From a science to and not so much about the black

Sanaa Rashed, Untitled, 2016, Palestinian Territory


The black Brazilian is a black heir, with values ​​and a culture to protect, and should not therefore be measured against a group of strange norms that are alien to his experience and reality.

Eduardo de Oliveira e Oliveira

It is nevertheless significant that this is the 29th meeting of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, and that it is the first time that black people are involved (that I know of).[I] That there are black people and scientists in Brazil is a fait accompli, from which we deduce that there are no scientists willing to dedicate themselves to their studies and problems in a way that is not only eminently academic, but rather in a more systematic and, why not, pragmatic way?

Firstly, a definition is imposed in this study: that of seeing black Brazilians as a “black Brazilian”, disfigured from the universe of attributions inherited from the slave past, and that it is a work of a historical nature about their identity.

Without social value during slavery, with the loss of the only value attributed to him, economic value, he is thrown into the social system in the status of freedman without any primitive accumulation, whether capital or educational.

Without a national reference with which he could positively identify, he had historically identified with African figures (Menelike),[ii] or even with African problems, such as anti-imperialist struggles, such as Ethiopia's war with Italy.[iii]

These attitudes were common to black generations in the first half of the century. Lately, black people have been identifying with the young liberated nations of Africa, and with their leaders, with whom they project their problems and identity beyond the continent.

If from a sociopolitical point of view this may have some meaning, in relation to national identity, it distances itself from its more immediate reality and problems. In the eagerness to find yourself, in the search for your identity, not internally finding the necessary parameters that can give your dimension; In search of an equation that brings the desired and necessary balance, he turns to Africa, looking for values ​​with which he can identify and integrate.

It is this individual, this personality existing among us, complex, socially and psychologically problematic, that science among us has not only dealt with little, but also without the necessary constancy.

Our purpose with this communication is to draw attention to the need to develop studies that deal with the reality of black Brazilians, but that propose solutions to this reality, which is problematic.

Given this, and as social scientists, we ask whether the social sciences, and in particular, sociology, are serving the purposes that are said to be their foundations? (LADNER, 1973). How can sociology, as well as history, anthropology and philosophy, existing in a society where color, ethnicity and social class are of primary importance, claim value neutrality? How can you present a set of statements and basic premises, concerns and priorities that can be useful to those who are interested not only in understanding and applying this knowledge (such as basic definitions, concepts and theoretical constructions that use the experiences and history of Afro- Brazilians to their studies and work)? How can it contribute to the understanding of the black life experience, by the black person himself and his human destiny?

The research carried out, in our opinion, has not led to practical results. An important factor to which we draw attention is that studies on black Brazilians compare other ethnic groups, especially with regard to the abolition/immigration binomial, leading, therefore, to comparisons with Italians, Germans, Poles, etc.

A primary factor is not taken into account. The blacks came involuntarily; They were enslaved and guaranteed second-class citizenship, so, in our opinion, we cannot be analyzed in the same way as Europeans. Black people were led to create a strong culture, which exists within or on the periphery of the main culture, thus living within a framework of cultural pluralism.

The black Brazilian is a black heir, with values ​​and a culture to protect, and should not therefore be measured against a group of strange norms that are alien to his experience and reality. It is therefore necessary to develop a new frame of reference that transcends the limits of concepts created by general sociology (STAPLES, 1973). It is necessary to develop and maintain a total intellectual offensive against the false universality of these concepts, and for this it is necessary to abandon this partial structure of reference, creating new concepts that lead, through knowledge, to the liberation of a type of reality in which we black people meet today.

It is also necessary to remember that sociology has eliminated the entirety of black existence from its broader theories, except when this existence appears as a deviant category, in addition to the fact that, having taken the natural sciences as a model, it has committed itself to an ideal of “objectivity ”, objectivity is identifiable with neutrality (as if these two instances were reducible to each other), thus confusing value judgment with statement of fact, and making “objectivity” synonymous with impartiality.

This sociology did not consider that black people would question their condition as “objects”, of “manipulable sociological categories”, to become “active subjects”, and that they would begin to question the alleged objectivity of this sociology.

What do we understand then as a science for and not about black people?

