Note from BW of Brazil: The text below was actually posted a little over a week ago by Professor Silvio Almeida as a general text on the differences he saw between the differences between American and Brazilian styled racism. As much as people hate to admit, in terms of the black population, both systems seek the same objective: the subordination and elimination of the black population. Historically, the approached have been opposite. The Americans sought to segregate its black population to protect the purity of its white population and to avoid the mixing of the races. Funny, the white population was responsible for mixing of African and European blood from the time the first enslaved African reached the land that would later become the United States.
In Brazil, on the other hand, starting from the late 19th century, the idea was to promote interracial mixture generation after generation until the African element was effectively whited out through a continuous fusion with European blood. The project didn’t work within the 100-year period Brazil’s intellectual elite postulated it would take to erase its black population, but I would argue that it’s still a dream and work in progress.
Over the last 150 years, Brazil has resorted to a number of mechanisms to rid itself of its “black stain” and this policy of genocide has become even more apparent with the militarization of police forces. Now, at the head of the Brazilian government is man who has openly proclaimed he would give these forces a blank check to kill more people. And you can believe, even though he never mentioned race in making this declaration, you can be sure he wasn’t talking about Brazil’s white population.
Anyway, over a week ago, a controversy involving the government’s secretary of culturebrought forth what many see as a certain dangerous element in the Jair Bolsonaro Administration connecting it to 1930s and 1940s Germany. In my own view, there was more and less involving that story than what was being said, but we know how the media and some people will take a story and just run with it. Anyway, below, Silvio Almeida, a black law professor, uses Brazil’s racist history as an introduction and connection to that recent controversy.
Nazism in the Bolsonaro Government and the escalation of racism in Brazil
By Silvio Almeida
Theoretically, there is a distinction between the “white supremacy” and “white superiority” ideologies. This distinction, moreover, is essential to distinguish the history of race relations in Brazil and countries such as Germany, the US and South Africa.
In Brazil, the idea of “white superiority” was converted at the end of the 19th century into assimilationism. It was a brilliant way out for the intellectuals of the time because they were aware of the problem of the post-abolition elites, that was dealing with the mass of free blacks.
Faced with the impossibility of doing the same as the US and defending “white supremacy”, Brazil – a country of blacks, indigenous people and mestiços – wagered on “white superiority”. Hence the wager on embranquecimento (whitening) as a way to “civilize” the country.
The idea of white superiority had different versions ranging from “assimilationism” (miscegenation to eliminate blacks) to “mulatismo” (mulattoism) (miscegenation to emphasize the “best” of each race). Each of these theories is linked to the political context of the post-abolition country.
Brazilian racism is a sophisticated product, tailor-made by thinkers of the opinion of Nina Rodrigues, Silvio Romero, Oliveira Vianna and in another key figure, Gilberto Freyre. Attention: everyone must be read in order to understand Brazil. I make this an issue because, unless I am mistaken, what the former secretary of culture did yesterday is the first manifestation of white supremacy made by a member of the Brazilian government, breaking a historical reproduction mechanics of racism.
Brazilian racism has changed levels.
It is curious why this government that opposes globalism is now globalizing itself by aligning itself ideologically with the white supremacists of the US and Europe. And before it is said that it was an “isolated case,” just take the history of the president himself. All this to say that I consider what happened yesterday to be a milestone in the history of Brazil. It is necessary to look at the scenario – national and international – and for all the actors. The reactions to the episode give us the degree of the challenges that we will face in the coming years.
The anti-racist struggle will have more work to do.
It will have to deal with the supremacists in power and, at the same time, denounce those who pretend to be civilized, but who have taken advantage of white superiority to naturalize the calamitous situation of the black and indigenous people of this country. Any attempt to lessen the gravity of what the Nazi simulacrum that occupied the culture department said is with him to condone. Any attempt to separate “culture” from “economy” in this government is a handshake with racists.
The game is open.
[text published by professor Silvio Almeida via Twitter – @silvioal]
* Writer Machado de Assis was founder of the Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Academy of Letters) and considered one of, if not the greatest Brazilian writer. But having a such a prominent figure in their ranks, Assis could NOT be recognized as black. Assis’s image has been whitened for decades and only recently have Afro-Brazilians made efforts to have him recognized nationally as a black man.