Bi-racial U.S.A. vs. Multi-racial Brazil: Is the Contrast Still Valid?

Bi-racial U.S.A. vs. Multi-racial Brazil: Is the Contrast Still Valid?

Journal of Latin American Studies
Volume 25, Issue 2 (May 1993)
pages 373-386
DOI: 10.1017/S0022216X00004703

Thomas E. Skidmore, Carlos Manuel de C├ęspedes Professor of History Emeritus
Brown University

In the last two decades the comparative analysis of race relations in the U.S.A. and Brazil has been based on a conventional wisdom. It is the corollary of a larger conventional wisdom in the study of comparative race relations. The thesis is that systems of race relations in the Western Hemisphere are primarily of two types: bi-racial and multi-racial. The distinction is normally spelled out as follows. The U.S.A. is a prime example of a bi-racial system. In the prevailing logic of the US legal and social structure, individuals have historically been either black or white. In Brazil, on the other hand, there has been a spectrum of racial distinctions. At a minimum, Brazilian social practice has recognised white, black and mulatto. At a maximum, the phenotypical distinctions have become so refined as to defy analysis, or effective application for those who would discriminate.

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