Reference Entry


Aaron Myers

in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195170559

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With a total area of 8,547,404 sq km (3,300,171 sq mi), Brazil shares a border with French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, and Venezuela to the north; with Colombia and Peru to the west; and with Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay to the southwest. Its Atlantic coastline stretches 7,490 km (4,650 mi).Many people associate Brazil with the seductive rhythms of Samba, the annual Carnival celebration, Soccer, and beautiful beaches. Few realize that Brazil's population includes the largest number of people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere. The influence of Africa on the population and development of Brazil has been great and pervasive, and few—if any—aspects of Brazilian society and civilization have remained untouched by that influence.The strong show of Afro-Brazilian culture during Carnival brings together Brazilians of all colors, helping to create the impression that Brazil is a racial democracy where people of diverse heritages live together happily and share in equal opportunities. While white Brazilians tend to embrace this notion, black leaders say it is a myth. Despite the prestige they enjoy during the four days of Carnival, Afro-Brazilians as a group lack political and economic power. Even the firmest believers in racial democracy cannot deny that Afro-Brazilians lag in education, employment, health, housing, and a host of other social indicators. In Brazil, where slavery lasted longer than in any other country in the New World, the Afro-Brazilian struggle for complete freedom, initiated by rebel slaves such as Zumbi continues today.Colonizing BrazilOfficial histories of Brazil usually begin with the arrival on April 22, 1500, of a Portuguese fleet commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral in what is now Pôrto Seguro, Bahia. In fact, several hundred indigenous groups, who had their own distinct languages and cultures, already populated the region. These included the Arawak and Carib groups in the north, the Tupi-Guaraní (the first to establish contact with the Portuguese settlers) on the east coast and in the Amazon River valley, the Gê of eastern and southern Brazil, and the Pano in the west. These groups were usually semi-nomadic and subsisted by hunting and gathering and by agriculture.At the time of the Portuguese arrival, an estimated two to five million Indians were living in the territory that is now Brazil. At first, Indians along the coast traded and intermarried with the Portuguese settlers. After the colonizers began to take their best land, and enslave them, however, the Indians fought back, winning several battles. But the growing Portuguese presence after 1530 and the subsequent effects of disease and slave raiding decimated the coastal Indian populations and forced them into the interior.Around 1530, Portuguese colonizers arrived and settled along the vast coastline, where they began to cultivate Sugar. Over the course of the sixteenth century, a transition from native Indian to imported African labor occurred. Between 1580 and 1640, when the Portuguese crown fell under the control of the Spanish monarch, men called bandeirantes conducted military missions to capture Indian slaves who had fled into the interior, initiating western expansion. The Jesuits also evangelized the Native American populations, consolidating scattered groups into towns and attempting to protect the Indians from slavery. From 1630 to 1654, the Dutch occupied northeastern Brazil.The decline of the sugar industry in the late seventeenth century led some colonizers to journey further inland, where they discovered gold and diamond deposits in the area that is now the state of Minas Gerais. The precious metals and gems extracted in the eighteenth century, like the sugar grown since the 1500s, went from Brazil to Europe. Portuguese traders used the revenue to purchase slaves in Africa and ship them to Brazil. This triangular trade continued well into the nineteenth century, when coffee became Brazil's most lucrative export. At this time, Europeans were encouraged to immigrate to Brazil to live and work on coffee fazendas (plantations) in the south, where growing conditions were ideal.In 1808, following the invasion of Portugal by Napoleon and his troops, King João VI transferred the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro, which in 1763 had replaced Salvador as the capital of Brazil. He returned to Portugal in 1821, but his son Pedro I chose to remain. On September 7 of the following year, Pedro I declared Brazil an independent nation and himself king. Unique among Latin American countries, Brazil made the transition to independence through peaceful negotiation with Portugal, and as an independent country preserved a monarchical form of government. In 1831 Pedro I abdicated the throne to his son Pedro II, who ruled Brazil from 1840 to 1889. That year a military rebellion transformed Brazil's government from a monarchy to a republic, and Pedro II was forced into exile. During the reign of Pedro