Most works on black people, in our opinion, have a characteristic that is too dogmatic, and this can be verified by the focus on the race/class binomial, an almost simplistic type of reductionism that does not define the nature of the problem beyond the strict economic point of view. .[iv]

Here a question arises, not yet sufficiently addressed and taken forward among us, which refers to some of the limitations of Karl Marx's theory in relation to the black perspective.

Let us take as a starting point some of the theoretical reformulations made by Frantz Fanon. A black social scientist, identified with the Third World, and aware of a reality similar to ours, he asks the following question: to what extent, trying to prove that it is universal, is Marxism also ethnocentric?

Frantz Fanon intended to transcend the limitations of Marxism by taking into account the situation of black people (among us, studies have been developed on understanding Marx from an Althusserian or even Nicos Poulantzas point of view, and this, we think, is also a consequence of our ethnocentrism and cultural colonialism).

In a brief synopsis, the polarities of both theories can be summarized:

“Marx elevates the proletariat as the revolutionary class and contemptuously underestimates the role of other classes and groups. Frantz Fanon, on the other hand, elevates the peasantry and the rag proletariat;

Karl Marx focused on urban areas, while Frantz Fanon emphasizes rural areas; Marx saw Europe as the stage on which the modern drama of conflict would be worked out; Fanon, in turn, pointed to the Third World; Marx was only partially committed to the use of revolutionary violence. Fanon goes to violence as an absolute necessity in the revolutionary process; Marx emphasized class allegiance and class conflict; Fanon highlighted and reconciled the conflicts of class and “race”; Marx denied nationalism for internationalism. Fanon saw nationalism as the necessary stepping stone to internationalism.

While Marx trusts the bourgeois class for progressivism and “revolutionism” in Europe, Frantz Fanon saw the Third World bourgeoisie as inept, imitative and useless, a point that Franklin Frazier and Amilcar Cabral later highlighted; Marx held an almost totalitarian conception of the immediate post-revolutionary situation. Frantz Fanon rejected this in favor of complete liberal communalism” (FORSYTH, 1973, p. 227).

Traditional sociological analyzes must be seriously questioned regarding their relevance in relation to black studies. In relation to them, alternative analysis models must be proposed.

Another characteristic of studies on black people that catches our attention is that they seem to be more directed at detecting their negative aspects than actually leading to an understanding of the social historical situation of the lives of these groups, since, according to the most generally adopted criteria, they are seen as pathological; hence the emphasis on studies that, if they do not bear the title, at least have as their premise “the pathological personality of black people”.

This type of focus contributes to maintaining a false view among white people about black people and their group, thus inoculating society with the tendency to see black people as a pathological social cancer (as shown in the illustrations at the end of the communication).

Consciously or unconsciously, what such science is proposing, in the case of black people, is the concomitance of two moralities that, through it, remain in perfect balance. If, on the one hand, Brazil emphasizes black culture; considers itself a racial democracy and sells to the outside the image of a society of “melting pot” (say, society is very aware of its color differences); on the other hand, the black personality is simply seen as a product of social pathology, from individual and group perspectives (still as illustrated at the end of the communication).

To study black people, as a rule, either the concept of marginality is adopted, which, in our view, establishes a methodological bias, namely: negative image – black; positive factor – white, or if we take the standard norm, a model that is not always well informed, taken from the obviously white middle class (MURRAY, 1973).

From a practical point of view, this implies the exploitation of black people, from a social point of view, their exclusion. Since the norm is socially pre-established, the person liable to deviate from this dogmatically prescribed norm (and white, we insist) is black people.

Let's see what this can lead to in terms of reasoning and the resulting consequences: normal pattern - the right one – the white one; being black, it will be… the negative of white; therefore, it will be… less than white; being less than white; is less than normal, as a human being; being less than normal as a human being; there is no reason why it cannot be explored.

It is logical that, with this pre-established configuration scheme, black will necessarily yield less. Having yielded less humanly (as a result of exploitation), it will, in view of this, become more exploitable, by being less human... and so on.

From a practical point of view, and this is what concerns us, the consequences will be reflected in the understanding that black people have of themselves, at work, and in their identification with underemployment, an attribute to which they are immediately referred.

