Conceived as a contribution to debates about the role of state institutions in perpetuating racial inequality in modern Brazil, this article explores the relative importance of social and racial characteristics in determining defendants' treatment in Rio de Janeiro's criminal courts between 1930 and 1964. Focusing on rarely noted aspects of defendants' class and citizenship status, and emphasizing the importance of judicial procedure, it argues that social discrimination was open in Rio de Janeiro's courts, but that race alone was a relatively poor predictor of defendants' fates. At the same time, it suggests that racial and social characteristics ought not to be seen as separate and competing categories, both because "social" language had important racial meanings and because "social" discrimination had significant racial implications. Institutionalized social prejudice may thus go far in explaining the stubborn persistence of racial inequity in an age when "racial democracy" became a national hope and mantra.


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pp. 31-59
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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