Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition, Sao Paulo and Salvador.
Brazil, with the largest number of people of African descent in this hemisphere, and as the heir to the most demographically significant portion of the Atlantic slave trade, has not lacked for attention regarding slavery and race. Silvio Romero and Raimundo Nina Rodrigues, in the late 19th century, and Manuel Querino and Gilberto Freyre in the early 20th, studied Afro-Brazilian contributions and presence; Joaquim Nabuco, Alberto Tortes, and Oliveira Viana debated the Afro-Brazilian's socio-political role from the 1880s through the 1930s. By the 1950s and 60's the paulisra school of social scientists criticized the often racist and reactionary implications of their predecessors. The last thirty years have seen a plethora of archival analyses exploring slavery, the slave trade, and racism. Americans, too, have contributed. Donald Pierson gave us a pioneer analysis of Bahian race relations in the 1940s; Charles Wagley, another local study in the 1950s; Stanley J. Stein his classic plantation analysis that same d ecade; Marvin Harris and Carl Degler provocative comparisons in the 1960s; and Thomas Skidmore a magisterial intellectual history in the 1970s. More recently, Mary Karasch, Sam Adamo, George Reid Andrews, and Michael Hanchard have given us analyses of urban slavery and race relations in Rio and Sao Paulo, and Dain Borges and Jeffrey Needell brief studies of Brazilian racism's intellectual history. To generalize, the more benign analyses have focussed upon the Northeast; the more critical, upon relations in Rio and Sao Paulo. The former corresponds to a region of socio-economic tradition and underdevelopment; the latter, to one of dynamic change and industrialization. In this ambitious monograph, the author contributes to the literature a much needed analysis of two distinct urban experiences. Moreover, she departs from the comparative perspective of African diaspora studies. The book contains a survey of late 19th- and early 20th-century Brazil, a chapter emphasizing racial issues during that era, particularl y after abolition (1888), and then two chapters each on Sao Paulo and Salvador, with a concluding chapter reviewing diaspora comparisons (mostly Caribbean). The study of paulista Afro-Brazilians focuses upon the Frente Negra Brasiliera (Brazilian Negro Front); that on Salvador's Afro-Brazilians explores the origins and role of religious and Carnival organizations.
The sources and use of sources may disappoint colleagues. While the author has interviewed eleven paulistas and five bahianos, worked through periodicals in both cities, sifted organizational archives, and read secondary works concerned with the Caribbean and Brazil, there is a disturbing tendency to miss key studies. This may explain errors in fact and interpretation: the author entirely neglects the abolitionist movement of 1878-88 and misunderstands the nature of earlier abolitionism; she suggests most Afro-Brazilians were slaves in 1888; she errs in the character and chronology of successful immigrant wage labor and of paulista industrialization; she often divides the Brazilian population between Afro-Brailian freedmen and white elites; she neglects the apposite historiography of Rio; she misunderstands the origins of Gilberto Freyre's seminal work, the Revolution of 1930, and the stillborn revolutionary attempt of 1935; she calls Machado de Assis one of Brazil's greatest poets; she neglects the seminal racism of Oliveira Viana, etc.. Moreover, too often the author will state conclusions and will ascribe attitudes, thoughts, and decisions to historical actors without adequate (or, at times, any) documentation. One also notes that the author is burdened with a priori assumptions, often undermined by her own findings (or those of others). Thus, as the author is explicitly searching for commonalities in a diaspora experience interpreted from an academic American point of view, Afro-Brazilians are assumed (desired) to be a community and one internally undifferentiated by differences in racial appearance. This leads the author to privilege organizations and tendencies which approximate these ideals (such as those informing the origins and ideology of the Frente Negra Brasileira); it also leads her to ascribe to this fictional community a history, a political philosophy, and common experience. Yet, elsewhere, as she has learned and uncovered specificities of Brazilian race relations, the author has strewn the book with examples of experience and perspective which directly contradict her own imposed constructs. Nonetheless, the contributions are noteworthy. The book has finally given us a comparative historical study of two cities and two distinct diaspora regions, notable lacunae in the literature. It also has, by bringing to bear the issue of comparative diaspora experience at the level of local, archival research, given us a work which will provoke useful thought, criticism, and, one hopes, further analysis.
Indeed, the potential of these comparisons, as well as the richness of the author's findings, suggests ways toward greater rewards. For example, the author has studied the emergence of the Frente Negra Brasiliera, an ephemeral paulista organization led by an authoritarian, anti-Communist, anti-Semitic ideologue in the 1930s, and claimed it superseded the color divisions within the paulista Afro-Brazilian community and (without documentation) that it left a legacy significant in Brazilian history, particularly the Black Consciousness movement of the 1970s. One might suggest, rather, that the significance of the organization lies in what it demonstrates about the experience of the atypical racism of Brazil's whitest, most industrialized city. One might also want to explore why, even given the ideological response the author celebrates, the FNB failed to capture mass ideological support--or much support at all. The author indicates that among the more than 8,000 who did join (nationally), many did so for the so cial-service benefits, rather than affirmation of a black identity. In terms of the diaspora comparisons, this manifest ideological and organizational failure has to be understood and explained for the sharp contrast it makes to the mobilization associated with race-conscious, black movements in the Caribbean and the United States in the same fruitful era. In another example, the author argues that the Bahian cultural florescence of Afro-Brazilian religious and Carnival organizations (and lack of Bahian racial political mobilization) is a function of the region's relatively larger African-descent population (compared to the apparent European-descent population), the divisions between differing African peoples and people born in Africa and born in Brazil, and the lack of dynamic political and economic change typical of the region. Yet, then, one would wonder why similar circumstances did not lead to similar results in the West Indies or Cuba, where, again, race-based political ideology flourished and political mobilization followed, with tremendous influence on diaspora communities in the United States (and on the anti-colonial movements which later galvanized Africa).
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Needell, Jeffrey D.|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2000|
|Previous Article:||Shifting the Color Line: Race and the American Welfare State.|
|Next Article:||The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape.|