceted movements --- "new majorities" --- to secure the fundamental human rights of all people. For this reason, The Initiative’s overarching aim is to contribkids.jpg (6726 bytes)ute to diverse efforts to develop fairer societies in which race, gender, ethnicity, color and other superficial markers of identity are not used to allocate societal goods, benefits, rights and opportunities.

We examine and compare Brazil, South Africa and the United States because they have much in common. Each nation has a large, disproportionately poor population of persons of African descent and a history of legal and/or informal denial of equal enjoyment of rights and privileges to such persons. They are at different phases of development and each nation has exceptional characteristics, but all are increasingly affected by common trends and transnational developments that are reshaping dynamics of inter-group relations and forcing redefinition of identities, priorities and interests. These trends are creating new levels of global interdependence and imperatives for increasing efforts to move beyond racism.


The Comparative Human Relations Initiative began in late 1995 as a project of the Southern Education Foundation. CHRI held a series of informal meetings in Atlanta at which leading scholars, activists, and policy analysts discussed race, racism, and inequality in the United States, South Africa and Brazil. Soon afterwards, CHRI director Lynn Huntley traveled to each country consulting with a wide cross-section of people and organizations.


By the summer 1996, CHRI established a working collaboration with the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) and an informal coalition of groups and individuals in Brazil. The Initiative also created an International Working and women_shake.jpg (10698 bytes)Advisory Group, (IWAG), comprised of distinguished men and women from the three nations. The IWAG helped to guide the Initiative and participates fully in all of its activities. The group’s first meeting was in Charleston, South Carolina, USA, in October 1996.

After undertaking a survey of existing literature, CHRI commissioned a large number of topical and comparative papers from each country. These papers were used in developing CHRI’s reports and related publications.

The Initiative involved several hundred scholars, activists, government officials, community leaders, and private sector representatives in consultations in Atlanta (April 1997), Rio de Janeiro (September 1997), and Cape Town (March 1998). The IWAG met in October 1998 to develop its own consensus and to sharpen its collective understanding. In 1999, through a small staff and a handful of consultants, the Initiative developed final versions of the Initiative’s Publications which are available on this site for downloading.

SEF - The Southern Education Foundation
Aims and Activites | SEF | IWAG | Acknowledgements