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Social Identities, Volume 10, Number 6, 2004

An Introduction: The Predicament of Brazilian Culture


University of CaliforniaSan Diego
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ABSTRACT: Truth and ideology (as error or falsity), like any other oppositional
terms, take up the same productive powers and necessarily track each other very
closely. Not much is necessary for any statement to move from the former into the
latter field. My review of the main twentieth-century lines of Brazilian racial studies,
in this introduction, traces how they have moved miscegenation and racial democracy
back and forth across the border between social scientific truth and racial ideology.
Because the papers included in this issue, rather than repeating this move, address how
these socio-historical signifiers inform the contemporary Brazilian social configuration,
they move beyond the predicament shared by both narratives of the nation and social
scientific accounts of racial subjection in Brazil.

For almost half a century many studies of Brazilian racial conditions have been
proving that racial democracy is, after all, a myth. What else is there to say about
race and the nation in Brazil? Quite a bit if one is not invested in the dominant
ideology thesis and ventures to explore of how modern mythologies the
white mythologies Jacques Derrida and others have unpacked play out
here, producing the social (juridical, economic, and moral) configurations
within which men and women of colour exist as subaltern subjects. While they
do not radically depart from studies that denounce racial democracy as the main
instrument of racial subjection in Brazil, the papers published in this issue of
Social Identities avoid (re)producing the predicament of the Brazilian culture
i.e., the need to demonstrate that widespread miscegenation does not render the
Brazilian subject an affectable (pathological) consciousness. This claim is at the
core of the main national constructs of whitening and racial democracy. In many
contemporary analyses of racial subjection, it is displaced onto the black
Brazilian subject. By contrast, the papers collected here deploy historical, legal,
sociological, and anthropological analytical methodologies to show how repre-
sentations of blackness produced in this construction of the Brazilian subject
demarcate the subaltern social positions black (here I include mesticos) Brazil-
ians occupy in contemporary Brazil. In doing so, they challenge the pervasive
view that, because of the powerful grip racial democracy holds over Brazilian
(white and black) minds, the racial does not configure this countrys political
My task in this introduction is to situate the papers published in this Special
Issue of Social Identities among the current trend of studies of Brazilian racial
1350-4630 Print/1363-0296 On-line/04/060719-16 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1350463042000323950
720 Denise Ferreira da Silva

conditions. Much of the recent scholarship on racial subjection in Brazil is

informed by the conclusions of the 1970s and 1980s sociological (quantitative)
studies that demonstrate that race operates as a principle of social exclusion,
determining black Brazilians subordinate social trajectories (most notably in
formal education, employment, and income). By deploying the conceptual and
methodological arsenal of the sociology of race relations, this line of investiga-
tion, which here I call the Escola Carioca (Carioca School) of Race Relations,
challenges both the hegemonic national construction of Brazil as a racial
democracy and previous sociological descriptions of Brazils social (juridical,
economic, and moral) configuration.1 Though informed by the Carioca
paradigm, the four papers I have included here move beyond this dominant
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scholarship and depart from previous social scientific accounts of the

Brazilian racial conditions. They deploy historical, sociological, legal, and
anthropological analyses to reveal how racial democracy governs the cultural,
economic, and gender mechanisms of subjection that demarcate the subaltern
social positions blacks have inhabited post-slavery Brazil.

The Brazilian Schools of Race Relations

Following the prevailing account of racial subjection, what I call the logic of
exclusion,2 Brazilian students of race relations could not but deny race any
political significance in the modern Brazilian social configuration. In the 1950s
and 1960s, the works of the Escola Paulista, as this body of analysis would be
known, explained the instances of race or colour prejudice they identified as
expressions of the persistence of traditional strongholds in the yet to be
modernized Brazilian social space. This explanation perhaps was to be ex-
pected, given that the arsenal of modernization theory guides these investiga-
tions. It was ironic, nevertheless, as the work of the Escola Paulista resulted
from a project funded by UNESCO aiming to explain why the Brazilian social
configuration was not fraught with the problem of race relations.3 Instead of
breaking the code of the tropical racial paradise, however, these investigations
would end up revealing that the racial indeed constitutes a principle operating
in post-slavery Brazil. Because these studies already assumed that the Brazilian
social configuration was ruled by both modern and traditional principles, it is
not surprising that these accounts would resemble Robert E. Parks (1950)
description of the post-Slavery U.S. South.
Since the 1970s, another body of work, the Escola Carioca, has been deploy-
ing the logic of exclusion to challenge the Paulista statement that race prejudice
is a leftover of traditional Brazil.4 To be sure, the importance of these studies
does not reside in any theoretical innovation regarding the workings of racial
subjection in Brazil but from the fact that their conclusions challenge both the
allegory of the Brazilian racial paradise and the Paulista conclusion that
modernization would lead to the disappearance of all mechanisms of racial
subjection. Though the predicament of Brazilian culture results, as I argue
elsewhere (Silva, forthcoming), from how the racial situates Brazil in the
modern global configuration, there is no question that it accounts for why these
An Introduction: The Predicament of Brazilian Culture 721