Still in studies on black people, and also on the black family, the targets are unemployment, illegitimacy, family “disorganization”, the matriarchal structure of the family, etc... without really establishing a correlation between these variables, and the that really needs to be stabilized (whether the job or the family), for an accurate analysis of the problem.

An abundance of myths, distortions and stereotypes are woven around the black family, and most sociological or anthropological research conducted in this area has viewed the black family as a pathological entity, emphasizing its weakness rather than its strength (BILLINGSLEY, 1973).

The analyzes are carried out ignoring the existence of a black subculture, the strength of a black community and the black family itself that allowed black people to survive in a hostile environment for more than four hundred years. Now, what is done, after all, when studying, analyzing and describing the pathology that allegedly constitutes the life of these groups is to accentuate the ethnocentric behavior of the researcher, who, as he studies them, makes his participants responsible for that situation. .

The social system is never seen as the source of this marginal perspective. These studies are, after all, about racial relations between blacks and whites, and not exactly about the nature of black life. This highlights the need to understand the problem in its deepest nature.

The notion of deviance or marginality is nothing more than the invention of a group that uses its own standards as the ideal against which others should be judged. And here we draw the attention of social scientists to a fact not always taken into account: how social science can (regardless of their will) become a vehicle of propaganda, to promote the negative image of black life, and may contain all the superficial trappings of an “objective” scientific research monograph, and being accepted by professors and editors.

Researchers do not bother to provide data that show to what extent the extent of non-compliance with certain duties, and even certain laws, can be the cause of such “anomalies”, such as exclusion from employment due to racial reasons. These surveys almost always cite the illegitimate number of children, destroyed homes, lack of education, crime, drugs... They deal with the black/unemployment problem without taking into account the historical problem that would justify an entire program focused on it. We repeat: this type of approach not only contributes, but also reinforces the negative image of black people.

The inference will undoubtedly be: – White well-being. Black pathology.[v]

Black crime is always seen as high, without thinking that it may be irrelevant when compared to their standard of living and the prescribed universal standard. What such universal agreement reflects, in studies on black people, is much less indicative of the alleged objectivity, perception, validity and reliability of the methodology used, than an almost historical-cultural concern with documenting the failures of black people.

Social scientists need to know that they can play the role of propagators of this folklore and that their lack of involvement with the consequences can be confused with “scientific objectivity”.

In a study of black people, in our view, it would be first of all necessary to study the problems of black people or the group so called in such a way that their destiny would be placed within a broader frame of reference of human experience, and not the social failures of black people. ; and, in the particular context of Brazilian society, which is seen as a mestizo society, it needs to be seen as being within a society that is aware of the color of its individuals (highly aware of color differences) and acting more easily on those who are not. -whites than about Italians, Portuguese or Jews.

Thus, it becomes impossible for sociology to maintain value neutrality in its approaches.

Notions of cultural pluralism need to be developed and the black experience among us must be approached from a transculturation perspective. It is also necessary to carry out targeted work that causes changes between black people and Brazilian society (changes in social and economic organization) with repercussions on the black community and institutions.

It is also necessary to review the concepts that were most developed among us in approaching the black problem, those of integration and assimilation. Integration needs to be seen as involving the acceptance of blacks as individuals in the social and economic organization, and assimilation (which involves integration) understood in the deepest layers of the country's organized social life.

The idea of ​​integration has been more focused on the superficial aspects of the growing participation of black people in the economic, social and political organization of the nation. No attention has been paid to the fact that integration requires the interaction of organized black life with the larger society. And this does not happen.

For example: the new black middle class, newly appearing in numbers, is faced with the problems of assimilation, and intellectuals do not offer them a comprehensive facet of their problem, given their desire to find acceptance within the standards and ideals of society. white.

Studies should be developed into the processes, how people in a society come to place positive values ​​on racial traits, and how political and economic factors influence these valuations.

Social sciences should be given a new role: that of creating an ideology for black masses, drawing a connection between this ideology and a social analysis for their liberation struggle. Provide black people with the conditions to begin to build thinking based on an analysis that leads to a commitment to their search for identity.