II, Brazil, along with Argentina and Uruguay, took part in the Paraguayan War (1865–1870). On May 13, 1888, Princess Isabel, acting as regent while her father was in Europe, emancipated all slaves by signing the Lei Árurea (Golden Law).A Slave House by Johann Moritz Rugendas appeared in his book Voyage pittoresque dans le Brésil, published in Paris in 1835. Houghton Library, Harvard UniversityFounders of the republic transformed the former empire's provinces into states and replaced the parliamentary system with a presidential system, including a bicameral congress and an independent supreme court. The next major political transition came in 1930, when a military coup brought the populist leader Getúlio Vargas to power. During his two terms (1930–1945, as dictator, and 1951–1954, as elected president), Vargas improved and expanded industrialization, public health services, and education, and attempted to centralize the government's sprawling bureaucracy. During his first term and particularly after his so-called self-coup in 1937, which established the authoritarian New State, he suspended various civil rights and prohibited political parties. With the end of World War II in 1945, Vargas was forced to step down, and civilian rule was restored. In 1960 the capital of Brazil was transferred to Brasília. In 1964 the military, reacting mainly to mobilization by peasants and the political left, seized control of the government. For the next twenty-one years, a succession of military leaders repeatedly amended the constitution, suppressed free speech and press, and imprisoned their opponents.In 1979, in what is known as the abertura (opening), the government restored political rights to the people and initiated a gradual return to democracy. The following period saw a significant growth in social movements as well as Brazil's civil society. Civilian rule was reestablished in 1985, when longtime opposition leader Tancredo Neves was elected by an Electoral College, making him the first civilian president since 1964. However, Neves died unexpectedly before assuming the presidency, which fell to his vice president, José Sarney. In 1988 an elected assembly drafted and approved a new constitution, Brazil's sixth in the twentiethth century. In 1989, in the first presidential election by popular vote since 1960, Fernando Collor de Mello became president. He was impeached on charges of corruption in 1992 and was replaced by his vice president, Itamar Franco. Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected president in 1994 and reelected in 1998. In June 1999 the government placed the military under direct civilian control. The separate army, navy, and air force ministries, which had been led by top military men, were combined into one Defense Ministry headed by a civilian cabinet minister appointed by the president.Slave TradeFrom the early sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, Brazil imported the largest number of slaves of any colony in the Americas, absorbing more than 3.5 million of the 10 to 15 million slaves brought to the New World.The earliest known arrival of African slaves in Brazil occurred in 1538. During the hundred years before this event, the Portuguese explored the West African coast and purchased slaves there, transporting enslaved Africans to Portugal as early as 1433. The Portuguese had already enslaved Africans for the production of sugar in their colonies in Africa—Madeira and São Tomé—before bringing slaves to Brazil for the same purpose. With the colonization and development of Brazil, the Portuguese extended and intensified their slave-trading activities. When not operating directly between Africa and Brazil, the slave trade took a triangular form in which European goods went to Africa, Africans slaves went to Brazil, and sugar went from Brazil to Europe.Portuguese settlers imported slaves from various parts of Africa. Initially, the principal suppliers of slaves to Brazil were the Portuguese assentos (monopolies) in the Sudanic Empires of western Africa, especially present-day Guinea. Then, after a period of trade along the Gold Coast (including Ghana and Benin), the Portuguese began to exploit the slave markets in the central and southwestern parts of Africa, principally in the Republic of the Congo and Angola. In the later stages of the slave trade, after the British suppressed the trade in the northern Atlantic, Brazil's most important sources for slaves were southwestern Africa and the Indian Ocean coast of East Africa, in particular Mozambique. Much of the human cargo entered Brazil through the ports of Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and Santos. In addition, by the late 1800s, the abolition of the slave trade and the decline of northeastern sugar plantations had led to the formation of an intranational slave market in which coffee planters in the southern provinces purchased slaves from the northern provinces.The wide-reaching nature of the Portuguese slave trade made for a diverse slave population. Africans sold into slavery and shipped to Brazil came from various segments of society. Many were war captives. Some were criminals or debtors. Others had been slaves in the African