Race and Fantasy

    Race and
Fantasy

    By Brazzil Magazine

    Today Brazil has the largest single population of African-Americans outside of the
    United States. It is, according to some, a population in which at least 60 percent is of
    African descent. Statistics on the number of slaves imported into Brazil range from 1025
    million: for the rest of South America the figure runs at approximately 400,000. In some
    parts of colonial Latin America, the ratio of African to European populations was 151, and
    in some cities, nearly half of the populations were of partial African descent. By
    independence, two thirds of the population of Brazil’s total population of four million
    were of African descent. Brazilian society, like a few of the other plantation-dependent
    colonies of Latin America and the Caribbean could not have existed without the constant
    supply of slaves.

    Throughout history, Africans and Afro-Hispanics have been a major force in the
    development of the cultures, political systems, societies, and economies of the nations of
    the Iberian peninsula—Spain and Portugal—and Latin America. Iberian-African relations
    did not begin with the transatlantic slave trade, nor did it begin in the Americas.
    African Muslims were involved in the historical development of the political, economic,
    intellectual, and social structures of the Iberian peninsula, as rulers and conquerors,
    centuries before their eventual defeat by the emerging monarchical powers of Spain and
    Portugal. That experience left long and enduring marks on the course of historical events
    that led to the emergence of the modern nation-states of Spain and Portugal, and their
    imperial "conquest" and colonization of the "New World."

    Before the "New World":
    African-Iberian Relations

    The overthrow of the Visigoths in 711 AD by Africans converted to Islam began the era
    of eight hundred years of Muslim rule in Iberia. Moors are often inaccurately described as
    racially distinct from black Africans, therefore, Moorish domination is recorded as a
    period of Arabic rather than African influence. This misconception developed because of
    the belief that Arab refers to a race of people. However, racially, they were of black
    African descent, and some scholars assert that Moors were the North African ancestors of
    the present day peoples of the Sahara and the Sahel.

    Africans were important actors in the historic spread of Islam. The eighth century
    invasion of Iberia was successful because of the military skills and leadership of
    Africans. Tarik, an African general, led the 711 AD invasion of Spain. His army captured
    the cities of Toledo, Cordoba, Elvira, and Archidona. The victory set the stage for the
    occupation of two successive Moorish dynasties, the Almahords and Almoravids.

    Competition for the political and military control of Iberia encouraged warfare between
    the Islamic rulers and the Catholic kingdoms of the north. Intra-Moorish conflicts led to
    the succession of Moorish dynasties. The predominantly Catholic forces of Castile,
    Portugal, and Aragon eventually weakened Moorish political and military security. Valencia
    fell to the Christians in 1238, Cordova in 1239, and Seville in 1260. By 1492, the
    marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella united the Christian kingdoms of the north, and
    eventually the Moors lost control of most of the peninsula, except for Gibraltar. Some
    Africans and people of Moorish descent were allowed to remain in communities that were
    vital to the new rulers. Moors maintained basic economic resources and other skills that
    proved invaluable to the development and stabilization of the new kingdoms.

    Columbus sailed to the Americas in the same year that the last African Moorish generals
    of Granada surrendered to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. It was a major turning point
    in the historical relations between Europe and Africa. Trade between the new
    kingdoms—Spain and Portugal—and Western African kingdoms also expanded. The
    demand for African slaves increased as both Spain and Portugal began to explore and expand
    into the "New World". "The initial period of conquest relied upon Africans
    residing on the peninsula to supplement the limited number of Europeans in their effort to
    reduce the native population of the New World to the altered economic and political
    order." (Darien Davis, Slavery and Beyond, Jaguar Books, 1995) By the end of
    the 15th century, Portugal was the leading colonial power and dominated the African slave
    trade. Portuguese reliance on African labor was great at the initial stages of its
    colonial expansion. Some African labor was not enslaved.

    They took much from Africa to South America: artisans, soldiers, and agricultural
    workers; cash crops; and institutions. Soon they began importing slaves as well. In
    exchange, Brazil supplied trade goods, money, and services of many sorts to West Africa.
    For over three centuries Africa and Brazil were intimately linked together as Portuguese
    colonies. Brazil became the more profitable of the colonies, but Africa supplied the
    people and cultures that thoroughly Africanized eastern South America. Thus, for four
    centuries Brazil belonged more to the South Atlantic than to the North Atlantic sphere.

    (Michael L. Conniff and Thomas J. Davis, Africans in the Americas: A History of the
    Black Diaspora, St. Martin’s Press, 1994

    Throughout South America, African slaves and free Africans provided labor for
    agricultural plantations and mines. In the Andean nations of Uruguay, Chile and Argentina,
    plantation slavery was not considered profitable. The African slave trade was condoned by
    the papal bulls of Popes Martin V (1454) and Calixtus (1456). Goree Island, off the coast
    of Senegal, was occupied by Portugal in 1444. Over the course of three centuries, nearly
    20 million slaves were brought to the island for transport to the Americas. Slightly more
    than 20 million others were transported directly from Benin, Dahomey, Ghana, Guinea,
    Mozambique, and Angola. Yorubas from Nigeria, Mandinkas, Fulani, Wolofs and other ethnic
    groups were sold in large numbers.