In this aspect, with regard to black people (avoiding pragmatic implications), sociology has mainly dealt with two theoretical models – one based on attitudes and the other on behavior. The attitudinal approach focuses on prejudice – even the use of generalizations, prejudging a group of people or institutions in guiding actions against them. The behavioral approach is based on discrimination, differential treatment of people who belong to certain identifiable groups. It is this approach that generally involves the analysis of racial problems.

Basically, the two approaches are, really, “two different profiles of the same face, which is the hidden face of racism”, tells us a certain social scientist, “theories such as prejudice and discrimination, make us look at the trees, ignoring the essential nature of the forest” (ALKALIMAT, 1973, p. 176).[vi] With this, this scientist wants to take us to a concept that speaks to the total system.

The concept of “racism” has not yet been sufficiently developed among us. Through this concept, the essential nature of the social order as it is perceived by black people is reached. While the concepts of prejudice and discrimination can be useful at the analytical level of theory – because they are easily operable and quantifiable – racism is the most appropriate theoretical description of the problem, precisely because it captures the qualitative character of oppression. Thus, understanding the problem escapes the static descriptive theory of prejudice and discrimination.

Social science has constructed a series of terms to explain black people and their experiences. It has aimed much more to classify social reality than to explain its essential nature.

We advocate for a more meaningful and practical social science regarding the reality of black people, for which requirements such as: (i) basic premises of a new perspective are necessary; (ii) a “focus“methodological basics; (iii) an ideological direction and a body of knowledge that is applied to the problem that black people face (WALTERS, 1973).

Theories about economics, education and personality cannot be the same for black people and white people. White Brazilians were never slaves. Applicable theories and models must be derived from the experiences of black people; how they are perceived and reacted by black people (SCOTT, 1973).

It is necessary for the scientist to analyze the structure of the black class in truth and depth; the black economic condition; the psychology of blackness, and translate these formulas into practical living action. What economists should do, for example, is include the racial factor in their economic analyses.

Since racial discrimination, even though it plays a fundamental role in the lives of black people, remains outside economic theories and models, it is easy to conclude that these theories therefore do not apply to black people. If the dynamics of discrimination are included in economic theories and models, a new economy should emerge with different types of relationships between supply and demand.

The ruling class not only erected economic barriers to the advancement of black productivity, but also psychosocial and political barriers.

For the emergence of such a science, we will need to adopt a premise that presupposes a decolonization of the social sciences, which presupposes that this science must identify with the interests of oppressed groups and classes. Robert Blauner clarifies this point, he says: “To the extent that scientific research does not exist in a vacuum, its theories and practices reflect the structure and values ​​of society. Control and exploitation, which are genetic components of social oppression, exist in the relationship between the researcher and the researched, even though their manifestations may be subtle and masked by professional ideologies. The life problems and needs of the groups studied only affect the scientist indirectly; they are rarely the starting point for theory and research” (BLAUNER, 1973, p. 311).

This brings us to one of our basic concerns in the case of black studies. The role that the scientist identified with his ethnicity or social class can play, which can bring modifications and contributions to the theories and methods learned from general sociology, based on his own life experience as a black person, and his commitment to socio-psychological liberation -economic of its people, from every vestige of oppression, including, without doubt, the oppression of social science more generally.

Hence we invoke the need for the training of black (or even white) intellectuals, devoted to the task of clarifying the nature of the black experience – but from within.

Returning to our previous questions: (a) Is sociology serving the purposes that are said to be its foundations? (b) Are your analyzes of social phenomena that are affecting the lives of black people relevant? For whom? (c) Can you continue to maintain that your role is simply to observe, classify and analyze these phenomena, rather than to engage in social change?

Regarding studies on black people, Roger Bastide says the following: “The wise man who focuses on African-American problems finds himself involved, whether he likes it or not, in a distressing debate, as it is the solution that will be given to him. given that America will leave tomorrow. He must be aware of his decisions – not to disguise what appears to be reality – but to pursue, in the course of his research, another parallel research about himself; a kind of intellectual 'self-psychoanalysis', and this, whether white or black. We are here at the center of an alienated world, where the wise man finds himself, against his will, also alienated” (BASTIDE, 1974, p. 8).[vii]

It is up to us, as black people, to denounce that, as long as they appear with impunity in the newspapers of supposedly scientific capital of the nation (São Paulo), advertisements like the ones shown here, both the social sciences and those identified with them, have to review their criteria for what they understand by science and scientist, honesty and social responsibility.

