Note from BW of Brazil: When I first learned about the depths of Brazil’s racist methodology some time in the early 21st century, I was blown away at how sophisticated and devious the planning for the decimation of the black population really was. While I was accustomed to good ole’ fashion American styled racism in which white folks went to extreme lengths to maintain a segregated society and commit such violent acts of hate against black folks, this Brazil thing was a different animal. Brazil’s thinkers and powerful elites disliked its black population just as much as America’s leaders hated theirs, but they went about ridding itself of the black presence in a manner so cunning that it promoted the idea of an apparent ‘racial democracy’ all the while making sure it kept its black population in its ‘place’. After all, how could one claim Brazil could possibly be racist with such high rates of miscegenation? At least that’s the way it defended itself against accusations of racism. The reality is quite different.
You see, rather than simply inflicting violence against black folks, which Brazil certainly did also, its leaders came to the conclusion that instilling a deep urge in black people that to ‘improve’ themselves they needed to mix with whites and eventually, with the passing of generations, become white was a much better idea than the violent tactics so common in the US. It wasn’t until I really started spending time in different states of Brazil that I came to understand just how widespread miscegenation was in the country. In Bahia, I remember spending time with an entire family in which all of the men, women, boys, girls and children looked like they were one mix away from complete whiteness. In São Paulo, every single day I see black grandparents and parents with their near white children and grandchildren. In most cases, the children don’t look quite white, at least not by American standards, but for many Brazilians they’re white enough.
In São Paulo, I’ve met families in which every brother and sister of a black family ALL married white partners. I can’t say I’m amazed or more shocked. I’ve met more people than I can remember who’ve told me that their parents encouraged them to whiten the family. And they followed suit. I’ve seen too many black and would be black folks who swear up and down that they understand what racism and white supremacy is all about and then introduce me to their white partners. While black feminists claim to be challenging ‘toxic masculinity’, it seems that 90% of them are also booed up with white men. This is not to say that black women or the black men they accuse of being ‘palmiteiros‘ are more to blame for this dire situation, because Brazil’s brand of eugenics has been very successful in duping both into voluntarily disappearing themselves with the very same people whose racist attitudes they claim to despise so much. I’m to the point that I’m not even surprised when I meet the most militant black folks who are in interracial unions. There are those who see it for what it is, but they are few and far between.
História Africana – It is a great hypocrisy when feminist scholars speak out against capitalism and then defend relationships with whites because they cannot find a Black man in their class. How many Black Marxists will give a favelado (slum-dweller) a chance??? We’ll wait a trillion years before they answer this question.
Paulo R – At most, attending events, conversation circles to point out miscegenation and genocide tactics of our people with data and facts. Get a serious and public space, this crowd almost never gets it. I was talking to a black woman wanting to convince me that palmitagem (swirling) is no big deal. She saw that she was losing in the argument, afraid of not being able to come out in front in defending being with her white man to whom she is already practically married. She stopped writing. It was like W.O. Or knockout, on second thought. I knocked her out of her ideas and she was silent because she had nothing else to argue in favor of miscegenation.
Katia – Good morning, group! Help me here, people! My white friend (so White she’s pink) split up after a short time from a white man and is here sending me photos and messages talking about her new affair, a black guy. I’m excited for her, but I’m bothered, very bothered by his palmitagem.
Last year some time, an American journalist friend of mine interviewed a young black man from Rio who was building quite a following in social networks with his thought-provoking videos. Every time I saw one of this guy’s videos, I was impressed at his ability to break down racism in Brazil and share his opinions on what black folks need to be doing to not only survive, but move forward. The new generation of black Brazilians seemed to ‘get it’ in ways that their parents and grandparents just didn’t. But hol’ up, my friend told me. Not only was this brotha gay, but he was booed up with a blond German man! Wait…WHAT?!?! This dude did an interview in which he completely explained how miscegenation was promoted in Brazil with the end goal of whitening the black population but then he himself is sharing a bed with a white man too?!?! I was done. A lot of African-Americans I know who have lived in Brazil for an extended period have expressed a frustration with understanding the brain washing of black Brazilians to such a degree that it’s a waste of time even discussing it.
Reading books about this could never really have prepared me for what I’ve seen in Brazil. It’s simply astonishing to see. In the piece below, another brotha who has made a name for himself with his Tweets on the African Diaspora and global racism delves into the origins of how black Brazil came to be what it is today. His conclusion is a bit different than mine. He, like many black Brazilians who have ‘waken up’, believe that Brazil’s plans for the disappearance of the black race was unsuccessful, as they are still alive and the majority of the Brazilian population. After seeing what miscegenation has done in Brazil for centuries, I no longer subscribe to the idea that Brazil is a majority black country. I’ll drop another piece in a coming post that explains another reason why I changed my views on this whole Brazil as ‘the largest black population outside of Africa’ thing. And the plans for the eventual disappearance of the black population? Well, let’s just say, it’s a work in progress.
