The Construction of Black Identity in Brazil: Selected Theories on Race, Culture and Politics
Thesis DT 3.5 2000 M846
xvii, 139 leaves; 29 cm.
This thesis examines aspects of Black identity construction in Brazil. It analyzes the implications of selected theoretical formulations, cultural perspectives, historical experiences and political dimensions that influence notions of how African Brazilians are racially defined. Specifically, my work investigates the way African Brazilians engage the task of self-definition in the face of an oppressive history. African Brazilians have experienced slavery, Portuguese colonialism, a neo-colonial political environment that denies the existence of racism, and racialized theories that have either promoted Black stereotypes or obscured African identity.
My work basically relies on library and electronic research in an attempt to unearth significant contributions by selected progressive-leaning scholars towards discourses on race, Black identity construction, Black women and self-definition, Black resistance struggles and social movements. The primary and secondary sources examined reflect a multidisciplinary approach that engages politics, culture, history, economics, religion, and Black women's roles in shaping Black identity. All these disciplinary threads are placed in conversation with each other, as it were, in an effort to bring out the complexity of an extremely layered theme. The information gathered is critically reviewed, reflected upon and analyzed, with a view to discerning the extent to which African Brazilians have succeeded or failed as potential agencies for the meaningful construction of their Black identity.
My thesis' theoretical framework is in part informed by Aime Cesaire's general statement in Discourse on Colonialism. The book is one of the most eloquent and powerful testimonies indicting colonization and "Western Civilization" as forms of barbarism, designed to wipe out targeted victims and their identity.
Operative definitions are provided for the task of facilitating emergence from a common point of departure, while indicating my own understanding/usage of them.
An examination of selected theories on race and of significant historical events related to racial experiences on Brazil reveals that both factors have a significant impact on Black identity construction. When imposed by dominating structures, the experiences sabotage the process of an assertive Black identity construction. Such theories, events and experiences include the following: the myth of Brazil as a racial paradise, the myth of Iberian colonialism as a benign system of government, the glorification of miscegenation as a solution to racism and the promotion of "exceptionalism" as an answer to economic discrimination against Blacks. To counter these negating conceptions, African Brazilians are shown as having been engaged in historical struggles that contend the negations through cultural expression, religion and particularly through political social movements. However, findings also indicate that some Black Brazilians prefer to reject their Blackness and to distance themselves from their Africana roots.
Black Brazilian women represent an important constituency amongst those engaged in the construction of Black identity. This is so because historically, Black women have, alongside their male counterparts, played a very crucial role in ensuring not just the survival of their race, but in struggling for the preservation of Africana identity. Under slavery and colonialism, the enemy used women's bodies as sites of physical and sexual abuse in a deliberate effort to wipe out Black identity. Defying humiliation, however, Black women have historically used their social locations as mothers, educators, producers, spiritual and cultural workers to contest the subjugation of their race and its identity. Nonetheless, an examination of African Brazilian women reveals that the picture is more complicated than this in that among them are to be found those who are ashamed of their Blackness. Images of self-rejection and self-denigration are shown as being prevalent among such women, who have been brainwashed against their Africana identity and so socialized to deify whiteness that they are liabilities in the task of Black identity construction. The implication of African Brazilian women's miseducation or improper education and socialization is for the sake of social reproduction, a major concern. This is because of the given essential roles that these women play in the education and socialization of youth.
The thesis lastly examines the contribution made by resistance struggles and social movements in advocating Blackness as well as empowering African Brazilians so that they may own agency in constructing their Black identity. The Movimento Negro Unificado is highlighted as the umbrella movement that formally brings together groups engaged in acts of resistance attempting to affirm Black identity in Brazil. However, although it highlights the color question, its comprehensive agenda views struggles against economic oppression, political marginalization, class discrimination and other injustices as inseparable from the struggle for the assertion of Black identity. While applauding the work done by the Movement, nonetheless, this thesis is critical of problems within it that undermine the creation of a formidable front that it is capable of being. The weaknesses and failures include the following: internal squabbles; elitist tendencies; failure to achieve mass mobilization; gender insensitivity, with regard to leadership; and inability to mobilize youth. These problems aside, the Movement is shown as having made commendable progress in promoting civil rights awareness among Blacks and in pushing forward the agenda for Black identity enhancement.