Brazilian Racial Democracy: Reality or Myth?

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2015-05-23 19:19Z by Steven

Brazilian Racial Democracy: Reality or Myth?

Humboldt Journal of Social Relations
Volume 10, Number 1, (Fall/Winter 1982/83): Race & Ethnic Relations: Cross-Cultural Perspectives
pages 129-142

Carlos Hasenbalg, Professor of Sociology
Instituto Universitário de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro

Suellen Huntington
University of California, Berkeley

The Brazilian claim to “racial democracy” is examined historically. and in light of the 1976 Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios data on race. class. and social mobility in Brazil. Racism is seen as limiting upward mobility for all non-white Brazilians, pointing to a potential break in Brazil’s “color—class continuum.” The interlocking social mechanisms which maintain Brazilian faith in the existence of racial democracy are briefly analyzed.

The popular Brazilian ideology of racial democracy holds that there is no prejudice or discrimination against non-whites in Brazil. certainly not when compared to the United States. This paper examines that ideology in terms of the realities of race, class, and social mobility in contemporary Brazil. We begin by briefly describing the historical background of the ideology of racial democracy as it bears on race relations in Brazil. Second, we summarize and criticize three main theoretical approaches to race relations and their Brazilian variations. Third, we discuss racism as a causal variable in social stratification and compare the evidence of social mobility for white and non-white Brazilians. Finally, we analyze the social mechanisms supponing the Brazilian belief in racial democracy and their effects on equality of opportunity in Brazil. For perspective, we note the most pertinent comparisons to the United States.


Brazil’s history helps explain the development of the ideology of racial democracy and its strong hold on the Brazilian popular mind. Brazil. colonized under the auspices of the Portuguese crown, remained subject to its strongly authoritarian, paternalistic, and monarchical traditions for three-hundred years. Unlike the United States where slavery was an issue from its very beginning and became a bitter point of contention in the Civil War. slavery was easily accepted by Brazil‘s Portuguese settlers whose long familiarity with slavery dates to the Moorish invasions. These differences of attitude influenced the racial compasition of their respective populations. In Brazil through the 1850, half the population was enslaved; in the United States, slaves were never more than fifteen percent of the population. The presence of this large slave population in Brazil, along with the relative absence of white women, prompted a high rate of miscegenation resulting in a large group of mixed race and mulatto slaves. In the United States, where miscegenation was both less common and illegal, all offspring of mixed unions were classified as negroes.

Brazil, the last country in the Western hemisphere to relinquish slavery, did so slowly, in a series of compromise reforms which sought to balance the needs of a plantation economy for cheap. plentiful labor against a sporadic, mostly non-violent, abolitionist movement and the force of international condemnation. When the national legislature passed an abolition law in 1888, most slaves in Brazil had been freed, partly by state legislatures acting independently, but also by county governments, by city governments, by city blocks, and by private citizens. Rather than a tumultuous emancipation, Brazilian slavery merely disintegrated. In the United States, the slavery issue was finally settled in 1865 with the Northern victory in the Civil War.

To solve the plantation labor crisis envisioned as the aftermath of abolition and to ease the transition to free labor, the Brazilian government instituted in 1885, a program promoting the importation of European workers. This program attracted 6,500 Italian laborers in 1886, 30,000 in 1887, and 90,000 in 1888, the year of offical emancipation. During the period of emancipation, immigrant labor worked side-by-side with ex-slaves, but most ex-slaves, unable to compete with the relatively more skilled, relatively more literate European workers, were soon relegated to the lowest positions—unskilled labor and domestic service, tenant farming and sharecroppingin the urban and rural workforce. In the United States, skilled black workers were replaced by whites in the post-Civil War South; in the North, they were systematically excluded from the skilled trades, from all but menial labor, and from union membership. In post-emancipation Brazil, however, the replacement of black ex-slaves by white immigrants resulted from hiring decisions by individual employers rather than from any systematic or organized opposition, thus tending to create class rather than racial antagonisms.

In addition, in the United States whites filled the intermediate positions in the occupational hierarchy, leaving blacks only the least desirable, worst paying positions. In Brazil the labor shortage, together with a prejudice in favor of light skin, caused these intermediate positions to be filled by mulattoes. This labor market preference for whites first, mulattoes second, and blacks last created a status and income continuum corresponding to the color continuum, in contrast to the caste-color line created in the United States…

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Racial Politics in Contemporary Brazil

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, Social Science on 2011-12-31 22:27Z by Steven

Racial Politics in Contemporary Brazil

Duke University Press
232 pages
9 tables
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8223-2272-6
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2252-8

Edited by

Michael Hanchard, Professor of Political Science and African American Studies
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

Bringing together U.S. and Brazilian scholars, as well as Afro-Brazilian political activists, Racial Politics in Contemporary Brazil represents a significant advance in understanding the complexities of racial difference in contemporary Brazilian society. While previous scholarship on this subject has been largely confined to quantitative and statistical research, editor Michael Hanchard presents a qualitative perspective from a variety of disciplines, including history, sociology, political science, and cultural theory.

The contributors to Racial Politics in Contemporary Brazil examine such topics as the legacy of slavery and its abolition, the historical impact of social movements, race-related violence, and the role of Afro-Brazilian activists in negotiating the cultural politics surrounding the issue of Brazilian national identity. These essays also provide comparisons of racial discrimination in the United States and Brazil, as well as an analysis of residential segregation in urban centers and its affect on the mobilization of blacks and browns. With a focus on racialized constructions of class and gender and sexuality, Racial Politics in Contemporary Brazil reorients the direction of Brazilian studies, providing new insights into Brazilian culture, politics, and race relations.

This volume will be of importance to a wide cross section of scholars engaged with Brazil in particular, and Latin American studies in general. It will also appeal to those invested in the larger issues of political and social movements centered on the issue of race.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction / Michael Hanchard
  • Free African Brazilians and the State in Slavery Times / Richard Graham
  • Black Cinderella? Race and the Public Sphere in Brazil / Michael Hanchard
  • Ethnic Boundaries and Political Mobilization among African Brazilians: Comparisons with the U.S. Case / Edward E. Telles
  • Racial Democracy and Racial Identity: Comparing the United States and Brazil / Howard Winant
  • Miguel Reale and the Impact of Conservative Modernization on Brazilian Race Relations / Michael Mitchell
  • Women and Racial Inequality at Work in Brazil / Peggy A. Lovell
  • Notes on Racial and Political Inequality in Brazil / Carlos Hasenbalg and Nelson do Valle Silva
  • The Black Movement and Political Parties: A Challenging Alliance / Benedita da Silva
  • My Conscience, My Struggle / Thereza Santos
  • Blacks and Political Power / Ivanir dos Santos
  • Contributors
  • Index
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