The first defenders of white superiority in Brazil were more powerful than the Ku Klux Klan
The construction of Brazilian racism was based on false science and slavery.
By Ale Santos
In a column, author of African-American sci-fi & fantasy and researcher Ale Santos brings the contexts of racial causes to cultural, political and even entertainment issues in our country. This column is a knowledge sharing effort at a time when negationism grows and directly influences people’s imaginary. Welcome to the Historically Correct Guide to Brazil.
When we think of supremacist groups we often look directly at the racial confrontation that exists in the United States: the struggle for black civil rights, led by leaders like Martin Luther King and the persecution promoted by the Ku Klux Klan. This violent group that set fire to crosses, promoted lynchings and was infiltrated into public institutions like the police and several American governments.
While the Klan mobilized throughout the 1920s-60s in an attempt to establish a regime that would maintain segregation or rescue some slave dynamics, Brazil built and sold internationally the image of a “racial paradise” – a place where miscegenation had resolved racial conflicts between blacks and whites. This image was nothing more than a curtain that hid a plan to exterminate the country’s blacks, a final solution devised by Brazilian supremacists that spread to all major institutions and until the 1940s had more power than Klan’s first foundation could dream of.
The first foundation of the Ku Klux Klan was basically poor whites, former slaves holders who lost the war, broke down and saw some blacks taking up space in society. They had no power but hatred and their own hands to seek their revenge. They used murders and threats of violence to prevent blacks from acting in politics, causing the resignations of several. In Brazil, the slave holders didn’t break, on the contrary. Using political maneuvers, they managed to avoid compensation to any freed black man, kept their property and especially their reputation in society. In scientific racism they found the chance of maintaining the establishment of a slave-holding society.
This story, however, begins even before abolition, with Silvio Romero, one of the founding intellectuals of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. At the time, racial discussions were incipient. They were not organized in one or more fields of study. But one member or another of the intellectual elite always invoked the “problema do negro” (black problem) to address the society configuration. Here, the behavior assumed by the colonizers had generated a very distinct feature from other countries: miscegenation. While it was repudiated by the supremacists of other countries, it couldn’t control itself in Brazil, began with rapes and violence against enslaved Indians and blacks, and put 19th-century Brazil against the wall when it was realized that the ethnic configuration of the majority of the population didn’t fit into the European standard.
It was then that the first minds began to think about how to turn the key of miscegenation to, instead of turning the country blacker, making it whiter. Silvio Romero, one of the most influential polymaths at the time, saw the possibility of white hegemony, constituting a race that could match that of the Europeans.
“By natural selection, however, after giving the help he needs, the white type will take over until he is pure and beautiful as in the Old World. It will be when it is fully acclimated on the continent. Two facts will largely contribute to this result: on the one hand, the extinction of African trafficking and the constant disappearance of the Indians, and on the other, European immigration.”- Studies on Brazilian Popular Poetry – 1879 – 1880
We often discuss how Brazilian academic and scientific communities promoted a kind of genocide of the black person, but we forget to make it clear that the real purpose of this movement was the creation of a “etnia branca nacionalista” (nationalist white ethnicity), a race of whites legitimately Brazilian and not the white as is the Caucasian or the Aryan in other countries.
To do so, they needed to convince society of the qualities of the white and the shortcomings of the black. It is from that period that came one of the names that has caused so far irreversible damage. Raimundo Nina Rodrigues has given racism a broad theoretical foundation that connects the African and his descendants with repulsive behavior.
“The scientific criterion of the inferiority of the Black Race has nothing in common with the revolting exploitation of the American slave interests. For science, this inferiority is no more than a perfectly natural phenomenon, the product of the uneven march of the phylogenetic development of humanity in the various divisions and sections.”- Os Africanos no Brasil, Raymundo Nina Rodrigues (published in 1932)
Nina Rodrigues is one of the founders of criminal anthropology and, as a psychiatrist, has his racist and deplorable works studied and considered even today by professionals who are unaware of or insensitive to the words he was writing. In Mestiçagem, Degenerescência e Crime, he constantly argues that the mestiço de negro (mixed race black) and the black himself are natural delinquents. As I suggested at the beginning of the text, the first members of the most racist American movement could not get half the prominence as our Brazilian racists, Nina Rodrigues became one of the biggest names in medicine and national psychiatry, is one of the classic sources of these studies until today and the Medical Institute of Salvador and a Hospital in Maranhão are both named in his honor.
