White fear

Image: Donatello Trisolino


White fear is not something today, nor will it end today. This is because contractual whiteness is not willing to lose its network of privileges inherited from Brazil's slaveholding past.

''Sailors and Whitewashes/ They must all go away/Because only browns and blacks/ will inhabit the country'' (FREIRE, p. 212, 1979). This was a song sung on the streets of Pernambuco in 1823 and which sounded threatening to many ears after the Bahian insurrections, organized by the haussás and nagôs, had come to an end, although without achieving their objectives (AZEVEDO, p. 29, 2004).

In a way, fear was the music that rocked the Brazilian 1830th century and this feeling came from the minority – the whites – who in fact saw the enslaved or free black population as an imminent danger, as made clear by the concerned questioning of the doctor in Sciences. Mathematics and Naturals, Frederico Burlamaque, in his book, in XNUMX: “Is it appropriate for such a large population of freedmen to remain in the country, of a race absolutely different from that which dominated it? Will there not be great dangers to be feared for the future, if the ancient tyrannies are remembered, if the freedmen prefer people of their race to any other, as is natural?”

Clearly, the mass of free black workers that were created in Brazil worried farmers and white elites, this historical process is called ''white fear''. Originally the term came after the revolts of enslaved people in Haiti that culminated in independence and the abolition of slavery on the island of São Domingos, in 1792. However, in the same way, in today's Brazil, the ideology of racism combined with a '' new'' white fear governs the attitudes of Brazilian whiteness in relation to the black and brown population.

This is the meaning of this article: to understand how white fear has been renewed and gained new faces in the present and to question the Brazilian racist structure that makes affirmative actions for black and brown people in Universities victims of attacks, as a self-defense mechanism against the fear of whiteness losing not only its places of privilege, but also its domination of knowledge production.

The black wave in Haiti and Brazil

The West was created at a certain moment in the 127th century ''amid a global wave of material and symbolic transformations'' (TROUILLOT, p. 2016, 127). Among these changes were colonialism and the development of mercantilism, which created the emergence of a new symbolic order: the invention of America and Europe simultaneously (p. 128). In a way, in the same century and later, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were intellectual movements that provided support for thinking about this new world configuration, faced with questions such as: What is man? What is the State, etc. (p. XNUMX).

Given this, colonization forced the transformation of European ethnocentrism into scientific racism, which was constructed to try to rationalize slavery, with reformulations inherited from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment itself, which according to Trouillot (p. 131) dictated that: ''blacks were inferior and, as a result, enslaved; black slaves behaved badly and, as a result, were inferior''. The Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano will write that since the Enlightenment the idea has been established that Europe was already a world center of capitalism and that together with it, the Europeans, were the highest level on the linear, unidirectional and continuous path of the species (p. 86, 2010).

In a way, then, Trouillot explains why it was unthinkable for the people of the 141th century for a Revolution like the Haitian to have occurred, understanding that black people were not capable of forming any type of political grouping, since cases of resistance and insubordination, on the island of São Domingos, were seen as isolated and emptied of their militant content (p. 41). Based on this principle, in the post-revolution period, ''white fear'' was established among all farmers in America, especially Brazilians, and as the positivist from Maranhão, Francisco Brandão Jr, writes: ''[…] so many other attempts to conquer their freedom, have been tried by slaves; and the last scene of the drama performed in São Domingos, at the beginning of this century […] is being rehearsed at this time in Brazil'' (p. 1865, XNUMX).

White fear, therefore, was established and in the face of the abolitionist wave, it only increased in the confines of the XNUMXth century. In this sense, white farmers, politicians and intellectuals of the time, distressed by the free black wave that would arrive post-abolition, were concerned with internalizing domination in the dominated – in this case the enslaved and, in the future, free blacks.

Exactly for this reason, racist tricks were used to maintain the idea of ​​inferiority of black people compared to white people, despite the construction of an idea of ​​harmony between the two ''races'', as a way of keeping the black wave pacified. Analogously explained and pointed out by historian Wlamyra Albuquerque (p. 102), citing the manifesto of the Brazilian Society Against Slavery, from 1880: “slavery has not yet managed to create racial hatred among us”, showing how the signatories denied the existence of racial division in the country, in order to maintain ''social peace''.