deployments of the logic of exclusion have reached conclusions that contradict

what the arsenal of the sociology of race relations has taught them to expect.

The Paulista School

What distinguishes the Paulista school, as the deployment of the arsenal of the
sociology of race relations, is the fact that it also follows the modernization
theorys argument that postcolonial societies, like Brazil, still retained traditional
principles which would be eliminated with the universalization of Brazilian
culture (norms and values). Not surprisingly, unlike the early sociology of
race relations view that the race problem does not trouble traditional (hier-
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archical) societies (Park, 1950), the Paulista studies concluded that race preju-
dice and racial discrimination would disappear with the complete (cultural)
modernization of Brazil precisely because miscegenation was eliminating racial
difference as the visible signs of cultural difference, which gives rise to them.
More importantly, these investigations also depart from previous historical
analyses such as Tannenbaum (1946) and Pierson (1942) which deploy the
arsenal of race relations in their respective analyses of post-slavery Brazil. In
the Paulista studies, one finds a rewriting of miscegenation as a signifier of
Brazils particularity combined with the construction of race prejudice as a
socio-historical (cultural and ideological) signifier of the nations particularity
which enables the severance of the link between miscegenation and racial
democracy that sustains the prevailing construction of the Brazilian nation. For
this reason, instead of constituting a complete rupture with these earlier views
of Brazils social configuration, by linking race prejudice to traditional Brazil
and retaining miscegenation as a natural signifier of Brazils difference, these
studies would add to the hegemonic construction of the nation the argument
that the concept of class rather than the racial captures the mechanisms of
social subjection in Brazil. With this, not only do they provide a sociological
version of the main claim of the framers of the racial democracy thesis, but they
also add another dimension to the predicament of Brazilian culture, namely,
the construction of the Brazilian social configuration as still permeated by
traditional (hierarchical/patriarchal) principles, which hampered its ability to
reconfigure as a modern (liberal-capitalist) society.
In Negros e Brancos in Sao Paulo, Fernandes and Bastide (1952) reiterate
Piersons conclusions, but rather than immediately writing Brazil as a social
configuration free of racial subjection, they explain race prejudice (which they
rename colour prejudice) as an effect of social (class/status) difference. For
Fernandes and Bastide, the co-existence of expressions of race prejudice and
miscegenation results from the prevailing racial ideology the [national]
prejudice, Brazils fidelity to its ideal of racial democracy (p. 164) which
leads many Brazilians to hide their race prejudice. This, however, does not
contradict the race relations cycle because the forces of miscegenation work
against this racial ideology. Two processes prove their thesis. On the one
hand, they argue that the fact that opposition to blacks was more evident
among the upper strata, traditional families and the bourgeoisie of foreign
origin suggested that a function of race prejudice is to maintain the previous
722 Denise Ferreira da Silva

social order and to prevent the modernizing of blacks and mesticos by creating
racial solidarity among the white population, which would facilitate domi-
nation and protect them from economic competition with the blacks and
mulattos. On the other hand, their observations show an absence of race
prejudice in working-class neighbourhoods, which indicates that colour
stereotype [in Brazil] is at bottom class prejudice (p. 179). What the severance
of the link between racial democracy and miscegenation entails is the writing of
the latter as a substantive trait in Brazils social conditions, as an effect of its
particular historical trajectory. Moreover, the discovery this gesture enables
serves two purposes. Not only does it testify to the universal applicability of
the arsenal of the sociology of race relations by showing that miscegenation does
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eliminate racial subjection, but it also proves the logic of modernization,