    Africans in the Americas became a part of the creation of new cultures, traditions and
    peoples. Their contributions were immense and not limited to relations with Europeans;
    relations also developed between Africans and Amerindians. The development of the colonial
    plantation-based economic systems throughout Latin America drove up the demand for African
    slaves, who were viewed to be much more productive and skilled than Amerindian slave
    labor. The Brazilian slave trade lasted for four centuries. Brazilian slavery, like most
    institutions of slavery throughout Latin America, was predicated on an elaborate system of
    laws that unlike the North American system, gave some lip service to the protection of
    slave rights. Laws and actual practice, however, were quite different. For the most part,
    African slaves were given the legal right to purchase their freedom, if possible; however,
    the laws of manumission were not frequently enforced.

    The strict laws prohibiting interracial marriage were never fully enforced, and
    miscegenation became a practice promoted by Spanish and Portuguese authorities as a means
    of erasing the African presence in society. The practice of miscegenation resulted in a
    rigid caste system based on color based in turn upon the ideology of White racial
    superiority. Blacks—or those with the darkest complexions—remained at the bottom
    of the socioeconomic pyramid. Social status, therefore, came to depend upon how
    "Caucasian" one appeared. Many Blacks were and have been able to effectively
    disappear into the larger "white" or "near white" societies of Latin
    America. The practice of color casting, is often thought to have developed from the unique
    experiences of race mixing in the "New World," however, the practice of
    classifying populations by color and mixture was also practiced in Spain and Portugal.
    Categories of Black and White Saracen, loros, moor, moreno, and other terms
    were commonly used in the Iberian peninsula.

    Blacks became essential to the nineteenth century independence movements in Latin
    America. Throughout the region, Blacks, slave and free, in large numbers enlisted in the
    national militaries and fought against Spain and Portugal for the independence of the new
    nation-states in the hemisphere. The military was one of the few institutions that allowed
    for upward mobility for Blacks. Argentina’s military depended heavily upon the enlistment
    of Black Argentines during the nineteenth century. The promise of freedom was one of the
    major inducements for Blacks to enlist in the independence struggles throughout the
    region—South and Central America—and in the armed forces of the new nations
    after independence was won.

    The presence of Africans and people of African descent in the Americas, transformed all
    levels of society. Despite the lack of historical political and economic power,
    increasingly the governments of Latin America are recognizing the political importance of
    Afro-Hispanic populations that have traditionally been ignored. The recent trend toward
    democratization in the region has highlighted the potential political impact of
    Afro-Hispanics. As a potential force of organized interests, Afro-Hispanics could be
    crucial to the successful stabilization of democratic institutions and processes.
    Afro-Brazilians have historically been one of the few politically active
    Afro-Hispanic
    populations in the region. As a group of organized interests, Afro-Brazilians have played a
    major role in the political development of Brazil and Brazilian democratization. The
    politics of race and race-related issues have been at the core of politics in Brazil.
    However, Brazilian political elites have preferred to mask the role of race in their
    nation, by focusing on economic development issues rather than directly confronting the
    problems of race and race-relations.

    The Rise and Fall of
    Brazilian Democracy

    Brazilian political history and development can be viewed from two perspectives: One
    view is of mixed success in which some democratic traditions have been practiced and
    preserved in Brazil’s political development, despite the many interruptions of
    authoritarian rule. Historically, Brazil’s elite were exposed to the ideals of the liberal
    democratic revolution that occurred in Europe. Recently, the existence of liberal
    democratic traditions allowed for transition to democracy after twenty years of military
    domination. The second view is that democracy has never been the dominant pattern of
    Brazilian political development—Brazil has for most of its history had an
    authoritarian and patrimonial society and political culture and, therefore, the
    governments to match. Democratic ideals may be accepted by some, but stable and effective
    democratic institutions have not developed in Brazil.

    Truth is in both views; authoritarianism and democracy have coexisted in Brazil.
    Brazilian political development has involved two often contradictory goals—state
    building and democratization. Brazilian political history has been a series of steps
    toward both. Brazil has never developed a stable democratic system or stable democratic
    institutions. It has had a long tradition of authoritarian rule and state-centered
    political development in which power is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals,
    groups, or institutions. On the other hand, Brazil has had a tradition and history of
    attempting to establish democratic rule and to consolidate democratic institutions.
    Authoritarian rule has successfully been challenged and replaced by civilian rule. But,
    democracy in Brazil cannot be simply associated with civilian rule. While military
    governments have been overtly more repressive, civilian regimes have typically used
    repressive measures to weaken and limit the political activities of their opposition,
    especially from the political left.