communities from which they came. Overall, the number of male slaves brought to Brazil was double that of female slaves, and adults were favored over children. Unlike the United States, Brazil preferred to purchase new African slaves rather than reproduce the slave population domestically.The importation of African slaves to Brazil increased dramatically in the 1580s, when the sugar industry flourished. Demand for slave labor remained high during the following centuries with the mining of gold and diamonds and, much later, with the development of the coffee industry. Because they were imported at such a high rate, slaves often constituted a majority of the population in rural sugar-producing and mining regions. An estimated 100,000 slaves entered Brazil in the sixteenth century, 600,000 in the seventeenth century, 1,300,000 in the eighteenth century, and 1,600,000 from 1800 until the trade was effectively ended in 1850. These estimates do not take into account the number of slaves—sometimes as many as half of those on a slave ship—who perished during the so-called Middle Passage.Slave importation was most intense during the first half of the nineteenth century, as it became evident that the slave trade would soon end. The British, who had outlawed their own slave trade in 1803 and slavery itself in 1833, campaigned to end the international slave trade, which gave Brazil a competitive advantage over Great Britain in the world sugar markets. Brazil deferred to the British by passing legislation that freed all slaves entering the country from November 7, 1831, onward. This law went virtually unenforced after 1837, when the proslavery Conservatives won control of the Brazilian government and a large-scale, illegal slave trade ensued. The arrival of British ships on the Brazilian coast in 1850, however, forced the government to draft the Queirós Law of September 4, 1850, which instituted severe penalties for slave traders. By 1852 Brazilian authorities had largely succeeded in suppressing the transatlantic slave trade.SlaveryThe Portuguese initially tried to enslave Brazil's indigenous population. But the Indians' susceptibility to European diseases and their general unwillingness to do plantation work led the Portuguese to rely more heavily on African labor. The switch from Indian to African labor occurred between the 1580s and the 1630s, as the sugar industry became central to the Portuguese economy.Slaves brought to Brazil knowledge of metallurgy, mining, cattle farming, and crop production. They modified and expanded their technical knowledge in Brazil, learning carpentry, jewelry-making, and tailoring, among other trades. A small percentage of slaves worked in the master's house, performing domestic chores and caring for children. The vast majority, however, worked outside the household. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, most worked in the sugar fazendas (plantations) or in the engenhos (mills) of the northeast; during the eighteenth century, most worked in the mines of Minas Gerais, Goiás, and Mato Grosso; and in the nineteenth century, the coffee plantations of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo were the centers of slave labor. The Portuguese forced slaves to work fifteen to eighteen hours a day, neglected their clothing and nutritional needs, and often punished them harshly. Under such conditions, slaves had a working life expectancy of only seven to fifteen years. The once-prevalent idea that Brazilian slavery was more benign than Slavery in the United States has been largely discredited.Unlike slaves in the United States, however, slaves in Brazil had the right to purchase their own freedom and, having numerous Catholic holidays off throughout the year, were able to work for themselves and save money for that purpose. Some slaves, known as negros de ganho, hired out their services and were sometimes allowed to live on their own, with the condition that they return a percentage of their profits to their owner. Other slaves were granted their freedom as a reward for long, faithful service. Records indicate that women were freed twice as often as men, and that enslaved crioulos (Brazilian-born, of African parentage) and mulattos (Brazilian-born, of mixed African and European parentage), though less numerous than African-born slaves, were favored over Africans as manumission candidates.Free blacks and mulattos did not enjoy many privileges over their enslaved brethren. They were subject to laws that rarely distinguished between them and slaves. Like slaves, they were not allowed to carry weapons, dress extravagantly, or, with a few exceptions, hold public office. The employment opportunities of free blacks and mulattos were also severely circumscribed. Many free black and mulatto men endeavored to make a living as overseers on cattle ranches, in mines, or in boiling houses on sugar plantations. Less frequently they worked as artisans and barbers. Free black and mulatto females often sold goods on the street and at the markets, or worked as midwives. Although the extent to which a free black or mulatto was accepted by whites varied over time and from region to region, persons with lighter skin and a