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Tempo Social

versión impresa ISSN 0103-2070

Tempo soc. v.3 São Paulo  2007


After racial democracy


Depois da democracia racial



Antonio Sérgio Alfredo Guimarães

Translated by Renato Rezende
Translation from Tempo Social, São Paulo, v.18, n.2, p. 269-287, Nov. 2006.




In this article, I trace a scenario that is becoming increasingly actual and close to Brazilians. In that scenario racial inequalities coexist with a popular state regime in which Black NGOs participate in the implementation of multicultural policies and racial democracy ceases to be a hegemonic discourse. We have acquired consciousness of the limitations of our democracy, of the multicultural nature of our national formation, and of our invidious system of racial inequalities, but we are not successful in stopping it from reproducing itself. I take this scenario as an occasion to point to two current misinterpretations in the sociological literature: neither are racial inequalities in Brazil the product of racial democracy, neither can racial inequalities result from the mere existence of racial categories.

Keywords: Racial democracy; Racial inequalities; Multiculturalism; Popular State.


Neste artigo, meu objetivo é refletir sobre um cenário futuro, que se torna cada vez mais real e próximo: aquele em que as desigualdades raciais no Brasil convivem com um regime de Estado do qual as organizações negras e outras organizações populares participam ativamente na formulação de políticas multiculturalistas e no qual a ideologia da democracia racial cessou de ser hegemônica. Se, por um lado, nesse cenário, ganhamos efetiva consciência das limitações de nossa democracia, da heterogeneidade da nossa formação e da insidiosa reprodução das desigualdades raciais, nem por isso somos capazes de reverter esse quadro. Essa é a oportunidade de expor alguns equívocos interpretativos atualmente correntes na literatura: nem as desigualdades raciais resultam da "democracia racial", nem a reprodução das desigualdades pode ser explicada pela simples existência de categorizações de base racial.

Palavras-chave: Democracia racial; Desigualdades raciais; Multiculturalismo; Estado popular.



What is Brazilian racial democracy? After having been pronounced a myth (cf. Fernandes, 1965) and transformed during the 1980's as the main target of attacks from the Negro movement for being a racist ideology1, in the last decade "racial democracy" has come to be the object of a more systematic investigation by social scientists and historians. Initially, the understanding that it was really a founding national myth prevailed. After all, Brazil had historically been perceived as a country where Caucasians had a weak or almost no racial conscience (cf. Freyre, 1933); where since the colonial period, miscegenation was disseminated and morally consented; where the multiracial, if well educated, would be regularly incorporated into the elite2; in conclusion, where racial prejudice has never been strong enough to create a "color line." Viotti da Costa (1985) perhaps made the most complete synthesis of this interpretation.

In the mid-1990's, with the aggravation of the Negro activist attacks to "racial democracy" and the reduction of the dominate ideology (and the oppressing race), some anthropologists (cf. Maggie, 1996; Fry, 1995­-1996; Schwarcz, 1999) remind us that before being a "false conscience" a myth is a set of values that have concrete effects on individual practices. The myth of racial democracy, however, could not be interpreted as mere "illusion," since it has largely been and still is an important ideology to soothe and reduce prejudices.  

In successive attempts (cf. Guimarães 2001; 2002; 2003), I introduced another element to the debate. Against the tendency to interpret "racial democracy" as a timeless myth, a founder of nationality, I sought to make note of its historical emergence, and commit myself to the investigation of the origin of the expression "racial democracy" instead of seeking the historical origin of the ideas that define it. Thus, I analytically separated what historians called "racial paradise," a set of beliefs in the absence of racial prejudice in Brazil, which could be retraced to the Empire, from the same set of beliefs that did not reclaim the Brazilian paradise image, but democracy instead. The studies of Campos (2002; 2006), reinforcing my argument, later revealed that the expression emerges widespread among Brazilian intellectuals from 1937-1944, or during the New State, facing the enormous challenge of inserting Brazil into the free and democratic world by opposing racism and Fascist-Nazi totalitarianism, which was vanquished during II World War.