according to which cultural changes are crucial for the institution of modern
social configurations. More importantly, it also has the added effect of giving
Brazil points in the global race for modernization, which seems to require the
obliteration of anything that signifies otherwise. For instance, according to the
authors, in the United States, racial segregation has benefited blacks because
it forced them
to create their own banks of credit, universities, schools, etc. ()
however there remains a state of tension which Brazil ignores due to
intensive miscegenation.
Hence, the advantage of the Brazilian solution to the racial problem, over the
United States, they argue, resides precisely in how miscegenation
progressively eliminates color oppositions thus, tending to abolish the
racial problem in the best manner possible, simply suppressing the
races. (p. 204)
Nevertheless, while it constructs miscegenation as a natural process, the
result inter-racial sexual intercourse would extricate from the racial democracy
thesis, the Paulista arsenal also rewrites miscegenation as a social scientific
strategy, as a socio-historical (cultural) category, by deploying it as a category
of social difference.5 In O Negro no Rio de Janeiro, a study of race prejudice
among Rio de Janeiros high school students, L. Costa Pinto (1952) deploys
Myrdals (1994) framework that defines race prejudice as rationalization of
beliefs. Rehearsing the Paulistas basic account of Brazilian racial conditions,
Costa Pinto attributes their persistence to how the impact of Brazilian social
modernization upon the coloured population entails the deployment of this
protective mechanism of the traditional social order. When addressing the
effect of miscegenation, he takes up the two Paulista conclusions which now
inform and which the pieces in this issue engage hegemonic representa-
tions of the Brazilian racial configuration, namely that, in Brazil, it is virtually
impossible to separate class from racial determinants of social subjection and
that miscegenation has a rather porous colour line. In a society where class
positions and ethnicity were so clearly identified, he notes,
the whiter, or less black, the individual the greater were his opportu-
An Introduction: The Predicament of Brazilian Culture 723

nities of transposing the barriers to social mobility which depended

directly on color or on other apparently ethnic traits.
What his study shows is that mulattoes are the main targets of white high
school students prejudice which, he explains, results from the
advantage of the mulatto over the black [and] seems to be compensated
by the fact that, as a consequence, the mulatto is always closer than the
negro to cross the social line of color.
That is, miscegenation here becomes a signifier of social (status) difference.
This definition of position is a daily problem, permanent, constant,
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many times dramatic, not always conscious, lived [he argues], by all
Brazilian mulattoes who are in the process of acquiring a social status
from that occupied by the overwhelming majority of those who are
ethnically similar and of those from whom he socially distances himself.
(pp. 21617)
Undoubtedly, separating miscegenation and racial democracy was the most effec-
tive strategic move of the Escola Paulista intervention. It thus became possible
to construct the expressions of race prejudice captured for the first time in
their investigations as effects of the countrys modernization without conceiv-
ing them as the governing principle of modern Brazilian configuration. Not
only did it allow the Paulista studies to remain faithful to the sociology of racial
relations conclusions that attribute the absence of race prejudice in a post-
slavery configuration to widespread miscegenation. More importantly, this split
also made it possible to think of racial democracy as an ideological strategy that
had no fundamental link with miscegenation, which is rewritten as a substantive
(natural, as in god-given) signifier of historical difference and is taken to give
Brazil its particularity. Re-signified as an ideological mechanism that hides and
fosters traditional norms and values connecting social and racial difference,
racial democracy would then follow the expected destiny of race prejudice, the
particular interests of a traditional (patriarchal/hierarchical) elite which was
losing ground with the modernization of the Brazilian social (juridical, econ-
omic, and moral) configuration.
Elsewhere (Silva, 2001) I show how, much like other social scientific
accounts of racial subjection, the Paulista studies also construct the Brazilian
racial subaltern as a pathological (affectable) social subject. Here, I expand the
discussion to indicate how this re-presentation is tied to the predicament of
Brazilian culture, i.e., the nations fragile status as a modern social
configuration. My point is that the identification of the causes for the emergence
of this particular racial subaltern subject reflects the combined effect of the
construction of miscegenation as a substantive signifier of Brazils (historical)
particularity and the sociology of race relations (scientific) assumption that as
miscegenation eliminates racial difference, the conditions for racial subjection
cease to exist.
In A Integracao do Negro na Sociedade de Classes, Florestan Fernandes ([1964]
1978) examines the effect of post-slavery Brazilian political-economic modern-
724 Denise Ferreira da Silva