The pact of racist whiteness

Clearly white people in the 2004th century are different from those today, but what about whiteness? What about the fear of losing your privileged spaces? They remained the same. According to Ruth Frankenberg (312), whiteness does not have an intrinsic meaning, but only socially constructed meanings (p. 136). Another important point is to think that this racial identity is a marker where subjects who are considered white enjoy social, material, economic and political privileges that were systematically generated in colonialism and imperialism, and continue to this day (SCHUCMAN, p. 2012 , XNUMX).

Even deeper is what psychologist Edith Piza says, when she remembers that whiteness embodies racist attitudes, consciously or not, repressed or manifested (p. 3, 2005). In another way, racism here is seen as an ideology, as Barbara Fields theorizes, because it transforms every day, it is like a ritual of whiteness, which has self-evident elements; Racism is not like propaganda, because it does not need to be defended, it is just repeated daily and in the most diverse ways, consciously or not (p. 110, 1990).

That said, as we analyze how colonial whiteness was afraid of the uprising of enslaved and free black people, for fear of losing their privileges and, of course, their lives, it is possible to understand that, today, this white fear has been transformed, but whiteness continues with the same face. With regard to racial quotas, the new fear, now, is of losing its homogeneous and dominated space for years: Universities and academic productions.

However, the pact of whiteness constitutes unspoken complicity to maintain their privileges (BENTO, p. 15, 2022), and in the case of affirmative actions for black and brown people, white people take a contrary position and try to use even the law to defend its homogeneity within the academic space. Psychologist Cida Bento will also say that this pact is a kind of narcissistic self-preservation, conscious or not, as if being “different” threatened “normal”, in the same way generating emotions in whiteness: “this feeling of Threat and fear are at the essence of prejudice, the representation made of others and the way we react to them'' (p. 15, 2022). The pact, finally, consists of an unspoken subjective agreement where the new white generations inherit all the accumulated privileges, but have to commit to increasing the ''legacy'' for future generations and further strengthening the group (BENTO, p 19, 2022).

Racial quotas

“People who were born white, of course, are as if they were invited to a party. We enter the party without any problems, people welcome us anywhere. I think black people have more difficulty, I'm not talking about a normal party, that's just a joke... but when looking for a job, for example, they would prefer a white person when filling a vacancy. There will be something more elite, a higher social class.”

This is what Denise (fictitious name) said when asked by researcher Lia Schuman whether she recognized that she had privileges because she was white (p. 139, 2014). Famously, Denise's conception demonstrates two important aspects about whiteness and white Brazilian fear. The first concerns recognition of privileges on the part of some white people, which would not mean giving them up, as Denise herself demonstrates when asked about racial quotas: “I think it is increasing the conflict between whites and blacks even further. A party is one thing, now, a college... who studies more... that doesn't depend on whether you're white or black. It's a way of trying to include these people in society, but aren't they already included in that society? I think they are.”

The second point is about the discourse that affirmative action, such as racial quotas, would increase conflict between races – similar to the discourse of the XNUMXth century, about not admitting the country's racial cleavage – with an assumption of maintaining ''peace Social''. However, what looks like a supposed concern for the well-being of society – by the way, especially white society – is in fact nothing more than the fear of losing the space dominated for centuries by whiteness.

So, several lines of thought emerge that try to argue about the danger of establishing racial quotas, that they could increase the conflict between whites and blacks, as said by Denise, but one path in particular, used by whiteness, is that of law, in an attempt to make racial affirmative actions illegal and consequently stop their implementation. In this way, the Federal District Attorney, Roberta Kaufmann (2010) writes a text ''The deconstruction of the myth of race and the unconstitutionality of racial quotas in Brazil'' about how racial quotas are not applicable in the way they were in the country.

Initially, Roberta Kaufamann explains that quotas are a temporary instrument of social policy that aims to integrate a group center into society (p. 21, 2010). Therefore, she says that affirmative actions must be analyzed according to the historical-economic-social-cultural context (p. 22) and that the problem with Brazilian racial quotas is that they are based on the theory of compensatory justice: ''The foundation This principle is relatively simple: when one party injures another, they have the duty to repair the damage, returning the victim to the situation they were in before suffering the injury'' (p. 22). However, as spoken and written by historian Luiz Felipe de Alencastro (2010), in the Superior Federal Court, the extent and impact of slavery have not been correctly highlighted in Brazil, and even more so, it seems that Brazilian slavery was a "stone in the shoe'' of Brazilian history, a ''little problem'' from past centuries.