    Civilian rule was very often authoritarian and characterized by the personal rule of a
    single charismatic individual—a strong, nearly aristocratic president—or an
    alliance of civilian elites—urban industrialists, rural plantation owners, and
    bureaucrats, for example. The prospect for democracy has always been highly dependent upon
    the balance of power and the coalition among the forces of the political right, those of
    the political left, and popular forces. Opportunities for redemocratization have often
    been the result of unmanageable divisions among factions of the ruling elite, in which
    antistatus quo elites ally themselves with the popular pro-democracy mood among the masses.

    Democratization in Brazil has not meant in the past and possibly will not mean in the
    future the incorporation of diverse interests among the masses of citizens, in a pluralist
    political system. Mass political participation and interest-group formation and
    participation in the political process have often been forfeited for the sake of political
    stability and state-controlled economic development. The expansion of basic political
    freedoms has historically been forfeited to strengthen the development of institutions,
    bureaucracies, administrative, and economic infrastructures, and to consolidate the
    authority and power of the state. The argument has been that without economic development,
    the consolidation of democracy would be impossible; economic inequality would lead to
    civil war unless adequate state institutions could provide for the expression of
    competitive group political and economic interests.

    Brazil has undergone eight distinct phases of political development: Colonization
    (15001822), Empire (18221889), the first Republic (1889 1930), the 1930 revolution (1930
    1937), Estado Novo (19371945), the democratic regime of 19461964, the military regime
    (19641985), and the New Republic (1985 to present). Each of these phases impacted the
    position of Afro-Brazilians in every aspect of national life, the role of race and
    race-related issues in the development of the political order, and the politicization of
    Afro-Brazilians.

    Since 1822, the year of independence, the political system has evolved from a patronage
    authoritarian system in which the power of the central government was controlled by a
    coalition of powerful landowners and plantation owners to a system of military
    dictatorship between 19641985 to a multiparty, elected-presidential system of 1989. For
    most of Brazilian history, the authoritarian forms of government has stifled public
    discussion of race and the growth and effectiveness of Afro-Brazilian political or civic
    organizations. The slow progress toward democracy has stimulated many hopes about the
    prospects for development of Afro-Brazilian political movement. It is hoped that
    "[t]his new ‘movement’ or ‘protomovement’ which has been germinating for several
    years gives evidence of the emergence of a new stage in the political development of Black
    people in Brazil." (Ronald Walters, Pan-Africanism in the African Diaspora,
    Wayne State University Press, 1993, p. 273)

    From Colonization to
    Independence:
    Slavery and the
    Slave Trade

    Portugal claimed Brazil after its "discovery" by the merchant fleet of
    Portugal’s Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500. The claim was based on a 1494 treaty with Spain
    granting it jurisdiction over Africa and the South Atlantic islands. Brazil was in essence
    treated as an extension of Portugal’s African territories. Portuguese colonization of
    Brazil began in the 1530s. In Brazil, just as in most of Spain’s South American colonies,
    authoritarian traditions and institutions quickly took root. These traditions and
    institutions developed over time to include, for example, corruptible government and
    systems of patronage, a patriarchical patron-client social system, local and regional
    strong men (caudillos), and a state organization that controlled and regulated
    access to government and policy makers for large groups within society (corporatism).

    An export-oriented economy based upon timber developed in the sixteenth century, on
    sugar in the seventeenth century, and on sugar, cotton, gold, and diamonds in the
    eighteenth century. As a result of these newfound sources of wealth, a system of large
    plantations and a large landholding oligarchy— the fazendeiros (large estate
    owners)—emerged. From the sixteenth until the nineteenth century, every sector of
    Brazil’s economy was built upon African labor, and the slave trade itself became a
    profitable area of business, in both Europe and the colonies.

    The number of slaves, freed Blacks, and mulattos had profound effects on the evolution
    of Brazil’s national social structure and its regional cultures. By the early nineteenth
    century, distinctive Afro-Brazilian cultures emerged in various regions of the nation. The
    diverse ethnic origins of the African slaves and the pattern of regional economic
    development formed a pattern of settlement in which, for example, the Northeast was
    dominated by the Yoruba culture. Afro-Brazilians were able to preserve their cultures to a
    greater degree than African slaves in North America, although as a general rule, efforts
    were made throughout Latin America to de-Africanize the slaves through the banning of the
    drum, prohibitions against the speaking of African languages, and the practice of African
    rituals. However, in Brazil, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, the retention of African-based
    religions (non-Islamic) and rituals was extraordinary. The Afro-Brazilian religions such as
    Candomblé and Santeria are practiced throughout Latin America by Blacks and Whites. The
    Afro-Brazilian derived celebration, Carnaval, became a national symbol of Brazilian
    culture.