ization upon the black and mestico population. According to Fernandes, blacks
and mesticos exhibit mental and behavior patterns, cultural handicaps inher-
ited from their previous conditions which rendered them unable to compete in
the free social order with the European immigrants. From this moral
incapacity to integrate into modern society results a vicious circle which
prevents blacks and mesticos from moving out of the situation of economic
dispossession in which they found themselves after emancipation. In the early
1960s, Fernandes argues, blacks and mesticos are incarcerated at the margins of
modern Brazilian society, in a situation of structural dislocation, a permanent
state of social disorganization suffering from the social pathologies usually
connected with them. [L]ife under permanent conditions of social disorganiza-
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tion, he explains,
turned into a cultural tradition and invisible chain. This could only be
unquestionably broken at one point: when the negro dared to break the
edges of his rural conception of the world and assault the ethical code
of the inclusive society. Then, for better or worse, the marginal and the
criminal could appear as successful people with their own destiny.
(pp. 14647)
This writing of the racial subaltern consciousness in Brazil would have an
additional twist. In the absence of race segregation, cultural incapacity
becomes the immediate cause of black Brazilians subaltern position. Not only
did degraded social conditions prevent the emergence, and survival, of
institutions which would apply the dominant values to the black community
and maintain them in conditions of moral isolation. They likewise prevent the
formation of social bonds which would enable blacks to act as a group, in
attempting to transform these conditions. They would prevent, in other words,
the emergence of a black self-consciousness of the kind of racial (inauthentic
Negro) consciousness Park (1950) characterizes as an effect of incompleted/
borrowed modernization. Because blacks and mesticos did not constitute a
historically integrated racial minority, Fernandes notes, there was a tendency
to the pulverizing and individualizing of individuals aspirations to social
uplift (p. 240). Nonetheless, here again, the determinants of this affectable
consciousness are the cultural/ideological, social-historical strategies deployed
by a dominant racial group. For Fernandes, the archaic behavioral and
mental patterns prevailing among the Brazilian elite contributed to the subjec-
tion of blacks and mesticos. Instead of creating racial antagonisms and the
mechanism of race segregation, the prevailing racial ideology the myth
of racial democracy relied on a rather distinct strategy to maintain the
status quo. The ideological principle ruling the first five decades of moderniza-
tion, the myth of racial democracy operates in many ways, but more impor-
tantly, Fernandes argues, it produced a
false consciousness by reducing and evaluating the relations between
blacks and whites through the exteriority and appearance of the racial
adjustments. (p. 255)
Its traditionalist and patrimonialist basis had also prevented the moderniza-
An Introduction: The Predicament of Brazilian Culture 725

tion of Brazilian social conditions and arrangements. It prevented, in short,

democratic values and norms that informed the relations between whites and
blacks and mesticos (p. 269). These unremitting traces of the traditional order,
he concludes, contribute to the Brazilian racial dilemma which, he names a
problem of cultural lag.
Though it employs the arsenal of the sociology of race relations, and
confirms its validity as a scientific toolbox, the Escola Paulista reaches an
unexpected conclusion, a feat only possible for investigations of a social
configuration which failed to exhibit the basic requirement of the prevailing
account of racial subjection, i.e. the socio-logic of exclusion. Highlighting the
absence of race segregation and widespread miscegenation, the Paulista studies
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conclude (not without some conceptual and interpretive gymnastics) that race
prejudice was but a manifestation of traditional cultural and behavioral
patterns, that racial subjection results from Brazils incomplete modernization,
the co-existence of a (modern) economic configuration and (traditional) cultural
principles, which would disappear once the country had been fully modern-
ized. With this version of the logic of obliteration, the Escola Paulista investiga-
tions introduced two competing statements on racial subjection in Brazil. With
few exceptions, Brazilian social scientists and intellectuals would privilege the
claim that in modern Brazil class rather than the racial operates as a mechanism
of social subjection, and black activists and intellectuals privilege the statement
that race prejudice does rule the Brazilian social order. What these apparently
contradictory appropriations of the Paulista conclusions indicate is how the
logic of exclusion limits our understanding of how the racial produces social
subjects (Silva, 2001).

The Carioca School

Precisely for this reason, because it also deploys an arsenal informed by the
logic of exclusion, two interrelated questions threaten to undermine the Escola
Cariocas analysis of the mechanisms of racial subjection in contemporary
Brazil. How can an anti-racist racial ideology, racial democracy, co-exist with
high levels of racial [socio-economic] inequalities? Why dont these inequali-
ties lead to the emergence of race consciousness among black Brazilians? As
a critique of the Escola Paulista, the Carioca school could not but inherit the
latters reformulation of the problem of race relations in Brazil. And yet it
would unleash a powerful critique of these earlier studies, by re-uniting
miscegenation and racial democracy. This has now become the dominant
paradigm in studies of racial subjection in Brazil, which assumes that the study
of black Brazilians self-representations will answer the question of why and
how they inhabit subaltern social positions.
In Discriminacao e Desigualdades Raciais no Brasil, Carlos Hasenbalg (1979)
introduces an analysis of the Brazilian social configuration that inaugurates the
Carioca version of race relations. In this study of racial inequality in Brazil, he
challenges the Paulista argument that blacks and mesticos subaltern condition
results from traditional cultural patterns that emerged during slavery and the
years immediately following emancipation. He argues that, since the abolition
726 Denise Ferreira da Silva

of slavery, racism has informed Brazilian society where it has ensured mem-
bers of the dominant racial group the monopoly of more prestigious and
materially rewarding positions in the class structure.