This change in the manner of understanding "racial democracy" allows us to study it not only as myth or cultural construction, but also as political "cooperation", "consent" or "commitment"3. More than an ideology, it was a way of tacitly agreeing on an integration of Negros to the classist society of post-war Brazil, to quote the famous title of Florestan, both in terms of national symbology and in terms of its economic and social policies. But this was a doubly limited commitment: on one hand, it included only city workers, leaving out not only other low-income urban segments, such as, domestic maids, but all employed in rural areas; on the other hand, it was an agreement of restricted power since there was no space for the recognition of an ethnos that had intended to participate in the political system. In fact, the political system had been conceived and functioned guided by generic universalistic principles that disregarded specific social belonging, while in practice, that is, on the regime level4, it related unions, associations and local community leadership, generally from the neighborhood, to political leaders and their parties.

I had also developed (cf. Guimarães, 2002) the manner in which the political commitment was lost with the military coup of 1964 – the implantation of the authoritarian regime that followed and the international political situation of the 1970's – influenced by the successful establishment of a multiracial order in the United States. We return in a general outline to how this occurred.

One of the peculiar traits of the democratic commitment, from the ideological point of view, was the mobilization of intellectuals against personality oriented parties and the abusive prepotency of the oligarchies. Really, the modernization of customs and moralization of political practices were ideas pursued both from the center and the left of the political spectrum. Racial prejudice was understood by sociologists in the 1960's (cf. Azevedo, 1953; Bastide and Fernandes, 1955; Fernandes, 1965) as a characteristic of the privileges of the cast regime (cf. Wagley, 1952) or of Brazilian Patrimonialism (cf. Faoro, 1958). All thought (or desired?) that racial prejudice and the inequalities surrounding slavery should be efficiently combated by generalizing life's opportunities (mainly education and health) and with guarantees of competition through merit in markets free from social, cultural, political or biological particularisms. As had occurred in Western Europe and the United States (American, French and English revolutions), it was meant to implant democracy through a revolution (cf. Holanda, 1936; Wagley, 1960) that would cripple the lordship from power and would establish a representative democracy whose foundation would be based on the productive classes and urban workers. The Negros and mulattos, however, entered politically into the democratic commitment with the people, as workers and as intellectuals. Barbosa (2007), in a very well informed article, clarifies the manner in which the universality of Guerreiro Ramos is founded with the diasporic identity of Negritude to forge a peculiar nationalism.

Between 1964 and 1985 the military regime departed from some of the presuppositions of this commitment, but not all of them. The generalization of life's opportunities and the struggle against corruption that beat the competition by merit were, for example, flags of the first order of the regime. We take what occurred in superior education in the country as an example, something that interests us particularly due to the present reclaiming of quotas. The educational reforms of the military period aimed, primarily, to expand the educational system as a whole, generalize primary and secondary education, and through the institution of unified, classified and objective entrance exams (multiple choice tests), to insure that entrance into universities would occur solely through performance on the tests. Public university education remained free, although the expansion of superior education had come to depend mainly on the creation of private, paid universities. In the mid-1970's, the consequences of these choices were: the proliferation of private preparatory courses for the exam, the expansion of the private network of primary and secondary education, and the transfer of middle-class children to these schools. Consequently, access to the best universities began to be associated with paid, private secondary education, and no longer with public education. This also meant associating entrance into these universities to higher family income and lighter skin color. In the private network, a good part of the weaker performing university population came mainly from public secondary schools, where those of lower income and darker skin studied.

All efforts to require payment for superior public education for high-income families failed, which would have provided some margin for social inclusion programs based on scholarships or fee exemptions, which would conserve the legitimacy and merit of the entrance exams.  Conversely, entrance into school universities, like the University of São Paulo (USP), began to increasingly depend on graduation from paid schools. In 2006, for example, only 27% of the students that entered USP came from public schools. With this, the rigidity of elite social reproduction was accentuated, so again associating class, color and opportunities for public ascension to levels near, at least relatively, to those of the First Republic.


