Elevate Difference

Legacies of Race: Identities, Attitudes, and Politics in Brazil

Legacies of Race answers many of my personal questions about a strict notion of racial identification among the “black and white” in Brazil. When I visited Rio de Janeiro for the first time in 1993, I was intrigued by the notion of the “Afro-Brazilian” population who viewed themselves as “mixed race” rather than the distinctive “white” or “black” of the United States. As Professor Bailey indicates in this excellent book, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics employed five categories in “a color-race” data research question in 1991. These were: branco (white), pardo (brown), preto (black), amarelo (of Asian ancestry) and Indigena (Indigenous). According to the 2000 census, Brazil’s racial or color composition is approximately 54% branco, 39% pardo, 6% preto, 0.5% amarelo and 0.4% Indigena. The census question of race was added in 1991 after over 100 years of asking only about color.

Bailey delivers a wealth of data on legacies of race in his solidly reasoned and impeccably researched book on racial attitudes in Brazil. He also argues that North American theories of racial identity and racial group interests find little support in Brazil where the population of African origin is nearly three times as large as that of the United States. Bailey reasons that the strict notion of racial identification as black or white cannot be labeled “universal.”

His research reveals that color or race is not a significant predictor of beliefs concerning Brazilian racial disadvantage. “Culture wars” are nearly non-existent in Brazil in comparison to the United States. Racial attitudes in Brazil appear to embrace “racial ambiguity and mixing” as the very essence of Brazilian people. The great majority of non-white Brazilians prefer the term “intermediate” or “mixed-race” claiming to be neither “white” nor “black.” Bailey argues that only through disposing of many of the U.S. racial assumptions, a general theory that originated in the United States of racial attitudes can emerge.

It is my hope that in the writer’s future studies we will find a chapter or two on the racial relations between women and their role in the political and social life in Brazil.

Written by: Anna Hamling, October 23rd 2009