To be born black or mulatto in Brazil [he concludes], normally means to

be born in low status families. The probabilities of escaping the limita-
tions linked to a low social position are considerably smaller for non-
whites than for whites of the same social origin. By comparison with
whites, non-whites suffer a competitive disadvantage in all phases of the
process of status transmission. (pp. 22021)

Not cultural incapacity, he concludes, but the operations of racial difference, as

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an ascriptive feature, a criterion of social selection, promote unequal oppor-

tunities of social mobility for blacks and mesticos, determining their concen-
tration in the least prestigious positions in the occupational system, limited
access to formal education, and lower income. Hasenbalgs study provides
ample statistical evidence of the effects of the operations of the racial, in raising
the question of how racial democracy and miscegenation co-exist with racial
To address this question, Hasenbalg re-deploys the argument already
introduced in the Escola Paulista account that racial democracy is a repressive
strategy of power (an ideology of domination) which operates by controlling
interior racist sentiments, imposing the disguise [of] discriminatory prac-
tices, and undermining political mobilization among blacks and mesticos. Two
factors, he argues, have prevented high levels of racial antagonism and
objective forms of collective action on the part of the racially subordinate
groups. Though it results in part from the lack of resources for social
mobilization, mostly, he argues, it derives from the fact that Brazilian white
elites have deployed several mechanisms to assure the acceptance of the
racially subordinated: controlled social mobility of its light-skinned members,
ideological manipulation, and the deployment (or threat to) of violent repress-
ive strategies (p. 225). Reuniting racial democracy and miscegenation, Hasenbalgs
critique of the Paulista school ascribes the latters statement on the causes of
black subjection to another articulation of the ruling ideologies of domination.
According to Hasenbalg, the whitening thesis and the myth of racial democ-
racy are the primary ideological weapons of racial subordination in Brazil.
They socialize the whole Brazilian population and prevent areas of potential
conflict. The whitening thesis, he argues, has produced a system of racial
classification, the color continuum, which

implies the fragmentation of racial identity among non-whites and the

transformation of the potential of collective action in individual expecta-
tions of upward mobility. (p. 238)

Thus, what Fernandes sees as resulting from degraded social conditions partly
maintained by black and mestico Brazilians mental backwardness, Hasenbalg
explains as an effect of the dominant racial ideology, which operates by
placing upon blacks and mesticos the responsibility for their subaltern con-
An Introduction: The Predicament of Brazilian Culture 727

dition. This, in turn, enables Hasenbalg to argue that manifestations of race

prejudice derive from social (status or class) rather than from racial difference.
Much of the Carioca scholarship has been dedicated to gathering sociologi-
cal evidence of racial exclusion in Brazil. Deploying models to measure patterns
of social mobility and income distribution, educational trajectory, and demo-
graphic indicators, they consistently demonstrate that blacks and mesticos
remain concentrated on the margins, or altogether outside, of Brazilian capital-
ism.6 More importantly, they effectively challenge the conventional (sociologi-
cal) wisdom produced in Piersons and the Escola Paulista interpretations that
mesticos suffer no restriction to social mobility by demonstrating that the
differentials in terms of occupation, income, and education between them and
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black Brazilians are insignificant. As it appears in the works of the Escola