Multiculturalism in Brazil and Latin America

A large part of the Latin American countries underwent great constitutional reform in the 1980's and 90's. This can be explained to a large degree by the reconstruction of the right-wing democratic state after two decades of authoritarianism that devastated the continent from the mid-1960's to the mid-1980's. The reconstruction was not identical to that of the post-war era, however, in the sense that the democratic and liberal ideology of the 1980's differed in much from that of the 1940's. The similarity occurred in the fact that once again the countries in the region sought to mirror themselves based on Europe and the United States to reconstruct their democratic models.

 But, between the 1940's and the 1980's, at least two important paradigms had changed: that of the nation and that of civil rights. First, the model of national construction born in the 19th Century no longer dominated internationally, according to which the nations were communities belonging to homogeneous culture, linguistics and race. To the contrary, now the paradigms of multiculturalism and multiracialism prevailed, by which the state must preserve and guarantee the linguistic and cultural diversity of its citizens. Second, democracy could no longer be understood in strictly liberal terms, such as formal equality of citizens and the guarantee of individual liberties. At present, ideas such as collective rights or that there are social groups and collectives that should be guaranteed equal opportunities, for example, the idea that such equality should reflect in terms of results, are currently internationally accepted.

Consequently, the recent constitutional reforms in Latin America in regard to racial identities have introduced the concept of multiethnic and multicultural societies and nations as novelty. Such constitutions submerged the ideal founder of multiracial and culturally homogeneous nations, seen as the product of biological and cultural miscegenation among Europeans, Indigenous Americans and Africans, an ideal carefully managed with great effort since the independence wars in the 19th Century.

Countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela recognized the historical rights of their indigenous minorities in their new constitutions. Others began to recognize collective rights or adopt forms of positive discrimination for Negro minorities, such as Brazil (Constitution of 1988, Law 7,716, University quotas, 2001), Colombia (Constitution of 1991 and law 70 of 1993), Ecuador (Constitution of 1998), Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

According to Donna Van Cott (2000), this constitutional model, which could be called multicultural, has the following characteristics; 1) formal recognition of the multicultural nature of its societies and the existence of indigenous peoples as social collectives and distinct governing societies; 2) recognition of the customary laws of the indigenous peoples such as public and official laws; 3) the right to collective property with restriction to alienation or division of communal lands; 4) official status for indigenous languages in territorial units of residence; and 5) a guarantee of bilingual education. In the case of Brazil, we need to add a sixth element to the model: recognition of racism as a national problem.

Notably, these constitutional reforms were almost immediately followed or occurred simultaneously to the introduction of neoliberal policies, in the social and economic fields. In other words, a redemocratization accompanied the reintegration of Latin-American economies into the new world economy, since it could not cease to be, after the crisis that had accumulated in the 1980's. Such coincidence of the state and economic political sphere afforded opportunities for some interpretations, which should be mentioned.

The first of which (Brysk and Wise, 1997; Yashar, 1999) is that the neoliberal reforms of the 1980's catalyzed the constitutional reform. For these authors, the neoliberals threatened local independence, which caused protests and ethnic mobilization. State reforms conceding cultural rights were the state answer to this mobilization. Please note that these authors studied mainly Central-American nations.

With a slightly different interpretive bias, Van Cott (2000) argued that multiculturalism had been a means for the political elite to reconquer validity corroded by economic reforms and growing social demands. Hale (2002) preferred to argue that the Latin-American nations would be recognizing or conceding rights to their Indigenous and Negro minorities as a way to invalidate more radical demands, which they would use to attack the neoliberal economic order. Comparing the advances of recognition of these two minorities, Hooker (2007), in turn, argues that the Indigenous peoples obtained these collective rights with more ease than the Negros because historically they were defined as belonging to another culture. She states:

I will argue that the main criterion employed to determine the beneficiaries was the possession of a distinct cultural group identity. In addition to this, because of the different ways through which the two groups were racially categorized in Latin America, the use of a distinct group identity, conceived in an ethnic or cultural manner as a criterion for the concession of collective rights, permitted that Indigenous peoples would be more successful than the Afro-descendents in reclaiming such rights. (Hooker, 2007:93-4)

Moreover, the fact is that greater or lesser recognition obtained by Latin-American ethnic minorities during the redemocratization period in the 1980's depended mainly on factors that we can display in two groups: the internal conditions of each country and the external or international conditions.