    Slaves were not passive, nor were they entirely defeated. They struggled to improve
    their circumstances individually and collectively. "Many slaves resisted their
    European oppressors through suicide, escape, sabotage, and the defiance of the laws of
    social conduct and religion. Others sought to preserve their own culture while
    accommodating themselves to the new social and cultural order." (Darien Davis, Slavery
    and Beyond, Jaguar Books, 1995) Two major Afro-Brazilian organizations developed
    during the colonial era and during slavery—the series of Brotherhood organizations (Irmandades)
    that provided a cushion for Blacks and mulattos, slave and free, from racial
    oppression, and the network of runaway slave communities (quilombos). In part
    because of the quilombos, Afro-Brazilians were able to preserve their original
    languages, cultures and traditions.

    The function of the Irmandades was to provide freed slaves—mostly older and
    sick slaves who were emancipated when they were no longer useful to their
    masters—with some means of survival:

    Without trade or skill, healthy young slaves also discovered that freedom was of
    little value. For many Blacks, the only alternatives were vagabondage or reabsorption into
    the slave systems as the worst exploited day workers. Irmandades, therefore, sprang
    up as a response of a common desire on the part of Afro-Brazilians to form an officially
    recognized corporate entity to help each other and those still in bondage… Their
    meager funds came from four chief sources: subscriptions, pledges, rents, alms and
    bequests… These Irmandades looked after the welfare of their members, gave
    them medical and legal help, and helped those still in bondage to buy their freedom.

    (Yusef A. Nzibo, Afro-Brazilian Resistance Against Slave Oppression," Afro-Diaspora—Volume 2, no. 4, 1984, p. 73)

    The quilombos, on the other hand, were settlements established by runaway slaves
    in various parts of Brazil. The common view is that Brazilian slavery was less brutal than
    North American slavery. However, because of the harsh treatment that slaves
    received—the average life expectancy of an African slave was seven years after
    arriving in Brazilmany escaped to form independent communities called quilombos. The
    most famous and the largest of these was Palmares in northeast Brazil, which the
    Portuguese destroyed at the end of the seventeenth century.

    From the beginning of slavery, escapes were frequent… these movements were most
    marked during the seventeenth century when Palmares Republic was formed and to a more or
    less equal extent in the nineteenth century when the famed holy war of the Moslem Negroes
    broke out in Bahia. From the beginning, the owners complained of the frequent escapes of
    slaves, demanding protection and security from the public authorities. Later, the
    situations was met by employment of bush captains and notices in the press publicizing the
    loss of slaves and urging collective action for their recapture…

    Yusef A. Nzibo

    In mainstream Brazilian society, the elites were Whites whose dominant cultural and
    institutional references were European. The leading families of the elite—some
    descendants of Portuguese nobility—monopolized power in all forms and were the least
    affected by African cultural influences. The large strata beneath the elite included the
    majority of Blacks, Native Americans, and the various groups of racially mixed
    populations. In some instances, those racially mixed persons who assimilated European
    culture and behavior were allowed to pass as White. The complex racial social structure
    impacted the level of participation of the various groups in anti-colonial and
    insurrectionist movements during the colonial period.

    Black Brazilian slaves, white peasants, and workers rebelled against plantation owners,
    mining, and trading elites. The immense power of these elites, however, allowed them to
    successfully subdue revolts. Slaves who rebelled were sold to other plantations, and white
    peasants who rebelled were usually shipped off to other colonies. The most serious
    anticolonial revolt occurred in 1788 in the mining area of Minas Gerais, a region known
    for the large population of freed Blacks, slaves and racially mixed groups. The revolt was
    supported by miners and tradesmen who began to also demand the abolition of slavery. The
    colonial elite were able to squelch the revolt, however, their fear of more revolts
    increased, especially as anti-colonialist sentiments increased in the cities.

    In the province of Bahia, slave insurrections occurred among urban slaves who were
    mostly Muslim. The rebellions were combined with the desire to return to Africa.
    Eventually, a number of ex-slaves and free Blacks in the city of Salvador returned to
    Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The slave rebellions and insurrections
    from 1807 to 1835 were very often organized by Yoruba and Fulani urban Muslim slaves and
    were led by religious leaders. The rebellion of 1807 forced the colonial government to
    pass legislation in the city of Salvador prohibiting slaves from walking in the city
    streets after nine in the evening without the permission of their masters, because the
    city became an important communications center and a place for the organization for those
    planning rebellions. Insurrections occurred in Salvador in 1808 and 1826 and in Bahia in
    1814 and 1816. Eventually the colonial authorities completely outlawed slave religious
    congregations and religious services. Rebellions continued well into the nineteenth
    century.

    The Imperial Era

    In 1822, Brazil achieved independence from Portugal and established a constitutional
    monarchical system of government. Emperor Pedro I was crowned in 1822 and the constitution
    was ratified in 1824. The constitutional role of the monarchy was designed to be the
    source of moderation in government to control conflicts among the legislative, judicial,
    and executive branches of government. Power was centralized and controlled by elites.
    Liberal and Conservative political parties were formally established, but they were
    controlled by the plantation and mine owners and other elites.