Carioca, Brazilian social arrangements differ little from those of the United
States.7 Nevertheless, their deployment of the arsenal of the sociology of race
relations becomes problematic because the absence of race segregation ren-
ders its strategies incapable of distinguishing the effects of racial from class
subjection. For instance, Telles (1993) counters the Paulista argument that class
rather than racial difference determines patterns of residential distribution in
Brazilian cities. He concludes that Brazils lack of extreme segregation may be
explained by the absence of juridical mechanisms of segregation. But the
evidence of moderate racial segregation within the same socio-economic
status and the concentration of blacks and mesticos in certain urban residential
areas indicate that class is not the sole principle of residential distribution.
Nevertheless, Telles opens the door to a class explanation when commenting
on the concentration of the white middle-class in certain residential areas and
on the relatively limited [racial] segregation among the urban economically
dispossessed population.
What I am suggesting here is that the predicament of Brazilian culture,
produced in the hegemonic constructions of the Brazilian nation whitening
and racial democracy and re-produced in the Paulista studies haunts the Escola
Carioca, as indicated in studies of racial classification among working class
Brazilians race consciousness. Pacheco (1997), for instance, studies race/
colour classification among low-income residents of a favela, where she finds
a multiple system of racial classification which is circumstantial, relational,
and ambiguous. Its primary effect, she argues, is to avoid the use of the
extreme colour categories, black and white, by privileging personal relations,
such as family ties, and by using other attributes with no explicit racial
connotation. This is revealed by the fact that working-class Brazilians are
well-aware of the inferiority indicated in the term black (preto or negro) and the
superiority implicit in the term white. For this reason, they only employ these
terms in the absence of the person being classified or to mark distance from
the referred individual. As expected, Pacheco suggests that miscegenation and
racial democracy provide material and cultural support for patterns of racial
identification. Racial identification, in turn, perceives but refuses to articulate
the distance signified in black and white bodies. These identifications appear
in two common practices. On the one hand, references to practices of misce-
genation are taken to support the argument that the favela residents are not
728 Denise Ferreira da Silva

racist; on the other hand, the attempt to avoid opposition and conflict
produces speech that articulates universality, which privileges equality, friend-
ship, and social solidarity. This concern with the system of racial classification
prevailing among working-class Brazilians signals the question haunting the
Carioca schools successful account of Brazilian racial conditions. If the socio-
logical machinery so effectively reveals the operations of racism in Brazils
social configuration, why has this truth yet to become self-evident to the
majority of Brazilians, as it was for U.S. blacks and South Africans? To which
I add another one: why has it become such a powerful weapon in the hands
of the black Brazilian movement, an unavoidable question on the left, and a
crucial theme in recent projects of re-configuring Brazil along neo-liberal lines,
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as the Cardoso and Luiz Lula da Silvas administrations affirmative action

policies indicate while still remaining an uncomfortable one to everyone
Elsewhere, I approach the latter question by discussing how sociological
studies have been crucial to the formulation of contemporary black
Brazilian discourse (Silva, 2001) and by examining how the new account of
racial subjection which stresses on the need to promote policies that include
social subaltern subjects not only juridically and economically but also
culturally, i.e. the principle of cultural liberty articulated in the 2004 Human
Development Report at work in the contemporary global configuration are
once again entailing a rewriting of the narrative of the Brazilian nation (Silva,
Regarding the first (more problematic) question, I think, it indicates the
operation of another social scientific account of racial subjection, which has also
become a strategy of racial subjection, namely the logic of obliteration.8 When
combined with the modernization theory, in the Paulista perspective, this
account of racial subjection leads to the separation of miscegenation and racial
democracy that enables the writing of racial subjection as an effect of traditional
(cultural) principles; in Carioca studies it entails their reunion in the view of
racial democracy as a powerful ideological strategy which, contra the pervasive
logic of exclusion, produces racial subjection by obliterating its empirical refer-
ent, i.e. racial difference, renders the arsenal of the sociology of race relations
insufficient to capture how the racial governs Brazils social configuration.
Precisely this inability, which the logic of exclusion places at the core analyses of
racial subjection, of conceiving the racial as a modern political concept has
resulted in the proliferation of studies of racial politics in Brazil which would
reproduce the argument that the fact of miscegenation and the pervasiveness of
racial democracy explain the black Brazilian movements failure. Though these
studies correctly identify a distinct mode of racial subjection, their conceptual
arsenal constructs the Brazilian social configuration as a sociological paradox.
They rewrite the predicament of the Brazilian culture when describing Brazils
as a post-slavery social configuration in which the fulfillment of miscegenations
task the obliteration of racial difference and of the social subjects it entails
had not been followed by its necessary consequence, namely the end of racial
An Introduction: The Predicament of Brazilian Culture 729