In general, we can say that the characteristics assumed by the Latin-American Negro movement fighting for ethnic or racial recognition on the internal plane depended mainly on two factors: mobilized local traditions and characteristics of the political and demographic contexts5.

The demographic differences between these countries does not, however, explain the most intriguing fact of all: only Brazilian political mobilization maintained the objective of fighting against racial inequalities, while in other countries the mobilizations maintained recognition of the Negro cultural diversity as their main goal, who followed suit some time after the Indigenous movement.

It is understood that regarding Indigenous peoples, the theoretical and ideological collapse between "race" and "ethnicity" has always been the climax of the European colonization in the Americas, including Brazil, as Van Cott reminds, which naturally connected the Anglo-Saxon and Latin-American worlds.

But for Afro-Brazilians, the lasting practice of incorporating African traditions into national cultures historically inhibited mobilizations of cultural-ethnic origins and favored purely racial ones (meaning, those in favor of combating the social consequences of prejudice and racial discrimination). In which international circumstances did such mobilizations occur?

First, the changes of the state regime in the 1980's need mentioning. For example, the military dictatorships in the Southern Cone were substituted by representative democracies that sought new forms of international validity for their countries. Then in light of the first, the integration of these new democracies into the international economic order occurred in a new regime of accumulation, which was known as neoliberalism. Concluding the declaration of these external circumstances, it is fitting to mention three others of a more cultural and ideological order: 1) the doctrine of multiculturalism becomes victorious in the battle against racism in the United States, South Africa and in Anglo-Saxon countries; 2) the battle for the guarantee of human rights gains international prominence, which for the Negros transforms into the battle against racism; and finally 3) the ecology, the defense of the environment, and biological and cultural diversity for international development agencies assume more importance.

The regimes that enter into crisis in Latin America in the 1970's were for the most part national-developmental authoritarian states that resolved their previous validity crisis by fortifying the identity of multiracial and racial democracy. Then, in the period of redemocratization in the 1980's, the political oppositions and the general public sought to give democracy a more radical, equalitarian meaning in terms of redistribution of wealth and life opportunities. 

Multiculturalism and identity politics were ideological practices available in the international market of ideas even while the new Latin-American democracies wrote their constitutions. In this sense, Christian Gros (2000) affirmed that multiculturalism is to neoliberalism what racial democracy was to national-developmentalism.


The new minimum State

Although Brazil has never known a State of social well-being, the truth is that the conquests urban workers have achieved since the Vargas government in terms of pension, work legislation, education and public health etc., served as a model to all mobilizations and popular claims since the 1930's. On the state's part, also the policy of class commitments served as a model for meeting the demands of the popular sectors, including Negro organizations. In general, the absorption of popular demands occurred through expanding the pension or employment legislation to include new geographic areas, new population contingents, or through the simple growth of the state apparatus, extending it to new areas and putting it to work for a larger number of social groups.

In the case of the Negro population, racial democracy condensed a commitment, as I mentioned above, which had two slants, one material and another symbolic. Materially, the job market expansion absorbed large contingents of black- and brown-skinned workers, definitely incorporating them into the factory worker and low-income urban classes. This was an integration institutionalized by laws such as the Native Brazilian Workers Aid (Amparo ao Trabalhador Brasileiro Nato), signed by Vargas in 1931, which guaranteed that two thirds of employees in industrial establishments were native Brazilians; or the Afonso Arinos law in 1951, which transformed racial prejudice into a misdemeanor. Symbolically, the ideal modernist of the multiracial nation was absorbed by the state and artistic, folkloric, and symbolic manifestations of the Afro-Brazilian were recognized as Afro-Brazilian culture. The "Afro," however, merely designated the origin of a culture that was primarily defined as regional, multiracial, and like the Negro, Creole. The political ideology of racial democracy, as a social pact, was predominately employment-based, a tendency dating to the First Republic (for example, see the ideology of Manoel Querino) and was continued by new leaders, such as Abdias do Nascimento6.

