Kept in, kept out: the Formation of Racial Identity in Brazil, 1930-1937

Kept in, kept out: the Formation of Racial Identity in Brazil, 1930-1937

Simon Fraser University
November 1996
95 pages

Veronica Armstrong

Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in the Latin American Studies Program

This thesis examines the roles of historian Gilberto Freyre and the Sao Paulo black press in the formation of racial identity in Brazil in Casa Grande e Senzala. published in 1933, Freyre presented a hypothesis of Brazilian national identity based on positive interpretations of slavery and miscegenation. His emphasis on racial harmony met with the approval of Getúlio Vargas, a president intent on the unification of Brazilian society. With Vargas’ backing, racial democracy became Brazilian national identity. Supporters included the black press which welcomed an idea that brought blacks into definitions of Brazilianness. Yet, blacks were embracing an interpretation of Brazilian identity that would replace a growing black racial awareness. Reasons for the undermining of black racial consciousness and the enshrining of racial democracy as Brazilian national identity emerge in an overview of shifts occurring during the first decades of the twentieth century.  The forces of mass immigration, negative evaluations of Brazil by scientific racism, and the nation-building politics of Vargas affected the elite minority and the poverty-stricken majority of Brazilians, but in differing ways. For while economic stability and national pride were the goals of the former, research suggests that survival was the paramount aim of the latter. Addressing the needs of both groups, the adoption of racial democracy as national ideology in the late 1930s maintained elite privilege, defused the potential of racial unrest, and promised social mobility to the masses.

Benefits to the largely-black masses, however, had strings attached. Social mobility depended on their acting “white” and becoming “white” through miscegenation. In the face of desperate poverty, blacks had few options and assimilation seemed a way to move beyond their low socio-economic status. Furthermore, contrasts with American segregation convinced black writers that battling discrimination had to be secondary to the economic survival of their community. The thesis concludes by seeking to explain the paradox of a society characterised by many foreigners and most Brazilians as a racial paradise from the 1930s to the 1970s even though Brazilian reality evinces gross inequality between the small Europeanised elite and the large black and mixed-race underclass.


  • Approval
  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Introduction Kept in, Kept out: The Question of Brazilianness and Black Solidarity 1930-1937
    • The search for national identity
    • Brazilianness vs. Blackness
  • Chapter 1. Ideology and Identity.
    • The dawning of a new era of national thought
    • A historic moment
    • Whitening
    • A New Era
  • Chapter 2. Race
    • Miscegenation and Racial Terminology
    • Racial Democracy: Theory and Revision
  • Chapter 3. The Making of a Cultural Hero
    • Freyre: the child and the man
    • Freye’s “Old Social Order”
    • Casa Grande e Senzala
    • Freyre, the Intellectual
    • Freyre, Father of National Identity
  • Chapter 4. The Politics of Identity
    • The Black Press in Brazil
    • The Meaning of Language
    • From the mulato to the black press
    • The Black Press: an alternative path
    • Assimilation vs. segregation
    • A Frente Negra
  • Chapter 5. Only we, the Negros of Brazil, know what it is to feel colour prejudice
    • AVoz da Raça
  • Conclusion: We are Brazilian
    • Intellectuals and Ideology
    • Searching for identity
  • Epilogue
  • Bibliography

Read the entire thesis here.

Tags: , ,