Where to go from here

When investigating black Brazilian social trajectories, the Carioca studies show
that they are consistently and firmly placed at the bottom of the Brazilian social
pyramid but also that, against expectations, this subaltern positioning is not
accompanied by the emergence of racial (black) self-consciousness. Throughout
the last decade or so, this has been the focus of numerous studies that deploy
the Carioca paradigm, i.e. investigations that focus upon how the racial democ-
racy thesis prevents the emergence of racial consciousness among black Brazil-
ians. For this reason, while they offer valuable insights about how black
Brazilians (re)interpret the hegemonic construction of the Brazilian nation,
more often than not these works merely reiterate the Carioca studies conclusion
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that miscegenation and racial democracy prevent the emergence of the kind of
racial subaltern subject found in the United States. Thus, rewriting black
Brazilians not involved in the black movement as the paroxysm of the affectable
subject, i.e. as subaltern social entities that lack the minimum conditions for
emerging as self-consciousness, namely the ability to recognize their subju-
gated condition.9
While the papers included in this issue do not radically depart from the
Carioca paradigm, they move beyond this prevailing trend to explore historical
and structural determinants of racial subjection in Brazil. That is, instead of
assuming that racial democracy hampers their emergence of a black self-con-
sciousness and moving on to show prove once again that it does so, the authors
engage the question of how this representation of the Brazilian national subject,
which informs the prevailing view of how the Brazilian social landscape is and
should be configured, institute subaltern regions which are consistently occu-
pied by black Brazilians. As such, they shift from the dominant ideology
thesis towards the view of national/racial narratives as productive strategies of
power and, in doing so, each paper shows how the Brazilian black subject
as any other racial subaltern subject elsewhere, including the United States
emerges as an effect of the particular mode of racial subjection the racial
democracy thesis governs, i.e. they examine how this symbolic strategy of racial
subjection does its work.
Not surprisingly, their descriptions of the Brazilian social configuration do
not privilege race or class as the more adequate social scientific device but
show how along with gender these social categories produce the
subaltern social regions black Brazilian inhabit. What one learns in Flavio dos
Santos Gomess historical investigation is that, while the black peasantry
emerges during slavery many of todays black rural populations were
initially quilombos (maroon communities) its constitution cannot be sepa-
rated from the larger process of formation of Brazilian peasantry. By doing so,
he provides an account that links the historical subjection of black Brazilians to
the most dramatic expression of Brazils extreme social inequalities, the land
concentration that has produced an increasingly large population of landless
peasants. From analyses of quantitative and qualitative material, Claudia
Rezende and Marcia Limas piece explores the interplay of race and gender, in
an investigation of how a particular category of female workers trabalhadora
730 Denise Ferreira da Silva

domestica (domestic worker) make sense of their working conditions and

relationship with their employers. What their study, which combines quantitat-
ive and qualitative methodologies, shows is that, while gender inform the
trajectories of domestic workers and their (mostly white middle-class female)
employers and the prevailing tendency is to resolve social differences in terms
of class distinctions, the representation of blackness as a signifier of mental
inferiority which mediates these relationships among women do not escape
black domestic workers.
When examining recent legal cases of racial discrimination, Seth Racusen
shows how racial democracy informs a theory of discrimination which rather
than privileging the objective matters of each case, addresses the subjective
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determinants of a given action. What his research uncovers is that the recent
legislation that construct racial discrimination as a criminal act has the expected
in that the racial democracy thesis stipulates that race prejudice has no place
in Brazilian national consciousness effect of determining that the Courts will
address motivation which is precisely that which, in criminal cases, tends to
favour defendants. Finally, Keisha-Khan Y. Perrys analyses of urban dwellers
mobilization against exclusionary urban renewal projects challenges the pre-
vailing argument that, in Brazil, race does not constitute a basis for political
organizing. From material collected in ethnographic research in an economi-
cally dispossessed neighbourhood in the city Salvador, in the state of Bahia, she
produces an account of how negative representations of blackness combine the
gendered arrangements that render them more concerned with most immedi-
ate dimensions of social existence to create a female-lead social protest against
that the project of expulsion of the black population from the citys central
neighbourhoods. Because they neither prove what the Paulista schools investi-
gations have concluded half a century ago i.e. once again denouncing racial
democracy as a myth nor do they assume that racial subjection is an effect
of false (negative) representations that justify social exclusion, these research-
based pieces suggest that, in Brazil as elsewhere, race is a productive symbolic
device, a principle that governs modern social configurations when it produces
social subjects that differentially placed in their economic, juridical, and moral

Denise Ferreira da Silva teaches at the Department of Ethnic Studies, University of