Next, the historian provides a general overview of the history of Brazilian slavery, highlighting that no country in America received as many enslaved Africans as Brazil, around 44% of the 11 million diasporic slaves, however, already during the 1856th century, the Empire Brazilian was the only independent colony that still maintained trafficking. However, even after the supposed end of the trade, in 760, Luiz Felipe de Alencastro highlights the thousands of Africans who were illegally trafficked to Brazil, around 1888 thousand people, until XNUMX. Not forgetting that later, in addition to all these violent and illegal schemes, there was the creation of the citizenship statute that barred the vote from illiterate people, denying access to the electoral regime to the majority of freed slaves after abolition.

In contrast, attorney Roberta Kaufmann believes that there is a problem in holding present-day white people responsible for acts that their distant ancestors committed, and that in a mixed-race country, it is not known who the legitimate beneficiaries of the compensatory program would be, since in theory Therefore, today's black people were not direct victims of slavery and may even be descended from black people who were enslaved; only those who were directly harmed could seek reparation (p. 24).

However, this is essentially the problem, today's black people suffer the arbitrariness developed during slavery and which submerged the entire country, according to Luiz Felipe de Alencastro (2010). Even more so, because the issue is not about the ownership of slaves, since this example is distorted – given the proportion of black people who owned forced workers in relation to white people, but rather about the lack of opportunities for generations of Afro-Brazilian families, both study and citizenship.

With regard to privileges, Cida Bento explains that there is a legacy of slavery for white people, and they enjoy these benefits (p. 19, 2022), always with the logic of whiteness in maintaining them. However, the white people's pact consists of suppressing the negative memories of this slavery heritage, because they bring shame, trying to forget them, as they are directly linked to slavery (BENTO, p.20, 2022). Even so, Luiz Felipe de Alencastro (2010) will say that racial quotas do not just have an indemnity or compensatory logic, they are the improvement of Brazilian democracy, which for many years marginalized the black population in different spaces.

In addition to the presence

In Dialogue Circle 5, of the National Association of History Teachers (ANPUH), this year, about law 10.639 – which made the teaching of Afro-Brazilian History and Culture mandatory – historian professor Delton Felipe, from the State University of Maringá, made an interesting analysis of the importance of racial quotas, but also what he called black insurgencies and insubordination. For the professor, the presence of black people goes beyond being at the university, black bodies are educators and they generate a double movement: insurgencies and insubordination, because they start to question discourses and the academic environment in general.

Furthermore, despite, beforehand, the law is a content issue, an interesting point raised by the professor in the dialogue circle, and also said, in the conversation with master's student Taina Silva, is that the law has become a strategy for black students to remain in Universities, precisely as reiterated by Taina, whose conclusion is that it is not just a fight for presence in the academic environment, but a question of seeing oneself in History, of writing one's own history.

In line with this, it is along these lines that the American writer and professor Patricia Hill Collins, in her book Black feminist thought, that academic theories and scientific language exclude those who are not part of the environment, nor of the university elites, reinforcing the process of domination and hegemony, so important for academic whiteness:

Educated elites often say that they are the only ones qualified to produce theory, and they believe they have the exclusive ability to interpret not only their own experience, but also that of everyone else. Furthermore, educated elites often resort to this belief to maintain their privileges […] Approaching theory in this way challenges both the ideas of educated elites and the role of theory in maintaining hierarchies of privilege (p. 19).

Somehow, white fear in relation to racial quotas seems to understand that the entry of black and brown people into Universities would change the academic hierarchy, and in fact it seems that whiteness knew that the presence of black bodies in the Academy would cause interpretations several would arise, as well as contestations. And what most irritates the pact of whiteness are the protests.

White fear is not something today, nor will it end today. This is because contractual whiteness is not willing to lose its network of privileges inherited from Brazil's slaveholding past. That said, with the institution of racial quotas in Universities, the ideology of racism manifests itself in whiteness, which, trying to maintain its privileges, uses all possible mechanisms to delay the application of affirmative actions.