degree of wealth generally had a better chance of integrating into colonial society. Those least likely to gain entrance into the world of whites were enslaved blacks born in Africa who later acquired their freedom.Africans, free and enslaved, were instrumental in the conquest and defense of the Portuguese colony. In the early stages of colonization, they helped push back coastal Indian populations and protect the settling population from Indian attacks. Black and mulatto regiments under black leaders, such as Henrique Dias, fought along with native Indian soldiers against the Dutch during the seventeenth century. In the early eighteenth century, some 6,000 Afro-Brazilian soldiers from Minas Gerais helped recapture Rio de Janeiro from French invaders. A black regiment of similar size battled in the Paraguayan War. For their services, many black soldiers won freedom as well as eligibility for promotion. The army continued to be an important institution for Afro-Brazilians after the abolition of slavery, training emancipated slaves and thereby preparing them for integration into the larger society.Religious brotherhoods—organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church that date to the seventeenth century—also facilitated the integration of black and mulatto slaves and freedpeople into Brazilian society. Brotherhoods were organized around the worship of particular saints, with black saints such as the Virgin of the Rosary, Saint Benedict, and Saint Iphigenia particularly popular among black and mulatto brotherhoods. These brotherhoods were also often racially divided. Some were all black, and required that members be born in Africa or claim membership in a particular ethnic group, while others were exclusively white or mulatto. The fundamental purpose of the brotherhoods was to provide members and their families with Christian burials and social aid in times of debt and sickness. For these services all members—male, female, free, and slave—paid dues. Occasionally, brotherhoods helped slaves (and sometimes their own members) acquire their freedom, and offered freedpeople protection against exploitation.Because they were the only legally permitted form of communal life for slaves in the colonial period, the brotherhoods were extremely significant social institutions, allowing their members to share their experiences collectively and seek solutions to their problems. They were thus crucial to the development and preservation of a distinctive Afro-Brazilian culture. Particularly important were the festivals held for the feast days of patron saints. These celebrations included dances called congadas, in which each brotherhood would honor its elected king, queen, and royal staff. Anthropologist Roger Bastide claimed that these festivities were “strictly African in inspiration” and revealed the symbolic continuation of African monarchical rule on Brazilian soil. Perhaps the most famous of Brazil's black brotherhoods is Our Lady of the Rosary, founded in 1865 in Salvador, Bahia, and still active today. Free and enslaved black women also joined brotherhoods, playing an important role in the administration of social aid. In addition, they formed their own sisterhoods, most notably Our Lady of the Good Death (founded in 1823).Partly as a result of an intensified importation of African slaves (many of the same ethnic background) and the increasing demands made of slave labor, the first half of the nineteenth century saw a high incidence of Slave rebellions in the plantation areas of the northeast. Salvador, Bahia, experienced the greatest number—more than twenty between 1809 and 1835—as well as the most severe revolts, the best known of which was the Malê (Muslim African) uprising of 1835. Other major revolts of this era included the Sastre rebellion (1798, in Bahia), the Black Nâgos revolts (1826–1835, in Bahia), the Jehad revolt (1835, in Bahia), the Sabinada revolt (1837, in Bahia), and the Balaiada movement (1838–1841, in Maranhão). The coffee-growing regions of São Paulo also witnessed numerous slave uprisings in the late nineteenth century, during the years leading up to abolition.The most common and widespread form of resistance by slaves was to escape from plantations and establish the independent black communities known in Brazil as Quilombos. Often located in inaccessible areas, quilombos were typically small in size (less than one hundred members) and sustained by a combination of subsistence agriculture, plantation raiding, and trade. Although they were predominantly black, some quilombos also included Native Indians and mestiços (of indigenous and European descent). Planters hired capitães de mato (bush captains), often free blacks, to hunt down fugitive slaves and destroy their communities. Although most quilombos were short-lived, a few fugitives would usually avoid recapture and form a new community. With thousands of members and a lifetime of almost a century, Palmares was the largest and most enduring quilombo.The exact numbers and origins of the slaves who entered Brazil are uncertain, partly because in 1891 the statesman Rui Barbosa destroyed many of the records documenting slavery in Brazil. Information has also