    Independence was accompanied by a boom in the sugar and coffee trade. The Haitian
    revolution (1804) created a vacuum in the sugar market that Brazilian growers quickly
    filled. The demand for slaves in Brazil increased and it brought in unprecedented numbers
    of Africans. In 1827, Brazil signed a treaty with Britain pledging to outlaw the slave
    trade and later in 1830 passed anti-slave-trade legislation. The law was not enforced until
    much later in the century. The system of slavery continued long after formal declarations
    to end the trade were made.

    In January 1835, the largest urban slave revolt broke out in Salvador, and in the same
    year, slaves joined an Indian revolt in the city of Belém. Upheavals continued throughout
    the 1830s in Rio Grande do Sul, Bahia, and Maranhão. The elites in each of the regions
    reacted by demanding public or governmental protection. In many ways, the slave revolts
    helped the emperor pursue his goals of national unification and state consolidation. With
    the support of the planter and merchant elites, Emperor Pedro II was able to strengthen
    and centralize governmental power and authority. The authority of the state was eventually
    threatened by Brazilian involvement in intraregional military conflicts.

    The 1865-1870 War of the Triple Alliance in which Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay joined
    forces against Paraguay cost Brazil 50,000 lives and $300 million. The war was funded by
    the British and left Brazilian government in debt and facing a series of new contenders
    for political power, the most formidable of which was a newly empowered and victorious
    military establishment. The emperor faced challenges from the Church, from the army and
    landowners, and from a growing antimonarchical, pro-republicanism movement. The war also
    heightened awareness of the need to address the future of slavery. Slave revolts during
    the war forced the government to promise to implement measures to bring slavery to an end.

    Thousands of slaves were sent to fight in the war. In 1866, the emperor offered freedom
    to all slaves who enlisted in the armed forces, and some landowners sold slaves to the
    government to protect their sons from conscription. At the end of the war, many of the
    same slave owners went to court to force the return of any escaped slaves, despite the
    promise of freedom given to slaves in exchange for their military service. The
    prolongation of the war and the demand for the slave manpower encouraged opposition to the
    government and the emperor from an emerging abolitionist movement over the issue of
    slavery. Abolitionists challenged government’s lack of a strong antislavery stance. In
    response, the emperor in 1867 announced plans for gradual postwar emancipation of slaves.
    Groups of abolitionists issued three manifestos before government between 1869 and 1870
    that demanded immediate emancipation, greater provincial authority, direct elections, and
    religious freedom. The abolitionist and republican—antimonarchical—movements
    became allied during the era.

    Brazilian slaves who were conscripted in the army came into contact with and were
    exposed to the ideas of emancipated and free Black soldiers from Argentina and Uruguay,
    who more than likely spoke to them about freedom. In the aftermath of the war, slaves
    experienced hardships caused by the decaying economic conditions resulting from the war.
    Slave revolts occurred in the provinces of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Espírito Santo,
    and the region of Recôncavo. These revolts became a decisive factor in the final collapse
    of the system of slavery.

    During the war, urban antislavery societies were organized by groups of intellectuals,
    businesspeople, professionals, and government officials who were not only opposed to
    slavery, but to the constitutional monarchy. Afro-Brazilian participation in the
    abolitionist movement was essential to its success, because White abolitionists opted for
    a more gradual approach to emancipation. Afro-Brazilian abolitionists opted for more
    radical solutions. White abolitionists were willing to, for example, accept the passage of
    the 1871 Law of Free Birth supported by the emperor and his associates. From the
    perspective of its elite White supporters, the law was a way to protect the property
    rights of slaveholders while giving some hope to the abolitionists. The bill provided
    freedom to the children of slaves at the age of eight or twenty-one, depending upon the
    discretion of the slaveholder; created of an emancipation fund to free slaves and
    compensate owners; allowed slaves to save money to buy their freedom, and established
    records of slave rolls in the provinces. The first group of slaves would not be eligible
    for freedom until 1879, thus the law had limited impact.

    The most significant period of Afro-Brazilian involvement in the abolitionist movement
    occurred during the 1880s. They were able to establish newspapers, write antislavery
    material, organize antislavery meetings, and travel throughout the nation to spread the
    word. One influential Afro-Brazilian owned newspaper was the Cidade do Rio, published
    in Rio de Janeiro. In 1880, the publisher of the newspaper, José do Patrocínio, united
    groups in the province and urban areas into an Abolitionist Confederation. The
    organization took the abolitionist debate to the people. Through his efforts another
    newspaper, The Emancipationist, was founded by an abolitionist society in Joao
    Pessoa. The Gazeta da Tarde, Gazeta de Notícias, and Radical Paulistano are
    other newspapers founded by Afro-Brazilians and abolitionists that used the power of the
    press to build public support for the cause of emancipation.

