Race Relations in Brazil

Gilberto Freyre as Their Interpreter

Authored by: Roberto Motta

Routledge Handbook of Afro-Latin American Studies

Print publication date:  November  2022
Online publication date:  November  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367691431
eBook ISBN: 9781003159247
Adobe ISBN:


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We intend to draft a chapter that has as its subject racial mixture in Brazil as seen through the eyes of Gilberto Freyre (1900‒1987). In Brazil, the opposition between the racial groups is weakened due to racial mixture, which, though often disapproved of, is not quite stigmatized. This logic is also attenuated by people sharing the superidentities that flow from belonging to groups of an ethnic, religious, political, or other character. This is largely a paradigm that Freyre borrowed from Franz Boas. The essence of the influence exerted by Franz Boas on Gilberto Freyre lies in the application, to the social history of early Brazil, by Freyre of some Boasian theses. Those theses concerned the superidentities resulting from membership in a religious community and/or from belonging to a patriarchal and polygamic extended family. Race mixture represents the issue often considered to be the most important of the disciplines known as Brazilian Social Thought (Pensamento Social Brasileiro). This discipline or, rather, this ensemble of disciplines, has as its object the so-called Brazilian specificity. Its aim is to identify, with as much exactness as the subject itself permits, what makes Brazil to be Brazil. It is not because he claimed Franz Boas as his mentor that Freyre is opposed by so many Brazilianists. The great debate turns around philosophies of history. In fact, many of the adversaries of Freyre have written under the influence of a paradigm which may be considered Weberian, connoting, among other ingredients, the superiority of the “Protestant Ethic” considered as associated with economic and other forms of development. This is what Freyre was against, especially so in his last writings, which pullulate with antiweberianisms and with the praise of tradition and regionalism.

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