We make our own the words of Paul Baran: “The genuine intellectual has at least two characteristics: the desire to tell the truth and the courage to do so” (BARAN, 1969, p. 14). [viii]

*Eduardo de Oliveira e Oliveira (1924-1980), master in sociology from USP, was a musician, activist and teacher.


ALKALIMAT, Abd-l (Gerald McWorter). 1973. The ideology of black social science. In. LADNER, Joyce (ed.). The death of white sociology: essays on race and culture. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, p. 173-189.

BARAN, Paul. 1969. The commitment of the intellectual. In. The longer view: essays toward a critique of political economy. New York: Monthly Review Press, p. 3-15.

BASTIDE, Roger. 1974. The black Americas: African civilizations in the world. São Paulo: European Book Diffusion.

BILLINGSLEY, Andrew. 1973. Black families and white social science. In. LADNER, Joyce (ed.). The death of white sociology: essays on race and culture. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, p. 431-450.

BLAUNER, Robert; WELLMAN, David. 1973. Toward the decolonization of social research. In. LADNER, Joyce (ed.). The death of white sociology: essays on race and culture. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, p. 310-330.

FORSYTHE, Dennis. 1973. Radical sociology and blacks. In. LADNER, Joyce (ed.). The death of white sociology: essays on race and culture. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, p. 213-233.

LADNER, Joyce. 1973. Introduction. In. LADNER, Joyce (ed.). The death of white sociology: essays on race and culture. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, p. xix-xxix.

MURRAY, Albert. 1973. White norms, black deviation. . In. LADNER, Joyce (ed.). The death of white sociology: essays on race and culture. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, p. 96-113.

SCOTT, Joseph. 1973. Black science and nation-building. In. LADNER, Joyce (ed.). The death of white sociology: essays on race and culture. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, p. 289-309.

STAPLES, Robert. 1973. What is black sociology? Toward a sociology of black liberation. In. LADNER, Joyce (ed.). The death of white sociology: essays on race and culture. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, p. 161-172.

WALTERS, Robert. 1973. Toward of definition of black social science. In. LADNER, Joyce (ed.). The death of white sociology: essays on race and culture. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, p. 190-212.


[I] [Note from text editor Paulo Fernandes Silveira]: This text was presented on July 8, 1977, at the “Black Brazil” symposium, at the 29th SBPC. It was published on July 17, 1977, in the “Annex” section of the Paraná Diary, n. 6644, p. 4-6, available at: Mistakenly, the photo that illustrates the article in the newspaper is by Clóvis Moura, who participated with Eduardo de Oliveira and Oliveira in the “Black Brazil” symposium. An original copy of this text is in the Eduardo de Oliveira e Oliveira Collection, intellectual production series, special information and memory unit, at the Federal University of São Carlos. Prepared to be an oral communication, the text does not indicate all the bibliographic references used. In this edition, some references from the collection of texts were included: The death of white sociology: essays on race and culture, edited by Joyce Ladner, available at:

[ii] Dr. Seraubit, “Cuba”, The example, November 3, 1895, Year III, n. 147, p. 2, available at: Article cited by: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, 1962. Capitalism and slavery in southern Brazil. São Paulo: European Book Diffusion, p. 304 (footnote).

[iii] “Ehiopia is our heart”, The Dawn Bugle, July 26, 1931, p. 4, available at:

[iv] For understanding and discussion of the Race/Class problem, see: Octavio Ianni, 1972. Races and social classes in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization. See also: Oliver Cromwell Cox. 1948. Caste, class and race. New York: Doubleday and Company.

[v] Currently, the vaccination campaign broadcast on television, an official government campaign, shows black people as evil germs that are defeated by white natural defenses, available at:

[vi] Note from the text editor. The article “The ideology of black social science” was originally published in 1969 in the magazine: The Black Scholar, available in:

[vii] Note from the text editor. The book The black Americas, by Roger Bastide, was translated by Eduardo de Oliveira e Oliveira himself.

[viii] Note from the text editor. The article “The commitment of the intellectual” was originally published in 1961 in the magazine: Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine, available in:

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