- Slavery Unseen: Sex, Power, and Violence in Brazilian History by Lamonte Aidoo
The study of Western sexuality has become increasingly important since the publication of Michel Foucault's four-volume seminal work Histoire de la sexualité (1976; 1984a; 1984b; 2018). In relation to Brazil, this topic remains understudied. Gilberto Freyre's 1933 classic Casa Grande e Senzala: formação da família brasileira sob o regime de economia patriarcal, translated as The Master and the Slaves, inaugurated the examination of sexuality in Brazilian society. More recently, anthropologist Luiz Mott's O sexo proibido: virgens, gays e escravos nas garras da Inquisição (1989), historian James Green's Beyond Carnival: Male Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Brazil (1999), and literary critics Susan Canty Quinlan's and Fernando Arenas's Lusosex: Gender and Sexuality in the Portuguese-Speaking World (2002) are important works on this subject.
Lamonte Aidoo's Slavery Unseen: Sex, Power, and Violence in Brazilian History adds an important contribution to the area of Luso-Brazilian sexuality studies. Originally conceived, meticulously researched, and well written and argued, the book is an intellectually sophisticated interdisciplinary study that examines the race relations and interracial sexual violence that are embedded in Brazilian slavery. In the introduction, Aidoo delineates his main argument: sex is fundamental for the building of Brazil, but rather than the celebratory nature of mestiçagem, which has always been deeply connected with the notion of harmonic relations between races, he seeks to denounce the "silencing and sanitation of nation's history of rape, sexual violence, and abuse" (3). Drawing from primary and secondary sources—institutional documents, period newspapers, parliamentary debates, medical records, literature, letters, and memoirs, to name just a few—Aidoo's book seeks to undo the myth that Brazil's slave society was benign and that its racial system is a democracy. On the contrary, Aidoo emphasizes the perverse and violent nature of Brazil's slavery, which was engineered to uphold white male supremacy, fulfilling its "purposes for power, control, pleasure, economic gain, reproduction, humiliation, and annihilation" of the black subject (9).
Chapter 1, "The Racial and Sexual Paradoxes of Brazilian Slavery and National Identity," presents a brief (yet well-researched) summary of the history of slavery in Brazil. Here, Aidoo challenges the "national claims of the genteel and exceptional nature of Brazilian slavery" (18) by examining the country's high slave mortality rates, one of the highest in the Americas. Chapter 2, "Illegible Violence: The Rape and Sexual Abuse of Male Slaves," is especially important because it addresses a topic that remains little studied in the scholarship of slavery in Brazil: the rape of male slaves. Using Inquisition records, Aidoo demonstrates how "slavery [was] constructed around white male desire, and [it] were protected under the law" (48). The penetrability of the slave body helped forge the notion of black sexuality as abnormal and impure because "using the enslaved to engage in sinful forms of sex and making that part of their job or duty as slaves as well as part of their identity, white masters were also giving physical form to the abject, sinful stereotypes associated with black sexuality" (57). Aidoo argues that the ideas of the hypersexual mulata and the sexually perverted black homosexual (topics analyzed in chapters 3 and 5, respectively) have their genesis in Brazil's latifundia slave economy. Aidoo makes an important argument: "male rape is not an [End Page 127] expression of homosexuality, just as the rape of a woman by a man is not an expression of heterosexuality. Rape and sexual violence are not about sex, sexuality, or repressed sexual desire, but about power" (61). That is, by exerting sexual violence, masters were guaranteeing their power and maintaining white supremacy. Chapter 3, "The White Mistress and the Slave Woman: Seduction, Violence, and Exploitation," is also original because it addresses another under-examined topic in Luso-Brazilian studies: the sexual relationships of women. Aidoo finds that pathological perceptions of the black female body contributed to the notion of Afro-Brazilian women as sinful disrupters of the virtuous white...