been clouded by the fact that a significant amount of mixing took place among slave populations, as did miscegenation among slaves, Indians, and white settlers (largely as a result of forced sexual relationships). Despite this, anthropologists studying African traditions in Brazil have been able to identify three primary Afro-Brazilian groups: the Yoruba and Fon (from present-day Nigeria and Benin, respectively), the Muslim Hausa (from present-day Nigeria and Niger), and the Bantu (today scattered across Africa).The African impact on Brazil was extensive. African slaves introduced new foods into the colonial diet, including red peppers, black beans, and okra. They also created new dishes, such as acarajé, a fried bean fritter stuffed with a kind of shrimp particular to the northeast, and feijoada, a spicy black bean and pork stew that is the national cuisine. Hailing from an array of linguistic groups, African slaves incorporated a number of words into Portuguese and altered its pronunciation. They transplanted a rich music and dance tradition that led to the creation of samba and Capoeira. African slaves also influenced the colony's religious development by syncretizing African religions with Catholicism, resulting in the creation of such religions as Candomblé in Bahia, Xangó in Pernambuco, and Macumba in Rio de Janeiro. Although these Afro-Brazilian cultural forms were suppressed by the Brazilian government during the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth century, they have since been embraced by the dominant society as unique national traditions. Some Afro-Brazilian traditions, such as capoeira, have taken root in other countries in Latin America as well as in North America and Europe.Abolition Movement and EmancipationBecause Brazil had for centuries relied upon African labor, abolition was a gradual, difficult process in which legislation was often inconsistent with practice. For example, one early legal step toward abolition was the declaration that all slaves entering Brazil from 1831 onward were free—an edict that was not fully enforced until 1850. Foreign pressure from Great Britain led the Brazilian government to pass a series of laws to facilitate abolition. An 1869 law prohibited the breaking up of slave families; an 1871 law allowed a slave to purchase himself at market value; also in 1871, the Law of the Free Womb declared free all children born to slave mothers.The political climate of the 1870s, in addition to the decline of the northeastern sugar economy, fostered the growth of a small but vocal abolition movement. After losing to the Conservatives in 1868, Liberals united and devised an extensive reform program that included abolition. Upon returning to power in 1878, they pressed the slavery question on the nation.In March 1879, Deputy Jeronymo Sodré made a speech before Congress in which he criticized measures such as the Law of the Free Womb and called for a complete and immediate end to slavery. Many historians regard this event as the beginning of the abolition movement in Brazil. At that time, largely in response to the end of the slave trade, Brazil had for more than ten years been making a concerted effort to attract European labor to work on the multiplying coffee plantations. In order to encourage planters to employ European immigrant workers, government officials drafted antislave trade laws and imposed interprovincial slave taxes. But up to the very eve of abolition, planters continued to use slaves and, even at exorbitant prices, purchase more from the northern provinces.One of the most prominent and eloquent spokesmen for the cause of abolition was Joaquim Nabuco (1849–1910), a lawyer, diplomat, and statesman from Pernambuco who authored O Abolicionismo (Abolitionism, 1883) and acted as president of the Sociedade Brasileira contra a Escravidão (Brazilian Anti-Slavery Society [established in Rio in 1880]). Numerous Afro-Brazilians assumed leading roles in the abolitionist movement. José Carlos do Patrocínio (1854–1905) wrote tirelessly for the cause of abolition in the Gazeta de Tarde, the most popular antislavery journal, and headed the Associação Central Emancipadora (Central Emancipation Association) in Rio. André Rebouças (1838–1898) advocated abolition through his writings and by organizing several abolitionist clubs. Luís Gonzaga de Pinto Gama (1830–1882), a former slave, became a prominent lawyer and defender of slaves in the courts. Another notable figure was the writer Antônio de Castro Alves (1847–1871), known as the Poet of the Slaves. Abolitionism was largely an elite movement; few free blacks were involved.Beginning in 1884, several states freed their slave populations—Ceará, Amazonas, and then Rio Grande de Sul—inspiring the creation of emancipation clubs in urban centers across the nation. These events fueled abolitionism and led to the passing of the Saraiva-Cotegipe Law in 1885, which liberated all slaves once they reached the age of sixty, and legislation issued in 1886 that declared public corporal punishment of slaves illegal. With the threat of whipping removed, many slaves abandoned the coffee plantations where they had been laboring. Overwhelmed, the military asked