Racism in a Racial Democracy: The Maintenance of White Supremacy in Brazil

Racism in a Racial Democracy: The Maintenance of White Supremacy in Brazil

Racism in a Racial Democracy: The Maintenance of White Supremacy in Brazil

Racism in a Racial Democracy: The Maintenance of White Supremacy in Brazil


In Racism in a Racial Democracy, France Winddance Twine asks why Brazilians, particularly Afro-Brazilians, continue to have faith in Brazil's "racial democracy" in the face of pervasive racism in all spheres of Brazilian life. Through a detailed ethnography, Twine provides a cultural analysis of the everyday discursive and material practices that sustain and naturalize white supremacy.

This is the first ethnographic study of racism in southeastern Brazil to place the practices of upwardly mobile Afro-Brazilians at the center of analysis. Based on extensive field research and more than fifty life histories with Afro- and Euro-Brazilians, this book analyzes how Brazilians conceptualize and respond to racial disparities. Twine illuminates the obstacles Brazilian activists face when attempting to generate grassroots support for an antiracist movement among the majority of working class Brazilians. Anyone interested in racism and antiracism in Latin America will find this book compelling.


Anthropology has in the century played an important role in Brazilian society. It described and brought to public attention those aspects of Brazilian life which were, in the past, a source of embarrassment. . . . Along with writers of fiction, anthropologists have helped Brazilians to discover themselves.

--Charles Wagley (1979, 9)

Any study of racism in Brazil must begin by reflecting on the very fact that racism is a taboo subject in Brazil. Brazilians imagine themselves as inhabiting an anti-racist nation, a "racial democracy." This is one of the sources of their pride and, at the same time, conclusive proof of their status as a civilized nation.

--Antonio Sérgio Alfredo Gulmarães (1995, 208)

On 13 May 1996, the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Brazil, six black students at Brazil's most prestigious public university planted an eight-foot wooden cross on the main lawn of the University of São Paulo. On this cross they strapped a black man whose scores had not earned him entry into this state-subsidized university. The students have continued this action on the 13th of each subsequent month in their campaign for the establishment of a system of quotas that would ensure that a minimum number of Afro-Brazilians and people of color be admitted to the university. Although at least 45 percent of the Brazilian population is estimated to be black and mixed-race, only 1 percent of the student body at the University of São Paulo is nonwhite. The students are demanding that 10 percent of the slots in the opening class be reserved for Afro-Brazilian students. This act was described in the U.S. press as "a vivid demonstration of how the terms of racial debate are changing in Brazil."

The leader of this nascent campus affirmative action movement is . . .

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