A majority of Brazilians are at least partly descended from African slaves, but they not necessarily demonstrate physical visible feature. According to a 2000 survey held in Rio de Janeiro, the entire self-reported Black population claimed to have African ancestry. Also, 86% of the self-reported Pardo (brown) and 38% of the self-reported White population reported to have African ancestors. It is notable that 14% of the Pardos (brown) from Rio de Janeiro said they have no African ancestors. This percentage may be even higher in Northern Brazil, where there was a greater ethnic contribution from Amerindian populations. However, African contribution was not absence in Northern Brazil, because there was a significant influx of African slaves to this region as well.
Racial classifications in Brazil are based on skin color and on other physical characteristics such as facial features, hair texture, etc. This is a poor indication of ancestry, because only a few genes are responsible for someone's skin color. This way, a person who "looks White" may have more African ancestry than a person who "looks Black", and vice-versa.
In Brazil, the racial divisions were never very clear, due to the high degree of miscegenation among Brazilians, making the concept of race weaker. Many Brazilians find it hard to define their own race. The 1976 Census found 136 different answers to the question about race. Some of the self-reported racial classifications were: honeyed white, tanned, cinnamon, chocolate, sarará, copper, sunburned, polished, kind black, fire pink, toasted, etc. These responses were interpreted by scholars and activists of the black movement as proof of Brazilian racism, where Blacks do not want to assume their identity, and hide themselves in euphemisms. From this idea, since the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the Black Brazilian population is treated as the sum of the self-declared Blacks and Browns. This conception is based on the idea that Black Brazilians lie to the census and say they are Browns. Also, based on social indicators, in which Blacks and Browns appear disadvantaged when compared to Whites.
This binary division of Brazilians between Whites and Blacks (largely influenced by American one-drop rule) has received much criticism. Sociologist Demétrio Magnoli considers the sum of Blacks and Browns as Blacks an assault on the racial vision of the Brazilians. A survey about race replaced the word "Pardo" by "Moreno". Much of the Pardos choose the Moreno category, half of people who previously reported to be White then reported to be Moreno and also half of self-reported Blacks also choose the Moreno category. According to Magnoli, Brazilians choose the Portuguese word Moreno because it has different meanings in Brazil (it can mean Black, Brown or White person with dark hair). This way, many Brazilians do not see themselves as a member of a certain racial group, since the word Moreno is widely used by people of different skin colors. Then, the official figures count Afro-Brazilians as the union of self-reported Blacks and Browns. However, in Brazilian day life the conception of who is Afro-Brazilian is different from the officially adopted.