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Brazilian Racial Politics Essay

The reading provided, extracted from Orpheus and Power by Michael George Hanchard, critiques the Race vs. Class Paradigm that is widespread in the Brazilian society. By weaving together some works of the more renowned analysts and sociologists of the topic, he highlights two main things: firstly, the salient points of their claims and secondly, the faults in their arguments. By comparing and contrasting two schools of thought on the issue, Class-based and Structuralist, he points out certain weaknesses and the glaring irreconcilability of such thought when applied to the trends in Brazilian economic society.

The subject of Race and Class and their contributions into creating a society wherein oppression has been structured into policy has fueled many debates, much of them still ongoing. While there has not been any theoretical consensus reached, a characteristic that is always attendant in the field of academia, there is however, a fortunate by-product in that it has broadened the body of current knowledge to embrace other topics into the discussion such as modes of production and social inequality.

It is also interesting to note that the post-World War II era, as represented by the works of Oliver Cox and Stanley Greenberg, show the minimum agreement between scholars that race, at the very least, plays cuts an integral figure in structuring the oppressive social inequality. This makes for a broader, richer and more interesting scholarly debate. Hanchard begins the comparison with a discussion on Economic Determinism and the study of the Negro population in Brazilian society through the written work of one Florestan Fernandes, Democracia Racial.

Fernandes describes the relationship between the “White elites” and the “Negroes” in Brazilian society as a situation where the former “limit themselves to treating the Negro with tolerance, maintaining the old ceremonial politeness in inter-racial relationships and excluding from this tolerance any true egalitarian feeling or content. ” (Hanchard 32) By articulating the “hegemonic position” of the White population over the Black one, he more than hinted at the absence of racial democracy in Brazilian society. Fernandes’ analyzed the racial interaction of the society a pivotal time in economic Brazilian history.

The importance of his written work may largely be attributed the perfect timing of it. His deconstructions and analysis of Brazilian society then, through interviews and the gathering of empirical data, did much to further the study of Brazilian racial relations. Moreover, his role and significant importance to the field is further underscored by the fact that he was the first to analyze the linkage between race and class in the context of Brazilian socio-economic development. He claimed that the Brazilian Blacks were “exploited both during and after slavery by uncaring whites”.

However, in a turn-about, he concludes that the Afro-Brazilian is “dysfunctional, suffering from anomie, hopelessness and immorality” and lacked a sense of discipline and responsibility that made them pale in comparison to Italian immigrants for competition in the labour markets. Hanchard, however, took issue with this particular conclusion and rebutted by emphasing the failure of Fernandes’ missed or misappreciated the important fact that the intervention of big landowners and government officials played a crucial role in creating a marketplace that preferred Southern European immigrants.

In essence, Fernandes’ approach fails is that his discussion of the Negro social movement was confined to issues of racial inequality where race itself was autonomous and not an economic variable nor indicator. George Reid Andrews, by using an approach offered by Greenberg, refutes Fernandes’ claims and forwards his own. Andrews’ approach fares better than the previously discussed one of Fernandes’ to the extent that he explored the “collusion between the state government and landowners to foster economic development” by subsidizing European immigration creating a rocky playing field where the Blacks were the destined losers.

He then claims that although slavery played the role of a detrimental catalyst in Brazilian socio-economic development, it is but one of many factors to the displacement of Afro-Brazilian workers. He considered state intervention more critical in that policy itself structured the economic oppression by the doling out of development funds in a very preferential treatment to European immigrant workers. Thus, he introduced a very important aspect into the debates; that of the material dimension of race and how it structures state policies.

At this junction, the theoretical wars began to include a different perspective: Structuralist. As the third generation of race relations, this school of thought rebuts and debunks the racial democracy myth proposed by their predecessors. Carlos Hasenblag and Nelson Do Valle Silva are two of the most prominent figures in this approach that does not treat race and class as being on opposing ends of the same spectrum but rather they situated racial inequality at the very heart of socio-economic relations and the development and trends of the labour market.

Harchand, however, critically points out that although there was a discussion of racial inequality, there was virtually no explanation offered how such inequality id politically constructed or even contested. “Despite the conceptual differences between the Reductionists and Structuralists, the tendencies seemed to concur about one crucial dimension of Brazilian race relations; a dimension that seemed to distinguish Afro-Brazilians from their US counterparts: a lack of collective awareness of themselves as a subordinated racial group.

” (Hanchard 41) By analyzing the theories at hand, one thing is clear: the need for a better-tailored conceptual framework to be used as a guide for racially equal policy making. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. In an effort to stop the mentality of finger-pointing to the dominant white, what has the different Afro-Brazilian social movements done, or at least attempted to bring about, in order to correct the racial inequality with regard to economic policy and labour markets? 2. What are some concrete state policies, like the Black Economic Empowerment Movement of South Africa, that can correct this historical injustice?

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