The movement against Florestan Fernandes

(Image of Florestan Fernandes in his home office, during the period of ostracism imposed by the military dictatorship).


There is an ongoing attempt to deconstruct the image of Florestan Fernandes by some people in the academic world

“In an age of worn words, verbal orgies must be avoided. What we must do is not 'fight for the People'. Our intellectual tasks have a different caliber: we must place ourselves at the service of the Brazilian people, so that they acquire, as quickly and deeply as possible, self-awareness and can unleash, on their own, the national revolution that establishes in the Brazil a democratic social order and a State founded on the effective domination of the majority” (Florestan Fernandes, the lost generation, P. 246).

On November 19, 2021, the newspaper Folha de S. Paul republished the article “Being black in Brazil”, by the late geographer Milton Santos with a decisive adulteration. A flattering reference by Milton Santos to one of Florestan Fernandes' best-known ideas was turned into an accusation of racism.[I]

After the publication of my text and the letters sent by Florestan's daughter and granddaughter to Sheet, sociologist Heloisa Fernandes and economist Ana Cristina Fernandes Tromboni, the newspaper recognized the flaw and republished the text by Milton Santos without the adulteration. Furthermore, the journalist responsible for the tampering called Ana Cristina to apologize for the error.

I was not authorized to expose the identity of the journalist. In the letter from Heloisa Fernandes thanking the Sheet for the retraction, she commends him for the apology. By a great coincidence, I met this journalist in my activism activities with popular education, he is a professional who received a degree and a master's degree in Literature at the University of São Paulo, specializing in proofreading and editing texts.

In the great repercussion on the case on social networks, the possible reasons for the Falha published by the newspaper were discussed. With the hypotheses of an intentional action by the direction of the newspaper or the responsible journalist discarded, since there were retractions from both parties, it remains to be seen how a journalist with excellent training and experience in the area did not realize that his work editing the text by Milton Santos it turned Florestan into a racist.

This is a young journalist at the beginning of his career who does not know enough about the works of Milton Santos and Florestan Fernandes to realize that the adulterated sentence makes no sense. On the other hand, as I will discuss in this text, there is an ongoing attempt to deconstruct the image of Florestan Fernandes by some people in the academic world. Within the scope of this movement, the accusation of racism made by Milton Santos to Florestan Fernandes would be very welcome.

When analyzing this case on his social network, political scientist Luis Felipe Miguel points out that Florestan's positions on the question of black women and men are related to his Marxist perspective of emancipation and social transformation. The text by Milton Santos republished in Sheet follows a similar path. This is one of the reasons that leads him to praise the positions of Florestan and Octavio Ianni.[ii]

In an implicit reference to a part of the academic production on black women and men in that period (late 1990s), Milton Santos criticizes: “the political time wasted in semantic discussions”. For Milton Santos, as well as for Neusa Santos Souza, whose book turn black was inspired by the thoughts of Florestan, Fanon, Foucault and other libertarian intellectuals, the black woman and the black man are not just a semantic issue, she and he have bodies, concerns and concrete suffering. It is necessary to create, says Milton Santos, remedies for “structural social and economic differences”. According to Luis Felipe Miguel, for those who defend an anti-racist agenda that does not dare to challenge capitalism, it would be interesting to “discover” in a text by Milton Santos an accusation of racism against a Marxist intellectual.

One of the themes explored in the movement against Florestan is related to the contribution of the sociologist and psychoanalyst Virgínia Leone Bicudo, in the early 50s, to the Unesco research on racial relations in Brazil.

I will not discuss all the historical and political issues involved in the Unesco research, for the deepening of this study, I refer the reader to the excellent work of Antônia Malta Campos (2014). The fact is that Roger Bastide, professor of sociology at the University of São Paulo, was in charge of coordinating the research. Bastide promptly invited his young assistant Florestan Fernandes to share the coordination of this work. Florestan prepared and wrote the Study Project: “Racial prejudice in São Paulo”, this text, which was supervised by Bastide, was published in 1951, before the Unesco research began (BASTIDE; FERNANDES, 1959).

