Terms of Inclusion: Black Intellectuals in Twentieth-Century Brazil

Terms of Inclusion: Black Intellectuals in Twentieth-Century Brazil

Terms of Inclusion: Black Intellectuals in Twentieth-Century Brazil

Terms of Inclusion: Black Intellectuals in Twentieth-Century Brazil


In this history of black thought and racial activism in twentieth-century Brazil, Paulina Alberto demonstrates that black intellectuals, and not just elite white Brazilians, shaped discourses about race relations and the cultural and political terms of inclusion in their modern nation.
Drawing on a wide range of sources including the prolific black press of the era, and focusing on the influential urban centers of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Bahia, Alberto traces the shifting terms that black thinkers used to negotiate their citizenship over the course of the century, offering fresh insight into the relationship between ideas of race and nation in modern Brazil. Alberto finds that black intellectuals' ways of engaging with official racial discourses changed as broader historical trends made the possibilities for true inclusion appear to flow and then recede. These distinct political strategies, Alberto argues, were nonetheless part of black thinkers' ongoing attempts to make dominant ideologies of racial harmony meaningful in light of evolving local, national, and international politics and discourse. Terms of Inclusion tells a new history of the role of people of color in shaping and contesting the racialized contours of citizenship in twentieth-century Brazil.


On these sad shoulders,
Now broken, and older,
Was made the Canaan
Of this cruel Brazilian nation
Tat will not call me brother

—Lino Guedes, “For the Love
of God,” Urucungo, 1936

Until 1888, when Brazil became the last society in the Americas to abolish slavery, the slave system was as extensive there as it had been anywhere in the new world. Slavery was not just the center of Brazil's brutal economic engine; it was a way of life, the foundation of a deeply hierarchical society marked by pervasive distinctions of color and class. The stigmas of race and servility associated with African slavery extended beyond those in bondage, shaping the lives of a large population of free people of color as well. After abolition, freedom and citizenship were similarly conditioned by racial and class inequities that survived and evolved in the absence of slavery. Brazilians of African descent made up roughly half the country's population in the century after abolition, but they accounted for the vast majority of the nation's poor and dispossessed. Yet throughout this period, many Brazilians, of different racial and class backgrounds, congratulated themselves on the limited social damage that slavery had wrought among them. Centuries of slavery had seemingly not produced a rigid line between “blacks” and “whites.” Nor had they bequeathed Brazil a legacy of racial violence and institutionalized discrimination, as in the United States. Instead, many believed, a softer form of slavery had made Brazil into an exceptional postemancipation society, a place where members of a racially mixed and culturally hybrid population coexisted in harmony. Over the course of the twentieth century, regimes authoritarian and democratic made the idea of Brazilian racial harmony into an offcial ideology.

This book asks what people of color thought about both the racial inequalities and the discourses of racial harmony so central to Brazilian public life in the twentieth century. It does so by considering the words and actions of black intellectuals—a group of men and a few women of some education and public standing, who proudly claimed their African racial or cultural heritage and who aspired to represent other Brazilians of color in national discussions about race and national identity since the early 1900s. It traces the emergence . . .

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