to be relieved of their duty to track down escaped slaves. Planters began to liberate their slaves, and major political leaders started to adopt abolitionist views and make plans to officially transform the labor system.On May 13, 1888, when Princess Isabel signed the Lei Áurea (Golden Law), Brazil became the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery. The simple document consisted of two articles: (1)“With effect from the date of the present law, slavery is declared to be abolished in Brazil”; and(2)“All provisions to the contrary are hereby repealed.” Although emancipation contained no measure to compensate owners for their slaves, a new agricultural bank was established to extend credit to planters adjusting to a wage labor system. Former slaves, however, deprived of the land they had worked (emancipation contained no provision for the redistribution of land to freedpeople and their families) and largely squeezed out of the labor market by waves of immigrants, were forced into low-paying occupations and unemployment. The lack of major structural changes in the agricultural system made the abolition of slavery in Brazil a peaceful process that, some argue, did little to alter the poverty of the Afro-Brazilian population.FreedomIn the years following abolition, the spread of pseudoscientific theories about the inferiority of blacks led the Brazilian elite to launch a national program known as branqueamento (Whitening), which sought to literally lighten the complexion of the country. Through European immigration, restrictions on non-European immigrants, and miscegenation, Brazilian officials hoped to resolve what they perceived as the negative influence of blacks, and anticipated the gradual disappearance of Afro-Brazilians.Inherent in branqueamento was the idea that the presence of European blood could make a person white—a concept very different from the “one-drop” rule in the United States, which asserted that even the smallest amount of African blood made a person black. Perhaps this is why Brazil did not institute segregation following emancipation, as the United States did with the Jim Crow laws. The first challenge to these ideas came in 1933, when Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre published Casa Grande e Senzala (The Masters and the Slaves). In addition to celebrating Brazil's mixed-race heritage, he argued that miscegenation had created a racial democracy in which racism did not exist. The political activism of Afro-Brazilians in the postabolitionist era, however, seriously challenged Freyre's claims.The early twentieth century witnessed the founding of several Afro-Brazilian publications that fostered a sense of black consciousness and social awareness among the Afro-Brazilian population. As a result, numerous Afro-Brazilian organizations emerged to combat the racial discrimination and poverty stemming from branqueamento. Some of the earliest were Centro Cívico Palmares (established in São Paulo in 1926) and Frente Negra Brasileira (FNB, established in São Paulo in 1931), both of which aimed to educate Afro-Brazilians and fight racial discrimination against them. After women gained the right to vote in 1932, a group of women with FNB worked to end sexual discrimination and exploitation in the workplace. More recently, organizations such as the Geledés Instituto da Mulher Negra (founded in São Paulo in 1988) have continued the fight against gender oppression and discrimination.Public punishment of slaves was a common occurrence in nineteenth-century Brazil. Artist Johann Moritz Rugendas recorded a flogging in the town plaza in Rio de Janeiro. Houghton Library, Harvard UniversityAfro-Brazilian cultural forms have historically been an important means of expressing black resistance and articulating black aspirations. In 1944 Abdias do Nascimento, an Afro-Brazilian intellectual and senator, launched a black renaissance in the arts by founding the Teatro Experimental do Negro (TEN). Until it folded in 1968, this organization sought to promote black pride and consciousness through performances by and about Afro-Brazilians. Female members of TEN addressed gender issues through their performances and in a column entitled Fala Mulher (Women Speak) in the organization's journal, Quilombo.Afro-Brazilians have also challenged racism and oppression through literature, music, and Carnival. Afro-Brazilian issues have long been the focus of the groups Olodum and Ilé Aiyê, based in Salvador, Bahia, as well as the work of musician Gilberto Gil and of Quilombhoje, a coalition of Afro-Brazilian writers. Blocos Afros, Carnival organizations that focus on Afro-Brazilian themes, emerged in Salvador during the 1970s to creatively highlight the historical contributions of blacks to the development of Brazil.The Civil Rights and Black Power Movements in the United States, as well as liberation movements in Africa and the Caribbean, inspired a new wave of black activism in Brazil during the 1970s. In 1978, with the organization of the politically active Movimento Negro Unificado Contra Discriminção Racial (MNU, Unified Negro Movement Against Racial Discrimination) in São Paulo, a black national movement was set into