    Afro-Brazilian abolitionists were also concerned about the post-emancipation of prospects
    for their people. Luís Gama, author and activist, operated night schools to offer
    Afro-Brazilians some education. He and others stressed the need for
    Afro-Brazilian
    education, to prepare them to compete as freed persons in a "free society". Many
    of the Afro-Brazilian abolitionists were mulattos or freed persons, middle or upper class,
    who were educated, accomplished scholars and writers. Many received their educations
    abroad, and therefore, like many of their White counterparts, had been exposed to liberal
    ideals and advocated the development of a civil and free society in Brazil. Many sought
    support from the abolitionist societies in Britain, France, and Italy.

    The combination of the forces of the abolitionist movement, numerous slave revolts,
    threats of increased violence, and the pro-republican movement led to the final collapse
    of the slave system. The government and slaveholders were unable to withstand the pressure
    for change. Hence, in 1888 the Princess Regent Isabel issued the emancipation decree, the Lei
    Áurea, or Golden Law. The government did not, however, establish institutions
    for the incorporation of former slaves into the larger Brazilian society.
    Afro-Brazilians
    were emancipated in a political environment in which access to any form of political
    participation was nearly impossible, not only for them, but for virtually all Brazilians.

    Afro-Brazilians, like their North American counterparts, emerged from slavery encumbered
    by newer forms of enslavement or organized, legal, or institutionalized efforts to
    re-enslave them. Landowners and the industrial elite began to enact policies that kept
    Blacks in low-wage positions, while subsidizing the immigration of immigrants from Europe.
    Emancipation was merely a beginning, not an end, to the Afro-Brazilian struggle for freedom
    and equality.

    The First Republic

    The military seized power in 1889, exiled the monarchy, disbanded the Liberal and
    Conservative parties, and began proceedings to draft a new constitution. The motto of the
    new authoritarian government was "Order and Progress." The new regime was
    influenced by the ideals of free trade and industrial economic growth that were prevalent
    throughout Europe, at that time. The constitution of 1891 incorporated the ideals of a
    republican form of government, however, in practice it continued the Brazilian
    authoritarian tradition. It opened the way for the political domination by economic powers
    and regional oligarchies. The presidency was rotated between the natives of São Paulo and
    Minas Gerais, thus giving power to the coffee barons of São Paulo and the ranchers and
    mine owners of Minas Gerais. The slave-dependent sugar, cotton, tobacco and coffee
    plantations (fazendeiros) had lost power.

    The republic was essentially dominated by state-level regional parties that controlled a
    federal patronage system and eventually increased the power of the landholders (former
    slaveowners) and the new export-oriented oligarchy. Democratic elections were controlled,
    and less than three percent of Brazilians were enfranchised. Local political bosses (coronéis)
    who were generally the heads of rural landowning families and officers in the state
    militia allied themselves with state governors who were, in turn, controlled by federal
    officials. The jagunços (hired guns) of the local coronéis kept peasants
    and the lower classes in a state of near-feudal bondage. Essentially, the states became
    relatively autonomous from the national government.

    Brazilian elites began to put into action their basic attitudes toward race. White
    elites were influenced by the attitudes of Count de Gobineau, author of the "Essay on
    the Inequality of the Races" (1853). De Gobineau, in fact, spent thirteen months in
    Brazil as representative of the French government. The doctrine of White racial
    superiority affected the course of events that occurred during the First Republic to
    ensure the political, economic, and military dominance of the White elite over Brazil’s
    "darker masses" and former slaves. Former slaves were now free to negotiate
    labor contracts and to work for wages; landowners and employers in many regions devised
    plans to limit the ability of Afro-Brazilian laborers to organize.

    Believing that white Europeans were superior to nonwhites, Brazil’s elite sought to
    "Whiten" the nation. (Interestingly, the desire to eradicate or minimize the
    African influence in Brazil, was reminiscent of the desire in Spain and Portugal, during
    the Inquisition, to eliminate non-Catholic and non-Christian influences.) In the nineteenth
    century, liberal elites were opposed to slavery, not for ethical, moral, or human rights
    reasons, but because they believed that the institution stifled Brazilian economic
    development and the country’s role in the Diaspora of European nations.

    Thus, liberals such as Joaquim Nabuco advocated an end to slavery in Brazil, because,
    among other factors, it repelled potential European immigration. Moreover, without
    slavery, Nabuco believed that his country could have been another Canada or
    Australia… [these] arguments are reflected in the writings of a wide range of Latin
    American commentators, who ignored the contribution of the native Americans and the
    African to the building of their societies. Their desire to modernize and attract
    investment reinforced the prejudice toward the nonwhite sectors of the region.