We saw that although the military regime, starting in 1964, maintained racial democracy as its material and symbolic slant, it sought to remove its political essence by repressing associative and union life by force. The pact was consequently broken along with representative democracy and the national-developmentalist state.

When in 1985 democratic life was reestablished, the state would try for a short time to reestablish the old game of classes, trying to relate to new social movements starting with political parties, the expansion of its own apparatus, and the adjournment of its legislation. For the Afro-Brazilian population, legal revision occurred when racism was made illegal in the constitution of 1988, ruled by law 7,716 in 1989; while the main symbolic marks were the creation of the Palmares Cultural Foundation in 1988, and the Zumbi dos Palmares was instituted as a Brazilian national hero in 1995.

For a brief period, Negro activism itself began to bloom again in an articulated manner to class policy, as enacted by social movements and supported by the political parties, mainly PT (Workers' Party), PDT (Democratic Labor Party), and PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), and later, PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party). Beginning in 1988, meanwhile, the Negro movement would come to take the constellation form of non-governmental, financial, ideological, and politically independent organizations.

Many new Negro NGOs withdraw from both the old employment policy now represented by PDT, as from the new, represented by PT. The fusion of two tendencies develops in Brazil, which seemed to be opposites: the search for greater integration and participation in national life and the construction of an ethnic feeling based on racial consciousness. Even though a clear distinction can be traced between political and cultural NGOs, Negro cultural entities are rarely found today that do not defend some form of affirmative action in the social arena, as it is also rare to find a Negro political organization that does not imbibe their discourse into what is today called "black culture."

On the other hand, starting in Collor's government in 1990, the Brazilian state comes to explicitly assume a more liberal discourse. Its objective becomes restructuring the governmental apparatus, seeking freedom from many functions instated by the old national-developmentalist state, and concentrating chiefly on reforming retirement, employment, and educational and health systems, so as to launch economic and socio-political development. State planning organs are downsized in order to remove the political conflict of redistribution of wealth from the state apparatus, and many of the state social assistance and service organs are transformed into NGOs and private companies, mainly in the form of partnerships.

Such redirection of the state apparatus ends up strengthening the NGOs in general, and the Negro NGOs in particular, which advance enormously in serving needy populations, offering services to the most diverse causes, mainly in the areas of education, health, entertainment, and human rights advocacy. Through these means, what was developed in the expansion of superior education was also consolidated: an ample Afro-Brazilian intellectual layer, shaped by professional conditions of superior level, largely independent in relation to the state, whose main source of resources are large international foundations, churches, and institutions of private law.

On the other hand, the Brazilian state worries less with the development of the national identity policy, removing it from the agenda of the Ministries of Education and Culture. It adopts a multicultural discourse and passes the responsibility and liberty to non-governmental agents to manage it.

In my understanding, the culmination of this kind of minimal state occurs in the government of Lula, when the state seeks to absorb a large part of the claims of social movements through incorporating their conditions into the state apparatus, making communication more fluid between the state and the NGOs, while keeping economic policy they are completely unaccountable for meeting popular demands. Perhaps this explains why the Workers' Party was so refractory to affirmative action and non-classist identity while in the opposition, which were seen as bourgeois policies, but since in power, it has transformed its government into that which most advanced in meeting the agenda of Negro organizations.