motion. Other black organizations followed, and on May 13, 1988—the hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Brazil—they staged several marches and protests in an effort to draw attention to the racial inequality and discrimination Afro-Brazilians continue to experience.Nevertheless, statistical information reflects the persistence of discrimination behind a facade of racial equality and harmony. Forty percent of black and mulatto Brazilians are illiterate, as compared to 25 percent of white Brazilians. The majority of the residents in the city's favelas—slums where health and housing conditions are among the poorest found anywhere in the nation—are of African descent, as are most of the homeless people in Brazil's urban centers. Afro-Brazilians make up more than 80 percent of Brazil's prison inmates. Today, the average black Brazilian man earns $163 a month, or 41 percent of his white counterpart's average earnings. A recent study estimated that in Brazil a white male worker earns, on the average, 2.5 times more than a black worker, and four times more than a black female worker.Other manifestations of racism include the use of the phrase “person of good appearance” in job advertisements to mean “light-skinned,” and the existence of two elevators in apartment buildings—one labeled “service” for maids and employees, the other labeled “social” for white residents. The harassment of Afro-Brazilians by the police is frequent and takes many forms, from outright violence to requiring blacks to present identification when in upper-class residential districts. These practices can be attributed to the common perception of blacks as poor and/or criminal.There is also the problem of homeless Street children, a predominantly black group of some 7 to 12 million who often survive through petty crime. Local businesses in the big cities often hire death squads composed of off-duty or retired policemen to kill them, reasoning that it is better to rid society of a black street child now than to deal with an adult black criminal in the future. In a widely publicized 1993 incident, eight street children between the ages of 11 and 19 were massacred in front of the Candelaria Church in the center of Rio de Janeiro. The Centro de Articulaçãos de Populaçães Marginalizadas (CEAP, Center for the Mobilization of Marginalized Populations), established in Rio in 1989, is one of many organizations that have taken responsibility for helping and protecting street children.The efforts of earlier Afro-Brazilian organizations helped pave the way for the passing of the Afonso Arinos Law of 1951, which made racial and color discrimination a crime, but it has proved difficult to enforce. They also helped facilitate Afro-Brazilian participation in politics. Benedita Souza da Silva, for example, became the first black Brazilian member of Congress in 1987 and the first black woman senator in 1994. A handful of Afro-Brazilian cultural figures have also won political office: Abdias do Nascimento, retired soccer star Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), and musician Gilberto Gil. But much remains to be accomplished. Brazil has never had a black president. There are no black generals, no black supreme court members, and only a handful of blacks among the more than 500 members of Congress. Until 1980, the year Edivaldo Brito took office, the predominantly black city of Salvador, Bahia, had never had a black mayor. Abdias do Nascimento asserts that “It will take a long time to bring some Black Brazilians to the point of realizing [that] electing Black politicians is the only way to end our social and economic subordination.”The Afro-Brazilian movement has found it difficult to mobilize the majority of Afro-Brazilians because, as one activist pointed out, Afro-Brazilians tend to identify more with class concerns than racial ones. Census figures indicate that Afro-Brazilians do not exhibit a strong sense of black consciousness—only 5 percent categorize themselves as black, while the rest use any of more than one hundred other terms that emphasize white or mixed rather than African ancestry. Despite the fact that downplaying one's African heritage has often been a key to personal social advancement in Brazil, a growing segment of the Afro-Brazilian population is discovering the richness of Afro-Brazilian history and the power of organizing as blacks to overcome persistent discrimination. With such mobilization comes the potential to open to Afro-Brazilians' avenues for social advancement other than those in the realms of sports (especially soccer) and entertainment (especially samba) and to bring Brazil one step closer to being the racial democracy that it has pretended to be for so many years.See also Afoxés/Blocos Afros; Education in Latin America and the Caribbean; Mining in Latin America and the Caribbean; Myth of Racial Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Interpretation; Religions, African, in Brazil; Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean; Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Reference Entry.  6166 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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