[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Sat, 18 Feb 1995 11:20:59 -0500
Sender: World-L - Forum on non-Eurocentric world history <WORLD-L@UBVM.cc.buffalo.edu>
From: Kathleen.P.King@CYBER.WIDENER.EDU
Subject: JALAS&L Spring 94-95 Article #1 Highlights
To: Multiple recipients of list WORLD-L <WORLD-L@UBVM.cc.buffalo.edu>

Brazil and Race: Lessons from Bahia (extract)

By Laurence Glasco, University of Pittsburgh, The Journal of Afro-Latin American Studies and Literatures, Spring 1994–95

This report on race relations in contemporary Brazil is based on an unusual type of field research, that of university students on a class assignment. In February 1993 approximately 450 faculty and university students-most from the United States-spent four days in Salvador, Bahia, as part of a program called Semester-at-Sea. They arrived on board of the SS. Universe, a ship that sails around the world twice a year, offering university credit for classes that involve both formal instruction and field research. Students in my courses were encouraged to go out and gain some first hand knowledge about race relations in Salvador da Bahia.

The students were relatively well prepared for their assignment. Two Brazilian interport lecturers introduced them to Brazilian life and culture; class readings exposed them to scholarly literature on Brazilian race relations; class discussions examined techniques for making field observations-what things to look for, and what types of questions to ask. The students were white and spoke no Portuguese, but this turned out to be less of a handicap than we feared. Brazilians of all colors and from all walks of life proved willing, often eager, to communicate with them--in English and, when necessary, in sign language--about race relations.

The students' greatest assets were their enthusiasm and sense of adventure. They met a wide range of Brazilians--taxi drivers, tour guides, prostitutes, popsicle vendors, university students, professional, and businessmen. They ate in a wide range of places, from greasy spoons to exclusive restaurants; they visited neighborhoods both poor and wealthy, they attended soccer matches, went to beaches, and worshipped in a variety of churches. As a whole they experienced more in four days than I could in four weeks.

Brazil and Race: The Debate

The observations and reports of the Semester-at-Sea students during this voyage contribute to the long-standing debate about Brazilian race relations which once was considered exemplary. In the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's, the Brazilian scholar Gilberto Freyre fostered the image of Brazil as a land of racial tolerance. Such an image has been reinforced by the American historian, Frank Tannenbaum, who agreed that Brazil's race relations stood in stark contrast to the racial violence and formal segregation that bedeviled the United States. Indeed, in the 1950s, Brazil's image as a racial democracy inspired a series of UNESCO studies whose aim was to make it a model for others to follow.

Today, many Brazilians still regard their country as largely devoid of racial discrimination-a position taken by at least one of our interport lecturers-but others consider the Brazil's reputation as tarnished. The UNESCO studies, which were designed to highlight the nation's harmonious race relations, ironically produced a generation of scholars--notably Florestan Fernandes and the Sao Paulo school of sociology--who argued that Brazil's image as a racial democracy was undeserved. Today, when scholars speak of Brazil's racial democracy, they often enclose it in ironic quotation marks.

Other topics covered in Prof. Glasco's article are: Salvador da Bahia and its History; The Students Findings, Race Relations and Bahian Society; Color Preference, Dating, and Marriage; Student's Assessments; and Significance of Student's Reports.

Highlights of the second article of this volume: Emancipacao racial no Brasil: uma incessante continuidade historica (Race Emancipation in Brazil: An Historic Continuum) will be posted in two weeks. In this article Hering underscores the significance and impact of the many and continuous struggles Brazilians of African ancestry have had be engaged in to promote liberation from the repression imposed upon them over the centuries by Brazilian prevailing orders. She examines these liberation movements, from colonial times to the present, highlighting the distressful manner in which these movements have been undermined by the dominant sectors of that society.

The Journal of Afro-Latin American Studies and Literatures-JALAS&L is published annually in the latter part of the Autumn quarter. Individual or institutional annual subscriptions include one book per year. For subscription information please write to Prof. Kathleen P. King, Technical Editor: <pgkpking@cyber.widener.edu>. Inquiries and submissions should be sent to the Editor, Prof. Rosangela Maria Vieira, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Howard University, 2400 6th Street, N.W.--Locke Hall, Washington, DC, 20059. Please continue to write, your support is very important to all of us.

<Respectfully submitted by Kathleen Palombo King, Technical Editor of JALAS&L, pgkpking@cyber.widener.edu>