    (Darien Davis, Slavery and Beyond)

    The policy of whitening actually became official doctrine before the end of slavery.
    Employers and government officials sponsored the immigration of European labor. Government
    paid for the importation of millions of Europeans. Planters in São Paulo founded the
    Society for the Promotion of Immigration in 1886 to recruit White immigrants from Europe,
    pay their passage, and provide them with plantation work. In 1897, the minister of
    finance, Rui Barbosa, issued an order to destroy all historical documents and files that
    related to the slave trade and slavery. The massacre of 1897 of the rural religious
    settlement of Canudos in the northeast backlands was abetted by the institutionalization
    of white supremacist attitudes among the Brazilian elite. The military slaughtered as many
    as 35,000 people who were classified as mixed-race.

    The huge influx of immigrants from Europe peaked in 1913, increased the number of
    Brazilian Whites. The policy of whitening was so widely accepted that it was not publicly
    debated or discussed, and was reflected in all areas of public life. In 1921, the state of
    Mato Grosso provided developers with a land concession. It was revealed that the
    developers were associated with a group in the United States that was recruiting U.S.
    Blacks for immigration to Brazil. The Catholic bishop and president of Mato Grosso
    canceled the concession. In the national Chamber of Deputies, a bill was introduced to
    prohibit "human beings of the black race" from entering Brazil. A major opponent
    of the bill, Joaquim Osório, argued that it was tantamount to a "new Black
    code" and an official policy of race prejudice that contradicted the Brazilian racial
    myth. The bill died in committee, but a similar bill was introduced in 1923, and again it
    failed. The prevailing attitude among the Brazilian elite was that the absence of legal
    racial barriers would promote the disappearance of the Black population. Blacks, it was
    projected, would disappear as a racial element in Brazil in seventy years.

    During the years of the First Republic, a few Afro-Brazilian intellectuals made efforts
    to mobilize Black political protest and movements. In 1925, São Paulo Blacks called for
    the organization of a Black political pressure group. In 1927, the Palmares Civic Center
    was founded. The organization began to campaign to change legislation prohibiting Blacks
    from entering the São Paulo militia. The campaign and their efforts to develop as a
    political force failed. Other efforts to begin the unionization of Black labor and other
    forms of political dissent also failed. The political climate of the 1920s was one of
    major social upheaval and political change. The period is marked by the unionization
    movement and revolts led by the junior military officers. The junior officers’ movement
    promoted the ideals of universal suffrage, labor unionism, antiforeigner nationalism, and
    other types of reforms. The military snuffed out the junior officers’ movement and the
    social upheaval of the era. In doing so, any hope of Black political mobilization was also
    stifled.

    The Revolution of 1930
    and the Estado Novo
    (New State), 19301945

    A civilian-military coalition overthrew the First Republic. Elections were outlawed. The
    new governmental regime came into being as a result of a successful coalition of
    industrialists, trade unionists, junior officers and nationalists that took advantage of
    the discontent of among sharecroppers, farmers and unemployed workers seeing federal
    relief from the Great Depression of 1929. The collapse of the coffee market weakened the
    power of the oligarchs.

    The new government was headed by Getúlio Vargas. As the new president, he surrounded
    himself with liberal intellectuals, reformers and members of the junior officers’ movement
    of the 1920s. Vargas’ leadership stimulated numerous social reforms: social security, a
    minimum wage, legalization of trade unions and the right to strike, school construction,
    and a civil-service meritocracy. His political reforms improved the situation of most
    Brazilians. He was able to successfully eliminate political opposition from both the
    political left—socialist, communist—and the political
    right—fascist—movements in the 1930s.

    Vargas’ leadership received Afro-Brazilians support because of the perception that the
    new era would loosen the control of the rural oligarchs and produce new opportunities for
    Afro-Brazilian political participation. But his leadership had a particular and long-lasting
    effect on the political culture and ideology of race in Brazil. The idea of the Brazilian
    "racial democracy" became the official doctrine of the Vargas regime and its
    successors. Vargas hoped that Brazilian cultural nationalism would unify the diverse
    political and economic interests among the various factions in Brazilian society. He
    became a major proponent of the race-relations school of thought promoted by intellectuals
    like Gilberto Freyre and others. Freyre and his colleagues argued that Brazilians formed a
    "new race" in the tropics, a "new people" of mixed origins. Brazilian
    nationalism of the 1920s attempted to put a positive spin the degree of racial
    miscegenation in the population. Gilberto Freyre’s theory of Lusotropicalism and
    Lusophonic exceptionalism maintained the idea that Portuguese culture and "racial
    tolerance" were responsible for the development of a Brazilian racial paradise.