In this way, the new neoliberal regime gives incentives toward the independence of NGOs; contrary to the old national-developmentalist regime, which favored political commitments, forcing the state to meet the claims of social movements and creating, direct links between, on one side, its apparatus and conditions, and on the other, the apparatus and condition of the party or associative organizations.  In those events, the movements lost something of their own ideology, part of their ethnic language, to adjust to the national ideology; presently, the state abdicates from its nationalist discourse in favor of a multiplicity of languages and identities, harmonized based on social and democratic coexistence, synthesized in citizens' rights. What Gramsci called trasformismo or the absorption by the state of social movement conditions, which generated a type of routine of social claims, stripping them from revolutionary potential was substituted by the relative independence of all political agents, whose are automatically incorporated into the system: the regime's general rule is participation in the democratic game of the right-wing state, guarding all the unnecessary specifics to the game.

The previous regime could meet the claims of the Negro movements (mainly the struggle against discrimination and racial prejudice) taking away their ethnic language and integrating them symbolically into the nation.  On the international scene, it could also brandish the ideology of racial democracy as a more civilized solution to overcome the real problem of inequalities in the distribution of wealth and opportunities between Negros and Caucasians. 

Since the democratic rupture in 1964, Negro leaders began to doubt the effectiveness of racial democracy. In substitution, they began to express their complaints in ethnic language. What we know today is that this language fuses the traditional elements of Afro-Brazilian identity with the Negro ideologies in international circulation, such as Pan-Africanism, Negritude and Afrocentrism. But evidently, not even the formation of a new language, nor a new state regime explains everything. The majority of what the movement had managed, in terms of quotas for university education, for example, occurred in independent instances of power, such as federal universities. In some of them, Negro activists who represented the social movement have even participated in the selection process of the quota students.

Consequently, the manner in which causes of the Negro movement, mainly quotas for Negros in universities, gain support from politicians, technocrats, and university authorities remains to be investigated.

Today, for many (cf. Petruccelli, 2006), multiculturalism is an appropriate ideology for the contemporary state, which needs to recognize the new social identities based on race and culture, or rather, the new social groups and political actors (Negros, Indigenous Peoples, etc.). The state needs to name and measure the differences and social inequalities harmful to these groups if it intends to be a good government.  For others (cf. Carvalho, 2004), multiculturalism is a profoundly contrary ideology to the spirit that guided the historic formation of the Brazilian nation. More than this: they argue that quota policies would necessarily lead to the functioning of judging committees to decide on the "color" or "ethnicity" of a possible beneficiary, leaving two things evident: that the "color" or "ethnicity" has less solid and consensual character in sociological terms of than what the required criteria of selection of benefits is; and that the individual right to naming one's self or self representation is consequently disrespected.

Presently in Brazil, opinion defending racial inequalities gains strength, meaning, social inequalities attributable to the idea of race and the form in which people are racially classified, can only be combated with actions and policies that reinforce these racial identities. In other words, the policies and affirmative actions would require identity policies.


The reproduction of inequalities in different State regimes

The argument that social inequalities in Brazil are tied to invisible mechanisms (or mechanisms made invisible) of racial discrimination, which favor its increased reproduction, slowly came to be consensual, reaching not only the public arena where they have promoted social movements in the last decade, but governmental planning organizations as well. The argument of the "cumulative circle of inequality" was originally constructed by the sociologists Carlos Hasenbalg ([1979] 2005) and Nelson do Valle Silva (1978), at the end of the 1970's.  Based on the analysis of census data (or of household samples) such as income, education, nationality, rural or urban origin, occupation, parents' occupations, state of residence, color, and other data, they demonstrate in a statistically irreproachable manner that the color of individuals weighed heavily upon the explanation of poverty and its reproduction. Consequently, poverty was colored black and brown.

The consequent political argument was that the simple generalization of formal education, the absence of legal racial barriers, and the expansion of employment and income opportunities brought through the capitalist advance would not be sufficient enough to diminish Brazilian social inequalities, since they carried an implicit and invisible racial character, which hindered any illusion of the generalization of opportunities. Racial democracy was really a myth and a farce, as were some Negro leaders, and some sociologists had said this before the end of the 1960's (after the military coup).

In fact, such a political consequence had been adopted by several social and political actors, many of which were young Negro university students, who being benefitted by the boom in the 1970's, conducted their superior studies and found racial and cultural resistance to their absorption into markets that had formed Caucasian niches – media, schools and universities, for example (cf. Santos, 1985); in addition, civil rights activists were not completely comfortable with the explanations derived exclusively from Marxism.