Unesco offered a small amount to carry out the research in São Paulo: four thousand dollars (FERNANDES, 1975, p. 50). Bastide and Florestan decided to use that money to hire other researchers. Among the researchers hired were Virgínia Bicudo and Aniela Ginsberg, who received a thousand dollars each to carry out two empirical studies on psychosocial issues linked to race relations, researcher Oracy Nogueira received the same amount, while Lucila Hermann and Renato Jardim Moreira, who collaborated in the field research by Bastide and Florestan, received $1955 each. Several students from the University of São Paulo contributed to the research without receiving any remuneration, including: Maria Sylvia de Carvalho Franco, Ruth Correia Leite and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (BASTIDE, 14, p. XNUMX).

Under the guidance of sociologist Donald Pierson, in 1945, six years before taking part in the Unesco survey, Virgínia Bicudo completed her master's Study of racial attitudes of blacks and mulattos in São Paulo, at the Free School of Sociology and Politics in São Paulo (BASTOS, 2010, p. 12). In 2010, sixty-five years later, this research was published by the same institution (BICUDO, 2010).

Responsible for editing the book and for an introductory text, Marcos Chor Maio gives a brief biographical overview of Bicudo until his participation in the Unesco research. Without referring to Florestan's Study Project, which already provided for research on psychosocial issues and presented the thesis on racial prejudice in the title itself, and without referring to the hiring of researchers, Maio asserts that Bicudo's work was devalued in the publication of the research. In Maio's words, Bicudo's research “was treated as a mere 'appendix'” (2010, p. 47).

The 1955 edition, made by Editora Anhembi, does have annexes and appendices, with tables, newspaper articles and other materials used in each chapter, but it does not present Bicudo's research as an appendix.

Then, Maio states: “in Roger Bastide's introduction there is no mention of Bicudo's work” (2010, p. 48). This is information false! In the introduction to the book, Bastide praises the “beautiful works” of doctors Aniela Ginsberg and Virginia Bicudo (BASTIDE, 1955, p. 13).

In her doctoral thesis, carried out at the University of São Paulo, under the guidance of Kabenguele Munanga, anthropologist Janaina Damaceno (2013) resumes the perspective opened by Maio. When dealing with Unesco research, Damaceno (2013, p. 125) questions the fact that Bicudo's work “disappeared” with the publication of the book Whites and blacks in São Paulo, by Bastide and Florestan.

According to historian and educator Ana Cruz, Bicudo's research was twice published alongside the works of Bastide and Florestan (2018, p. 28, note 8), as an article in Anhembi Magazine, in 1953, and as a chapter of the book Race relations in blacks and whites in São Paulo, in 1955. These publications had academic repercussions and fulfilled the commitment to disseminate the research. As Florestan puts it in the Preface of the book Whites and blacks in São Paulo, from 1959, he and Bastide wanted to republish their essays in a new collection of texts. Virgínia Bicudo's text did not disappear and was not ignored as part of Unesco research.

According to Damaceno, Bicudo's master's degree is a “premonitory” text, since a large part of Bastide and Florestan's reflections “dialogue directly with the questions posed by the author” (2013, p. 98).

On the first page of the essay “The fight against color prejudice”, written for Unesco research, Florestan recognizes Bicudo's contribution on the subject. In this same essay, Florestan also highlights the importance of Bastide's (1976) study “Introduction to the study of some Afro-Brazilian complexes”, originally published in 1943. In this study, Bastide develops some ideas by Mário de Andrade who, in the article “Linha de cor”, published in 1939 in the newspaper The state of Sao Paulo, dared to denounce the hidden racial prejudice practiced in Brazil.[iii]

Unfortunately, we do not know Bicudo's positions on these texts, as she never cited the works of Mário de Andrade, Roger Bastide and Florestan Fernandes.

