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 14 Sociology and Racial Inequality Challenges and Approaches in Brazil Antônio Guimarães History presents a challenge for sociological theory because of the contingencies it contains. Inequality, ethnocentrism, and racism are universal phenomena, but they develop differently within different national, political, and economic contexts . Across such differences we may detect commonalities forged by empire, colonialism, migration, and the encounter with cultural difference. The aim of this chapter is to discuss how Brazilian social theorists have explained relations between whites and blacks since the middle of the nineteenth century.My premise is that understanding these sociological explanations enriches social theory in general and public policy in particular. Sociology began its institutionalizing process in Western universities in the late nineteenth century with the rejection of race, climate, and other natural forces as causal explanations for social phenomena. This rejection did not translate immediately into the understanding that race was a social, cultural, and historical construct; that occurred only after World War II. Although some scholars such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Max Weber used race occasionally as a nonbiological socioanalytical term, the concept maintained its strong biological meaning until the mid-twentieth century. As a result, in its early years, sociology exercised little influence on state policies vis-à-vis the Brazilian black population. At the time, academic thought about race was centered in schools of medicine and law. Public hygiene, eugenics, criminology, legal medicine, and other applied sciences were deployed by the state to construct policies regarding sanitation, education, health, and security that pertained to black Brazilians. Until the second decade of the twentieth century,the most advanced theory that sought to integrate African descendants and counter the view that blackness is an impediment to national development and growth was the claim that continuous miscegenation would introduce white biological virtues into the Brazilian nation (Skidmore 1974; Schwarcz 1993). 306  Antônio Guimarães Beginning in the 1930s, Gilberto Freyre, Arthur Ramos, and other sociologists began to disseminate another understanding of how the state should develop and implement policies regarding blacks. Strongly influenced by the cultural anthropology of Franz Boas in its distinction between race and culture and downplaying the influence of race in human affairs, Freyre and his generation advanced the thesis that racial and cultural miscegenation among European, African,and indigenous peoples gave Brazil a solid basis upon which to build an advanced (“tropical”) form of civilization and democracy. However, their thesis left the idea of miscegenation as whitening alive, albeit in a surreptitious form. The continuing whitening ideal partially explains the general acceptance of their thesis by Brazilian intellectuals over the next five decades. Influenced by this idea, state policies of cultural integration championed the national embrace of black subcultures and encouraged racial tolerance and coexistence in laws and social practices. Brazil came to be viewed on the world scene not only as a mixed-race nation but also as a racial democracy, even in the face of great racial inequality. For decades, the state avoided articulating a specific policy about blacks, for such a policy would have had to acknowledge the existence of a racial inequality that it had ideologically defined out of existence. The erasure of race as a political concept also unfolded at the popular level. For the fifty years from 1930 to 1980 (except for the cultural politics of some intrepid black organizations), popular resistance against inequality was articulated almost entirely in class terms. One of the first economic and demographic facts to catch the attention of Brazilian sociologists was that Brazil was colonized by Europeans who did not form residential settlements; instead,Brazil’s colonizers built productive plantations (Prado 1937). Where colonizers formed settlements, indigenous populations were almost completely exterminated and Europeans dominated demographically . But where colonizers lived only on plantations, Europeans were the minority, outnumbered by brancos da terra,1 mestiços (mixed-race individuals), and enslaved men and women. Slavery was abolished late in the nineteenth century (1888), but then, during the First Republic (1889–1937), ex-slaves and the black population were replaced by European immigrants as a labor force for the coffee fazendas of São Paulo. Thus, while in the first 300 years of Brazil’s history, planters imported 6 million Africans, the country received, in only fifty years, 3 million European immigrants. Three factors shaped Brazilian sociological thought. First, mestiçagem (racial mixing) between Europeans, the indigenous population, and Africans occurred on a massive scale. Because of the small European presence during the first centuries of...


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