This was how the battle against racial discrimination enrolled early on in the struggling movement for redemocratization in the country. The democratic resistance gained strength in the late-1970's and leads to the adoption of anti-racist chapters and anti-racist and multicultural articles, whether in the constitution or laws during the 1980's and 90's. 

The scene that I have drafted serves us to discuss a proposition (cf. Tilly, 2003a; 2003b) according to which social inequalities (in the case of racial inequalities) could be entrenched in present Brazilian society thanks to the use of public policies that begin to categorize and "create" groups based on racial labels. Keeping in mind that now, in 2007, at least thirty public universities have adopted quotas or some other form of affirmative action for Negros.

Indeed, two of the most frequent arguments in Brazil from people against affirmative action policies benefitting Negros closely follow the causal schema promoted by Tilly. First, the state imposition of classifying categories based on racial belonging would lead to the racial classification of Brazilian society, meaning, to fixing the idea of race in private and public discourses, such as social identity, reinforcing the random existing cycle of racism; second, such categorizing of Brazilians into Caucasians and Negros (or non-Caucasians) is an unhappy "loan" from our Northern neighbors.

The preliminary observation is that for Tilly, "imposition," whether governmental or not, seems to always come from the dominating group or a service of this group, to the degree in which the dominating group would occupy a role of resistance, defense or reaction. Conversely, here the dominated group is intentionally benefitted by the imposition and the "resistance" will come from a part of the dominant group. In other words, if applied to Brazil, the schema would have a "conservative" character apparently not desired by Tilly7, but well noted by João Feres (2005), following the description made by Hirschman (1991) of conservative discursive strategies: the "racial classification" of Brazilian society, meaning, the adoption of public policies based on belonging to racial groups would only benefit the racists in the long run.   

One way or another, whether conservative or not, whether it is or is not a mere discursive strategy used by conservatives or radical anti-racists, the causal explanation developed by Tilly places three different questions before us: are the "races" in Brazil or are they not a mechanism of magnified reproduction of social inequalities, as according to Hasenbalg and Silva (1988;1992), Telles (2003), Sores (200) and many others? If affirmative, how can they be combated without publically recognizing them as racial constructs and so run the risk of crystallizing them and reproducing them as natural facts? Historically, in the real history of Afro-Brazilians, are the "races" and "racial strategies" of demand for public wealth strangers to their tradition? In other words, can the activist discourse of recent years demanding quotas in public universities, the media and private and public employment be characterized as simple "loans"?

Historically, the Negro identities in Brazil have formed a dialogue with other Negro identities in the Americas. In this context, the idea of an Atlantic Negro (cf. Gilroy, 1993) seems to be a more productive idea to me, where people, objects, and ideas circulate, rather than the concept of "loan." In the same way, the question which seems the most correct is: why does the idea of "race" and "black culture" gain strength among activists and intellectuals who consider themselves Negros only after 1980, and not before, for example, in the post-war era, when the prestige of French Negritude was so strong in Brazil?  Why is it that only in the 1990's the idea of affirmative action seems applicable to Brazil, when Negro activists have complained of "color prejudice" that afflicts the entire Brazilian "Negro" community since 1925? Which discursive consensuses needed to be overcome or broken in order for such claims to be formulated?

Similarly, we saw that the idea of "racial democracy" could not be analyzed as a simple myth, ideal or ideology. We have to ask ourselves about the true character of "democracy" in Brazil during post-war years (1945-1964); during the military dictatorship years (1964-1985) and in the New Republic (after 1985). Would "democracy" have the same meaning? stimulate the same expectations? nurture the same hopes and aspirations in each of the three periods?

