The Racial Question in Brazil

This article tries to show, through historical data, how racism developed in Brazil.

When the Portuguese colonizer arrived here, at the beginning of the 16th century, he found a well-defined ethnic panorama: indigenous nations, possibly from Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean, well distributed throughout the Brazilian territory.

The profitability of the slave trade and the interest of our first agrarian oligarchies in slave labor stimulated the arrival of black Africans to Brazil. In the middle of the first century of colonization, a silent agreement was signed: the Indian was “of the priest”, who tried to protect him from the enslavement imposed by the European, living on the Jesuit missions or reductions in the Amazon, Southeast and South of Brazil; the Negro was brought from Africa and exploited by the Portuguese.

A cultural syncretism was born in Brazil : the fusion of indigenous, African and European cultural forms and contents. A mixture of Catholic religion and African cults, Portuguese melodies and African rhythms, indigenous eating habits and hybrid behaviors that would form the basis of Brazilian culture.

undoubtedly, even due to the fact that the natives have been excessively numerically reduced, as a result of contact with white people, there is a clear predominance of Portuguese and African influences in Brazilian culture.

It can be said that, in Brazil, nothing is foreign because everything is. Only a region of the planet that has an indigenous culture can define another as “strange”. From an ethnic point of view, this “Brazilian anthropophagy” – “we eat foreign culture and vomit it in our own way” – shaped a meta-race, that is, a society miscegenated in the racial and cultural senses.

Thus, an old Brazilian myth was born: that of ” racial democracy “. Some conservatively oriented theorists have even hinted at a humanist character of national slavery, ignoring the poor living and working conditions of African slaves. Today we know that the mistreatment was terrible, absolute neglect with the sick and pregnant women and that the vegetative growth of black people in Brazil was negative. All of this was economically “compensated” with the replacement of labor through the slave trade.

In the 18th century, due to gold mining in Minas Gerais, black “forro” began to appear, captives released by their owners interested in stimulating them to discover the precious metal.

The racial scenario in the 19th century

In 1810, treaties signed between the Portuguese crown in Brazil and England determined the abolition of trafficking, a prohibition, in practice, merely a facade, as trade continued. Only in 1850 did the Eusébio de Queiroz law definitively abolish trafficking.

From then on, the defense of the total abolition of slavery became the flag of some sectors of our economy: the coffee oligarchy of Oeste Paulista, interested in attracting immigrant labor, and the first industrial entrepreneurs, who wanted a consumer market. and more qualified European labor force.

In addition, the influence of European racist theories , which defended the idea of racial and cultural superiority of the blond Caucasian, imposed on Brazil a vision of whitening its population through the mulatto, fruit of the ethnic mixture between white and black, first step for the total bleaching “project”.

In this way, the abolition of slavery and the coming of the European white became fundamental , processes that would accelerate this whitening. At the time, some national theorists worshiped the abilities of Germans and Italians and, in return, despised our racial origin, calling it sad and lazy, prejudices still present in our midst.

Roughly speaking, the abolition of slavery in Brazil took two paths. In the Northeast, which was experiencing the decay of the landowning structure, since cotton and sugar were unable to compete on the international market, rural landowners could no longer maintain slave labor. As the region did not have a dynamic economy in urban areas, the freed blacks remained on the farms as aggregates or dependents. Thus, in the Northeast of Brazil, abolition transformed slavery into a regime of semi-servile work.

In the Center-South, with better urban equipment stimulated by investments of coffee capital in industry, blacks could be absorbed by the capitalist form of wage labor. However, the unpreparedness of this workforce and the competition from the immigrant worker transformed the liberated contingents into socially marginalized masses, performing tasks of lesser qualification and less remuneration, feeding back the dangerous vicious circle of underemployment and the prejudices arising from it as social stereotypes.

It is noteworthy that the European and Asian immigrants that today make up a large part of the Brazilian population were also victims of our ruling classes, sometimes due to the non-fulfillment of employment contracts that should govern relations between the parties, and sometimes due to mere prejudices, stimulated by the idea of dependence on the immigrant who replaced the slave labor arm.

Social relations in the 20th century

The marginalization imposed on many groups of immigrants stimulated the appearance of the first movements of workers’ protest in Brazil, especially led by Italians and Spaniards.

However, blacks were the ones who suffered the most discrimination, even in their most elementary cultural manifestations. The samba , today important national export product, was seen as “rogue thing”; the capoeira , police repression object. Even in sports, due to the image that the “country in whitening” wanted to present abroad, the black was passed over: in 1919, President Epitácio Pessoa prohibited the performance of blacks in the Brazilian soccer team!

Brazil, a miscegenated country, started to adopt an Arianist discourse. In the 1930s, Ação Integralista, a Brazilian variant of fascism , spread anti-Semitic ideas and combated so-called “cultural cysts” caused by immigrant colonies.

In the Estado Novo (1937-1945), for eugenic reasons, Getúlio Vargas stipulated the mandatory nature of Physical Education and the dissemination of hygiene ideas, creating here a softer copy of the racial theories of European fascism.

An explicit racial segregation did not exist, but there was a subtle and insidious exclusion based on socioeconomic criteria.

Race relations today

The end of the Second World War and, notably, the advance in the 60s and 70s of civil rights movements in the USA, made the conditions of blacks to obtain citizenship evolve. The US Supreme Court has characterized racial segregation as a federal crime.

This progress that the black American movement has seen has contributed to the development of egalitarian relationships across America. Although we still have, in Brazil, a significant portion of poor and excluded people of black origin, as a result of a historical process, there is a recent and representative increase of the black middle class in our country, the result of the performance of several groups in defense of these rights.

This condition, coupled with an increasingly increasing participation of Brazilian society in issues that were once a true myth, give the perspective of a cultural growth of the country in the direct debate on discrimination, whatever it may be, directed at ethnic groups or minorities. .

Undeniably, the Brazilian myth of “racial democracy” hinders a more resolute attitude by movements in defense of the civil rights of those who are discriminated against.

In fact, the veiled prejudices that we observe in our environment stem from a socioeconomic issue that characterizes our history, in which social exclusion is marked by the ethnic condition or the regional origin of the people.

Brazilian legislation, although often not effectively applied, has a tradition of combating racism. The Afonso Arinos law already punished racial discrimination and the 1988 Constitution configures racism as an unspeakable crime. Despite the racial problems we still know, Brazil is undoubtedly a paradigm of racial tolerance in the world.

The Racial Question in Brazil

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