The brown question – an answer

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Reintroducing miscegenation as a topic of anti-racist struggle does not help in the dispute over the meanings of blackness

Eberval Gadelha Figueiredo Jr., in the article “The brown question”, published on the website the earth is round, raises – following the example of what activist and researcher Beatriz Bueno, both members of an emerging trend, has also been doing – some themes of the “parditude” movement.

There is a survey of relevant and pending issues: power and rights for underrepresented non-whites, in particular, the descendants of non-“Indianized” indigenous people; and the conditions for carrying out – in terms of merit and judging criteria – the hetero-identification committees of the racial quota judging panels. The basis of the arguments, interesting at first glance, however, are problematic – and this is what I try to suggest – for the development of the anti-racist struggle itself.

It is a political program. The opus The Brazilian people, by Darcy Ribeiro, in its beautiful utopian formulations about a Brazilian mestizo civilization that is the beacon of the world, is an explicit source of inspiration. This work also comes - in the part that interests this argument - an argumentative weakness: the analytical premises are that of a famous vision of comparative history, in which Brazil always stands out as the antagonist (negative or positive) of America.

A distant and suggestive antecedent to this trend dates back to slavery in both countries (and the dispute over its legacies). The bilateral debate on this topic generally updates a well-known tradition: Brazil and the USA construct themselves as opposites, in order to, in this operation, establish – or, mainly propose and naturalize – the principles of their own identity, and the formation of citizenship in their countries.[I] The argument at stake is that of moral superiority, but Brazil and the USA are not always (unfortunately) as different in racial matters as is assumed, or as one would like. There is more evidence of differences in degree than in pattern separating nations.[ii]

Beatriz Bueno, in her article “Prevented from entering Wakanda”[iii], it seems, at first observation, to propose an altercation, questioning North American hegemony in the field of ideas; however, his argument against the subsumption and erasure of “brown” is an application of “colorism”, precisely an American trend of recent decades. What is called “colorism”, it is true, is an old theme in Brazil, enshrined in our centuries-old classificatory notion of “color gradient”, in which an infinity of race terms were cataloged and, of course, hierarchized. , color and origin.

This gradient, until very recently, contained the entire Brazilian repertoire of racial terms, rich in forms that highlighted our variety of white “mestizos”, who, in this grid of human stratification, formed a distance from the pole at which the “mestizos” were located. darker. In fact, the contemporary black movement achieved a transformation: in the face of this gradient, it subsumed the “brown people” and brought them closer to the black political pole.[iv]

Thus, there seems to be little innovation in the application of the colorist perspective to Brazil. In fact, a fact about it: it goes straight to the heart of deep national traditions. It places miscegenation at the ethical-moral center of our notions of common life and cultural ambitions, transporting to the scene of private life, sexuality and family formation, the terrain for discussion of problems of a public nature, pending solution. .

The promise of miscegenation would be to harmonize, in private life, what in public and social life would be chaos and conflict. In fact, there is nothing that miscegenation can do against the conflict that constitutes the public sphere other than to pacify it; postulation that is not even an original Brazilian proposal, but, among so many examples, the commitment of Latin American nationalism in general, whose watchword (and, including its miscegenationist racism), since the 19th century, has always been pacification.[v] So, what conflicts do you want to pacify?

My impression (who knows, of cents) is what is being talked about – in this translation of the colorist debate, of resentment and rivalry. There is talk of the unwillingness to dispute the meanings of blackness, to form an alliance with this political bloc. And the strongest reason – based on Beatriz Bueno's article, at least – is to safeguard the content of family alliances in “mestizo” homes; that this life of intimacy is not destroyed by contradictions and impositions external to it, and, it is envisioned, that the ethical-moral foundations of this “mixed race” family order and the public order can harmonize and mirror each other.

Another reason is the expectation that “brown” demographic superiority over that of “blacks” corresponds to proportional possibilities of power, leadership and rights. Implicitly, it responds to a feeling of humiliation, of seeing “brown people” excluded from something that would also be theirs, including in terms of leadership and legitimacy, a humiliation, in fact, that – for some – would seem worse because they are not excluded. by whites, but by blacks.

Anti-racism faces difficulties in becoming a true philosophy of liberation. Fundamentally, it would not be possible to leave the register of resistance and victimization and enter that of insurgency and the recreation of the world. So far, I have not been convinced that reintroducing miscegenation as a topic of anti-racist struggle takes us towards this new path.[vi] In fact, making miscegenation a “non-issue”, that it is just an open phenomenon of individual freedom (as, historically, it has not been) and not a kind of redeeming grace or moral opprobrium, would do us enormous good.

*Wanderson Chaves He is a historian with a postdoctoral degree in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of The Black Question: The Ford Foundation and the Cold War (Appris). []


[I] Over the last few centuries, Brazil and the USA have oscillated between the poles of racial hell and paradise, exchanging each other. For a history of the first elaborations of Brazil as a racial paradise, within international abolitionism in the 19th century, see: AZEVEDO, Célia Maria Marinho de. Abolitionism – United States and Brazil, a comparative history: São Paulo: Annablume, 2003.

[ii] Anthropologist Peter Fry, a well-known Freyrian, makes an assessment contrary to Oracy Nogueira's classic attribution of a “brand racism” to Brazil and an “origin racism” to the United States – and, in this sense, against Gilberto's own opinion. Freyre on the differences between countries. For Fry, social relations in Brazil would be structured more on the tension between two taxonomies – the first being that of the color gradient and the second on the binary difference between whites and blacks, than on the opposition between them. For him, something similar could be said about the USA, but with the privilege of binary taxonomy. See: FRY, Peter. The persistence of race: anthropological essays on Brazil and Southern Africa. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2005, especially chap. 7.

[iii] BUENO, Beatriz and SAINT CLAIR, Ericson. Prevented from entering Wakanda – Reflections on parditude, media manifestations and challenges of belonging. Intercom – Brazilian Society of Interdisciplinary Communication Studies, 44th Brazilian Congress of Communication Sciences – VIRTUAL – 4/9 to 10/2021.

[iv] I detail this thematic transformation in: CHAVES, Wanderson. Between Mendel and Lamarck: the academic discourse on race and controversy surrounding the color gradient. Brazil (1990-2005). Masters dissertation. Brasília: UnB / CEPPAC, 2007.

[v] About our tradition of political thought, full of strong parallels with novelistic and serial literature marked by the effort to translate sexual and marital alliances into expectations of social alliances and political conciliation, see: SOMMER, Doris. Founding fictions: the national novels of Latin America. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 2004.

[vi] The Freyrian opinion that “miscegenation” is a “deracializing” driver of society is well known. Peter Fry, for example, will take this idea further and say that mestizaje, for this reason, would create the most suitable environment for promoting the freedoms and rights of liberalism because it encourages the emergence of full individuals (see note 2). In this regard, I follow, in the absence of a more convincing argument, the position of the historian and philosopher Pierre-André Taguieff, for whom miscegenation, elevated to the condition of ideology and political philosophy (and not just as a descriptive quality of human demography) is a powerful force of racialization of societies. See: The Force of Prejudice: On Racism and Its Doubles. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

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