My argument, to a great extent, is supported in the hypothesis that the change in aspirations of the democracies of today, based mainly on the promise of full civil, social, and political rights for all, finished by removing the initial appeal for Latin-American "racial democracies."  The central node of these racial democracies was the absence of legal or violent barriers to the social mobility of "men of color," in contrast to the hierarchical segmentation inherited from slavery and the colonial period. The new democracies being reinstituted since the 1980's, conversely, will have to offer multicultural rights and recognize racial differences to accommodate expectations of integration, mobility, and equality that alternatively could only be handled in the paradigm of the conflicts of class in the French or English manner. But, to begin, the modern social organization in classes supposes far more balanced levels of social inequality, full employment and social security than what the Latin-American societies can presently exhibit.

Consequently, the strongest implication of the Tilly model is that he does not deny, in fact he reaffirms, the fact that we are dealing with processes that flow and are molded by deeply rooted social, economic, and personality structures. Therefore, the "imposition" or the "loan," meaning the causal mechanisms, seem to be contingencies and references to a concrete time, taken arbitrarily, and so disconnected from the flow of history. Activated to resolve a form of inequality, the racial categories do not seem to have the gift of undoing social or even racial inequalities, but only of establishing a certain balance of forces between struggling groups, whether by imposing a monopoly (the initial case of colonization), or whether to escape a destiny imposed by these same categories in some previous moment in time (the post-colonial situation).

Finally, a crucial point in the explicative model by Tilly remains to be examined. Although we may discard it by analyzing the manner in which social inequalities in Brazil began to be perceived by the "Negros," and even though we may argue convincingly that the racial categories "imposed" by public politics were secularly active in Brazilian society, we need to respond to the greater implication of the model, which is: racial or multicultural public policies do not overcome or satisfy the inequalities in themselves, but only reproduce them in a more clear and precise condition. In other words, they regulate the distributive conflict to new bases, without risking the reproduction of the system as a whole.

In this aspect, Tilly seems to be right: there is no reason to expect that the new organizational form of political actors (in ethnic, racial or cultural bases) is necessarily more efficient in hindering the reproduction of social inequalities.


Bibliographic References

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BARBOSA, Muryatan Santana. (2006) "Guerreiro Ramos: o personalismo negro". Tempo Social, nov. 2006, vol.18, no.2, p.217-228.

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1. Not only activists, but I myself wrote; "During the military dictatorship, between 1968 and 1978, 'racial democracy' became a dogma, a type of ideology of the Brazilian state. But, the reduction of anti-racism to anti-racialism, and its use to negate the facts of discrimination and racial inequalities increasing in the country, ended up forming a racist ideology, meaning, a justification of discriminatory order and of truly existent racial inequalities" (Guimarães, 1999, p. 62). Ronaldo Sales Jr. (2007) also develops this argument.

2. Studies of racial relations from 1940 to 1960 corroborate with this view. See, among others, Pierson ([1942] 1971); Azevedo (1953); Wagley (1952); Harris (1956).

3. I understand by "consent," according to Przeworski (1985, p. 146), the collective behavior in which the "Negros act expecting to improve their material condition in life by following given social rules. Cooperation consists of using strategies and threats known to the opponent in the course of negotiation." In commitment, consent from the Negro organizations to representative democracy is possible in exchange for social integration and material improvement in life.

4. From now on, I begin to use the word "regime" in the sense of the "state regime" as given by Barth (1994).

5. In terms of demographics, Latin-American countries having some Negro presence can be classified in at least four groups: 1) countries with large Negro population and extensive cultural tradition of African origin, such as Brazil and Cuba; 2) Negro countries such as Haiti and Santo Domingo; 3) countries with important Negro minorities, such as Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador; 4) countries with scarce Negro population and mobilization, such as Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Argentina.

6. About Manoel Querino, see the biography of Leal (2004); about Abdias do Nascimento, see Police (2000), Nascimento (2003) and Macedo (2006).

7. Here it is fitting to also observe that Tilly's causal model is morally charged with meaning: "imposition," for example, is an act of force, not authoritarian; "resistance" is an act of defense to an aggression; "loan" is not something authentic and, therefore, is despicable in the romantic tradition that values authenticity in national and local cultures.