    This official view of race relations in Brazil was common throughout Latin
    American nations, like Cuba, for example. Jorge Dominguez calls the study of
    race relations in Cuba, "a classic ‘nontopic.’" Carlos Moore, another Cuban scholar, contends that
    in Cuba, the severe treatment of Afro-Cubans is as much the result of the severe nature of
    Cuban authoritarianism as traditional white Cuban racism. The same may be said of Brazil.
    The view that race is a "non-issue" or one that can be addressed through the
    correction of class inequalities in Brazil is shared by members of all of the political
    ideological spectrum in Brazil. The tendency to aggregate the various factors leading to
    inequality in Brazil became a habit among the political, economic, cultural, religious and
    social elite across the ideological spectrum—from those defined as liberals, leftists
    and rightists to the Marxists and the reactionaries. National conformity to the idea of a
    Brazilian "racial democracy," can be attributed to the long history of
    authoritarian state-building, patron-clientelism, and the rigid social hierarchy. "In
    the empire of racial democracy all are compulsorily Brazilian and equal before the law.
    This myth has become one of the most deeply ingrained elements of the Brazilian social
    consciousness, since the entire educational system, mass communications media, system of
    justice and the other agents influencing public opinion all work to sustain it."
    (Jorge Dominguez, foreword in Carlos Moore, Castro, the Blacks and Africa, Center
    for Afro-American Studies, 1988)

    Despite the officially endorsed doctrine of the racial democracy,
    Afro-Brazilians
    continued their efforts to develop a political presence and force in the early years of
    the 1930s. The Frente Negra (Negro Front) was organized in September 1930 in São Paulo.

    "The principal aim was to build and strengthen ties and to influence the
    political process. Civil rights for the Frente meant equal treatment under the law and the
    right to work free of discrimination." It should also be noted that the organization
    was the first national civil rights organization, and the first to see, "…race
    and gender rights as intimately related. As a result, a women’s department was created
    within the movement… Women of the FNB opposed sexual discrimination, harassment, and
    exploitation…."

    (Darien Davis, Slavery and Beyond, Jaguar Books, 1995)

    The organization’s newspaper, A Voz da Raça (The Voice of the Race) was
    launched in 1933, but it did not survive. The Frente Negra won widespread support
    throughout São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Espírito Santo provinces. In Bahia and Rio
    Grande de Sul, other similar groups were organized. The Frente Negra and similar
    organizations devoted their efforts toward addressing the racial injustices occurring in
    Brazilian society, sponsoring literacy and vocational training, medical treatment, and
    legal counseling for Afro-Brazilians. The Frente Negra, however, was unable to establish
    itself as an effective political force or political party to run candidates for office. In
    1933, Arlindo Veiga dos Santos, a major organizer of the Frente Negra in São Paulo, ran
    for city council and was defeated. Between 19311937 the voter registration drives of the
    organization could not register enough voters to elect candidates to of ice. In 1937, the
    Frente Negra and all political parties were banned, and electoral politics in the nation
    ended until 1946. The banning of the Frente Negra also meant a temporary end of the public
    discussions of race. Vargas’ authoritarian rule culminated in a totalitarian constitution
    that created the Estado Novo (New State). He effectively ruled by decree. The New State
    curtailed states rights and favored regional oligarchies, banned strikes and lockouts and
    centralized Vargas’ authoritarian system of government. To avert class conflicts, the New
    State promised something for both workers and employers, incorporating them into
    "sindicatos"—state-regulated-influenced interest groups. In this way, Vargas
    was able to establish a pattern of leadership that claimed to place national interest
    above regional or class based interests. Vargas was also able to increase the role of the
    state in economic development and created a domestic environment meant to attract foreign
    investors—an apparent climate of stability. One can assume that the suppression of
    the Afro-Brazilian political movement and public discussions of race and race-related
    issues were also viewed as necessary to stabilize the political environment to attract
    foreign investment capital.

    While promoting the public myth of the "racial democracy," the Vargas regime
    projected the "white" image of Brazil to the world. The policy of whitening the
    population through increased European immigration continued during this era. In 1945,
    Vargas’ Decree No. 7967 was issued establishing a criteria for immigration in which
    immigrants would be admitted only in conformity with the "necessity to preserve and
    develop, in the ethnic composition of the population, the more desirable characteristics
    of its European ancestry." Vargas’ decree remained in force well into the
    1980s—until the constitution of 1988 was ratified.

    Afro-Brazilians did not respond openly to oppose the decree. During the period of the
    Estado Novo, the Black movement leaned toward accommodation rather than confrontation. The
    aversion to militant protest was also in part due to the emergence of an
    Afro-Brazilian
    middle class and professionals in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, who were inclined to
    support strategies to "uplift the race, one at a time." "This understanding
    of community uplift was based upon the existing realities of social ascension in an
    increasingly competitive, market-oriented ethos that had already driven large segments of
    the black labor force to Brazil’s economic periphery one generation earlier."
    (Michael Hanchard, Orpheus and Power, Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 106-107)

    Excerpted from Democracy and Race in Brazil, Britain and the United
    States, Walton L. Brown, The Edwin Mellen Press, 1997, 290 pp
    .

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