Also following the perspective of Maio, the psychoanalyst Ana Musatti-Braga (2016) questions Florestan for having written that an “editorial lapse” would justify the non-inclusion of Bicudo’s text in the book Whites and blacks in São Paulo. This is information false! The text by Florestan (1989) cited in apoud (quote quote) does not refer to Bicudo's work. The editorial lapses that Florestan comments on are about the book Race relations in blacks and whites in São Paulo, in which the texts by Bicudo, Ginsberg and Nogueira were published.[iv]

following the same apuds, the psychoanalyst Christian Dunker (2018) suggests that Bicudo faced yet another racist experience when his work was excluded from the Unesco research report. This is information false! Bicudo's work was published twice along with the other works that make up the research.[v]

Finally, at the end of 2020, on his Twitter account, after recognizing the advances in the anti-racist agenda since the FHC governments, the rapper Emicida highlights the importance of Florestan Fernandes for the black movement. In the comments to the post, state deputy and social scientist Dani Monteiro also praises Florestan, but emphasizes that Virginia Bicudo “had her chapters removed from the final version of 'integration of blacks in class society'”. In the rush of the debate on social networks, Monteiro confuses the titles of Florestan's works. In any case, this is also information false![vi]

The research by Florestan Fernandes, Roger Bastide and Virgínia Bicudo did not deserve this type of approach!

* Paulo Fernandes Silveira He is a professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and a researcher at the Human Rights Group at the Institute for Advanced Studies at USP.



BASTIDE, Roger. 1955. Introduction. In: BASTIDE, Roger; FERNANDES, Florestan. Race relations between blacks and whites in São Paulo. São Paulo: Anhembi, p. 11-15.

BASTIDE, Roger; FERNANDES, Florestan. 1959. Racial prejudice in São Paulo (study project). In. BASTIDE, Roger; FERNANDES, Florestan. Whites and blacks in São Paulo. São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, p. 321-358.

BASTIDE, Roger. 1976. Introduction to the study of some Afro-Brazilian complexes. In. BASTIDE, Roger. The sleep, the trance and the madness. Buenos Aires: Amorrortu, p. 208-251.

BASTOS, Elide. 2010. Foreword: Accommodating or Awareness of Discrimination?. In. BICUDO, Virginia. Racial Attitudes of Blacks and Mulattoes in São Paulo. São Paulo: Sociology and Politics, p. 11-22.

BICUDO, Virginia. 2010. Racial Attitudes of Blacks and Mulattoes in São Paulo. São Paulo: Sociology and Politics.

CAMPOS, Antonia. 2014. Interfaces between sociology and social process: the Integration of black people in class society and Unesco research in São Paulo. Dissertation (Master in Sociology) – Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences, State University of Campinas, Campinas. (Not available on the internet).

CRUZ, Anna. 2018. Protagonism of black thought in Brazil: the place of black women and children in the Unesco project, Education in Magazine, v. 34, p. 1-29.

DAMACENO, Janaina. 2013. Virginia's secrets: a study of racial attitudes in São Paulo (1945-1955). Thesis (Doctorate in Social Anthropology) – Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences, University of São Paulo, São Paulo.

FERNANDES, Florestan. 1955. The fight against color prejudice. In: BASTIDE, Roger; FERNANDES, Florestan. Race relations between blacks and whites in São Paulo. São Paulo: Anhembi, p. 193-226.

FERNANDES, Florestan. 1959. Preface to the 2nd Edition. In. BASTIDE, Roger; FERNANDES, Florestan. Whites and blacks in São Paulo. São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, p. VII-IX.

FERNANDES, Florestan. 1975. About the theoretical work, Trans/Form/Açwill, Marília, v. 2, p. 5-86. Available in:

FERNANDES, Florestan. 1977. The lost generation. In. FERNANDES, Florestan. Sociology in Brazil: contribution to the study of its formation and development. Petropolis: Voices, p. 213-252.

FERNANDES, Florestan. 1989. Race relations in São Paulo reexamined. In: Meaning of black protest. Sao Paulo: Cortez; Associated Authors, p. 100-109.

MAY, Mark. 2010. Introduction: Virgínia Leone Bicudo's contribution to studies on race relations in Brazil. In. BICUDO, Virginia. Racial Attitudes of Blacks and Mulattoes in São Paulo. São Paulo: Sociology and Politics, p. 23-60.









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