Likewise, through a discourse of concern about possible segregation between the white and black races – in the face of the application of the quota law – Brazilian whiteness tries to establish the idea that the country lives in a racial democracy. However, as said by professor Luiz Felipe de Alencastro (2010), in his speech to the Superior Federal Court, female voting, for example, generated huge controversies in Brazil, because opponents claimed that it would divide families and disturb the tranquility of homes and of the nation. Notoriously, those against it used the possible ''disorder of social peace'' that the institution of universal suffrage would cause, to try to stop women from being voters, and this all through a discourse steeped in misogyny and machismo - as well as in fear of them taking to the stands and demanding their rights as subjects of their own history.

In another way, whiteness tries to use the law to prove the unconstitutionality of quotas, this same law and this same State, which for years marginalized the black and poor population and relegated them to second-class citizens. Thus, even if the racism of the Brazilian State in the post-abolition period was not in explicit words, the law prohibiting illiterate people from voting, as well as the rules against vagrancy, are already mechanisms of exclusion and violence for a 'minorized majority' ': black and brown people.

Accordingly, the opposition to the application of racial quotas is nothing more than simple fear and a fear with color: white, because just as in the XNUMXth century, farmers and the Brazilian elite feared the uprising of enslaved people and free black people – precisely because revenge for hundreds of years of submission and violence – white people today see that with the entry of black and brown people into Universities – previously dominated by them – academic discourse and spaces will be occupied by new faces and voices.

So, it is not just about the presence of the black body at the University, but about a whole contestation of academic production and scientific dogmas, as said by historian Lélia Gonzalez: “As long as the black issue is not taken up by Brazilian society as a whole: black people , white people and us all together reflect, evaluate, develop a praxis of awareness of the issue of racial discrimination in this country, it will be very difficult in Brazil, to reach the point of effectively being a racial democracy [...] what can be seen is that we are in a country in which the dominant classes, those in power and the intellectuals at the service of these classes, effectively, do not give up. They are not willing to develop work towards the construction of a Brazilian nationality; This nationality will effectively imply the incorporation of black culture.”

*Luiza Rios Gonçalves is a history major at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).


ALBUQUERQUE, Wlamyra. “The mass grave of the 'emancipated race'”: abolition and racialization in Brazil, brief commentary”. Social History, n. 19, second half of 2010.

ALENCASTRO, Luis Felipe. Quotas: Opinion by Luis Felipe de Alencastro. ADPF186, Superior Federal Court, 2010. Available at: https://fpabramo.org.br/2010/03/24/cotas-parecer-de-luis-felipe-de-alencastro/

AZEVEDO, Célia Marinho de. Black Wave, White Fear: Black People in the Imaginary of Elites in the XNUMXst Century. São Paulo: Annablume, 3rd edition, 2004.

BENTO, Cida. The pact of whiteness. São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 1st edition, 2022.

COLLINS, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2019.

CRUZ, Jucelho; FELIPE, Delton; PEREIRA, Amauri; SANTOS, Ana Maria. Universities and social movements in the construction of anti-racist epistemologies, resistance and insurgencies (ANPUH). Youtube, May 25, 2023. Available at:Universities and social movements in the construction of epistemologies, resistance and… – YouTube>.

FIELDS, Barbara. Slavery, Race and Ideology in The United States of America. New Left Review, 181, 1990, p. 95-118.

FRANKENBERG, R. The mirage of an unmarked Whiteness. In V. Ware (Org.), Whiteness, white identity and multiculturalism (V. Ribeiro, trans., pp. 307-338.). Rio de Janeiro: Garamond, 2004.

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PIZA, Edith. Adolescence and racism: a brief reflection. In: INTERNATIONAL ADOLESCENT SYMPOSIUM, 1., 2005, São Paulo.

QUIJANO, Aníbal. Coloniality of power and social classification. In: MENESES, Maria Paula; SANTOS, Boaventura. Southern epistemologies. São Paulo: Cortez, p. 84-131, 2010.

SCHUCMAN, Lia. WHITENESS AND POWER: revisiting white fear in the XNUMXst century. ABPN Magazine, v. 6, no. 13, p. 134-147, May 2014.

TROUILLOT, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the past: power and the production of history. Translation: Sebastião Nascimento. Curitiba: Huya, 2016.

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