In 1911, João Batista de Lacerda, an anthropologist and medical director of the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro, was sent as an official government representative to the officially Universal Congress of the Races (London). Several countries had come together to discuss issues such as “The problem of the black race in the US”, “The world position of negro and negroid”, “The destiny of the Jewish race” … yes, Brazil was connected with world racism. Contrary to what some current currents of politicians, so-called conservatives, who imported racial issues to our borders was the white elite who wanted to solve the “black problem” here. Lacerda predicted that in about 100 years our country’s ethnic makeup would be white:
“Thanks to this procedure of ethnic reduction, it is logical to suppose that, in the space of a new century, the mestiços will disappear from Brazil, a fact that will coincide with the parallel extinction of the black race among us.” – Sur le métis au Brésil (Premier Congrès Universel des Races: 26-29 July 1911, Paris, Devouge, 1911). In: SCHWARCZ, 2011
Lacerda expressed white supremacy, but not racial. This paradox reflects the two strands that divided the eugenics movement around here. For him the inferiority of the black race was not biological, but cultural, and blacks came from extremely backward peoples in various dimensions as the physical and the intellectual:
“Neither race, nor color, nor physical aspect, establish preferences and create their absolute superiority in the human kingdom… and that in the world there are only advanced and backward races, and these differences must be attributed to the conditions of the physical and social environment in which man evolved.”
Later, in the southeast of the country the Movimento Eugênico Brasileiro (Brazilian Eugenic Movement) was born. The idea of Eugenics was constructed by Francis Galton, anthropologist and Darwin’s cousin. He believed that the theory of natural selection would apply to humans as well. Thus various physical characteristics, social and psychological behaviors as the intellect was hereditary. In the conception of this pseudoscience, the sickest features of a society were connected to the blood of inferior races, which in Brazil were specifically the races of blacks, Indians, and their descendants.
Its greatest exponent was Renato Ferraz Kehl, a pharmacist that graduated from the Faculty of Medicine of Rio de Janeiro, in 1915 constituted the Eugenic Society of São Paulo with other doctors: Arnaldo Vieira de Carvalho, Afrânio Peixoto, Artur Neiva, Vital Brazil, Belisário Penna, Juliano Moreira. Importantly, they have gained a lot of space by being linked to hygienist, public health movements, in a strong symbiosis that will take a few decades to be decimated.
Khel and his closest allies became defenders of the darker strand of eugenics, called “negative” because it intended to create racial barriers, laws that prevented miscegenation and sterilization. Among his most racist works are 1929 Lições de Eugenia (Lessons of Eugenia) and 1933’s Sexo e civilização – aparas eugênicas (Sex and Civilization – Eugenic Scraps) from 1933. He became a contributor to the newspaper “A Gazeta” in 1945 and remained for more than two decades. In 1967 he received from the National Academy of Medicine an Honorary Scroll, where up to today, he still occupies the number 93 chair of the institution.
On the differences between racial issues between Brazil and the USA, he stated in an interview with Gazeta do Povo (1921):
“No one can deny, such evidence of the facts, that in the course of the years the blacks, the Indians of the plagas and with them the products of this mestiçagem are disappearing. With the continued processing of this mestiçagem (crossbreeding), it is expected that Brazil will realize, according to Roosevelt’s opinion, when he was with us that we are solving, by blood fusion, the problem of the black and Indian races, simply and effectively, while in the United States, with the segregation of these races, the problem is becoming more serious every day, given the multiplicity of its representatives in their purity of origin.”
Another difference that made Brazilian racism follow a different path from blatant American racism is the numerical superiority, which had already put fear in slave owners since before abolition. In several cities in the interior of the country, there could be more people in the senzalas (slave quarters) than free civilians. Abolition liberated an army of blacks, no group got organized and would have the courage to openly say “we don’t like blacks” looking for a direct confrontation, as Nina Rodrigues recalled. “We never had, as in the United States, a respectable surplus of white people.” Belief in superiority is the ideology that would keep this minority in power, so Brazilian eugenics was made up of doctors of all specialties, hygienists, anthropologists, journalists, educators and politicians who openly discussed their practices, unlike the “invisible government” as the Klan was called.
Brazilian supremacists were in power and used it to maintain the social hierarchy that slavery constituted. The “negative eugenics” did not succeed because, after all, a good part of the Brazilian intellectuals were mestiços too, it was much better to believe in a version that could whiten through cultural contact than to believe that inferiority was irreversible. As such, they worked to support the entry of white peoples into our country and embraced the discourse of racial democracy. Several laws in favor of eugenics were defended and approved in the first governments of the Brazilian Republic, eugenic education created the clutches of this hygienist thought and determined a macabre stain in the popular collective imagination, making until today people seek a conscious embranquecimento (whitening). As our Vice President Mourão said “the whitening of the race”. It is the vestiges of this education that lead the population to keep the key to whitening on, without it, Nina Rodrigues’ fears return to the surface: “The mestiçagem does nothing more than delay the elimination of white blood”.
It seems distant to imagine that this fear still surrounds our society, but if Brazil were to assume itself politically and culturally as an Afro-Brazilian society, the statistics still show that the ideals of the eugenicists were practically achieved… minus one: we are still here and we are the majority, more and more.
Courtesy of Desacato website
Article updated September 21, 2019