California, San Diego and can be reached at

1. The core argument of the modernization theory was that a cultural re-
configuration the substitution of modern (universalistic/egalitarian)
norms and values for traditional (hierarchical) was necessary for
non-European (post-colonial or otherwise) to achieve the same high levels
of economic development and sustainable modern juridical structures. Its
basic premises can be found in Parsons (1951 and 1977) and for the
An Introduction: The Predicament of Brazilian Culture 731

example of studies that deploy the modernization thesis, see Eisenstadt

(1968 and 1970), Nettl and Robertson (1968), and Smeltser (1966).
2. I have coined the term logic of exclusion, or socio-logic of exclusion, to describe
the prevailing account of racial subjection deployed in the sociology of race
relations. Basically, it refers to the argument that unlike culture and the
nation, for instance which are seen a productive of moral bound even
though they function to exclude race only operates as an exclusionary
strategy, as a cultural or ideological device which targets individuals and
collectivities with non-white phenotypical traits. For an expanded dis-
cussion of this account of racial subjection see Silva (2001 and forth-
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3. According to the Brazilian sociologist Luiz Costa Pinto, this project was
inspired by Latin American scholars who suggested that UNESCO use
Brazil as a laboratory of research for human relations, because of the
original nature of social structures existing on this side of the world ()
[which] are characterized by the co-existence, in the already long and
painful transitional phase, of problems common to all developed capitalist
societies, side by side with problems typical of backward agrarian struc-
tures, which recall situations other countries experienced one or more
centuries ago. Consequently, the image, sometimes dramatic, these [Latin
American] countries presents to the sociologist is that of organisms which,
not merely on surface but on the basis and in the very structural plan of
its framework, participate simultaneously in two eras, two historical styles,
one could even say two worlds.
4. This term is probably unknown to many. In the mid-1980s, I joined the
Centro de Estudos Afro-Asiaticos in Rio de Janeiro, where many members
of this group who live and work all over Brazil worked together in
a project that challenged the Brazilian social sciences disregard for racial
subjection, in which the Paulista school text played a central role. We
(myself and some of other young social scientists) used to (very teasingly)
employ this term to characterize the 1970s writings on race in Brazil within
which we began our careers. Without the desire to suggest a paradigm, I
use this term not merely for the sake of economy but also because I believe
that, more than a theoretical perspective the term Escola Carioca (Carioca
School) embodies a political instance which has been a crucial for re-writ-
ing race in(to) Brazilian academic and political contexts.
5. In the Paulista text, one also finds a constant theme in later studies of racial
subjection in Brazil which, attribute to miscegenation a de-politicizing effect,
deriving from the fact that the product of miscegenation, the mulatto, is
constructed as a mediator, a buffer of sorts (Degler, 1976).
6. Nonetheless, miscegenation would still haunt Carioca scholars, who would
engage in studies of race prejudice and racial attitudes. For instance,
Figueira (1990) the Escola Paulistas argument that race prejudice is absent
among low-income individuals given their similar social conditions. In her
research of high school students in Rio de Janeiro, she found results similar
to Costa Pinto (1952) and Cardoso and Ianni (1952). Like these Paulista
researchers, who investigated white middle-class students in Rio de
732 Denise Ferreira da Silva

Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Florianopolis, she also finds a general denial of
race prejudice and stereotypical description of blacks and mesticos. In a
study that employs the Bogardus social distance instrument examining
interracial marriage, Silva (1987) concludes that contrary to what is
observed in socioeconomic measures mesticos occupy an intermediary
position in relation to blacks and whites, since they show a higher tendency
for exogamy which, according to Silva, suggests that the social distance
operating in interracial marriage does not follow socio-economic hier-
archies or, one could suggest, the hierarchies of miscegenation.
7. See, among others, Oliveira et al. (1987, 1989); Porcaro (1993); Hasenbalg
(1989); Hasenbalg and Silva (1993); Silva and Lima (1992); and Silva (1987).
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8. In Silva (forthcoming), I identify two accounts of racial subjection deployed

in early twentieth century sociology of race relations, namely the already
discussed logic of exclusion and the logic of obliteration. There, I show how
the latter is at the core of the this social scientific arsenal, informing its
basic strategy, the theory of race and culture contacts, which is refigured
in Parks (1950) notion of the race relations cycle, with which he describe
the necessary trajectory of racially/culturally inferior populations in the
modern Anglo-Saxon U.S. society. Basically, it states that when in contact
with the latter, these populations would eventually assimilate or amalga-
mate i.e. their cultural and racial difference would disappear.
9. See for instance, Andrews (1992): Hanchard (1993); Winant (1995); Twine
(1998); and Sheriff (2001).

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