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Afro-Brazilians: Cultural Production in a Racial Democracy

Niyi Afolabi
Volume: 39
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 443
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Brazil, the most racially diverse Latin American country, is also the most contradictory: for centuries it has maintained fantasy as reality through the myth of racial democracy. Enshrined in that mythology is the masking of exclusionism that strategicall

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-710-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Notes on Yoruba Orthography
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Niyi Afolabi
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction: Negotiating Cultural Production in a Racial Democracy
    (pp. 1-21)

    Brazil, the most racially diverse Latin American country, is also the most contradictory. It is a country that has been able to maintain fantasy as reality through the myth of racial democracy for many centuries. Enshrined in that mythology is the masking of an exclusionism that strategically displaces and marginalizes Afro-Brazilians from political power. A democracy that subjugates a section of the population by virtue of the color of their skin cannot be said to be in the interest of that segment of the population but the perpetrator of segregation and dehumanization. In Racism in a Racial Democracy, France Winddance...

  7. 1 Two Faces of Racial Democracy
    (pp. 22-50)

    Many are the masks of inequality in Brazil and limited are the strategies of resistance: Carnival, samba, capoeira, and the representation of the mulatta in Brazilian literature and culture are a few of the cultural manifestations competing for a place in the exportation of myth and the exploitation of the Afro-Brazilian experience. Even the most casual observer of Brazil is easily co-opted into believing that, somehow, it is possible to live in a world free of prejudices and inequalities given a racial mixture that facilitates harmony and racial blindness. Roberto Schwarz captures this blindness in Misplaced Ideas when he cites...

  8. 2 Quilombhoje as a Cultural Collective
    (pp. 51-79)

    When in 1975 Thales de Azevedo, in Democracia racial, predicted a possibility of an “Afro-Brazilian Literature,” little did he know that twenty-five years after that prediction there would actually be a set of works on that very subject with a prominent status by that name. In Azevedo’s formulation, Afro-Brazilian literature is by nature, an arm of protest, “sendo embora de protesto contra a situação social de contato com a sociedade branca, não tem o negro condições de escapar à própria contra-imagem que dele faz o branco” (105; given its nature of protest against social conditions fomented by its contact with...

  9. 3 Beyond the Curtains: Unveiling Afro-Brazilian Women Writers
    (pp. 80-107)

    The complexity and inherent contradictions of the place of the Afro-Brazilian woman in the larger context of Brazil’s so-called racial paradise can be summed up by what Marilena Chaui, in Conformismo e resistência, describes as the drama of the family setting through which pleasure is provided but which is also a “nucleus of tension and conflicts” (145). In this mixture of social conformism and resistance, the Afro-Brazilian woman is multiply burdened. Oftentimes fulfilling the roles of mother, lover, provider, spokesperson, encourager, and nourisher, she becomes fragmented in an effort to assert her individuality amid social conventions and racial stereotypes. To...

  10. 4 (Un)Broken Linkages
    (pp. 108-126)

    By all accounts, Antônio Olinto, whose works have been translated into at least seven languages, deserves to be considered a Yoruba diaspora writer given his contributions to establishing connections between Yorubaland and its foremost and richest extension in the Americas: Bahia, Brazil. My personal experience in Salvador, Bahia, led to a reawakening of my own Yoruban diaspora consciousness.

    Because I was born and raised in the bubbling heart of Lagos, Nigeria, Olinto’s narratives, especially A casa da água, bring back memories of familiar settings. I can hear echoes of hustling street traders, the nocturnal pleasantries of celebrants barricading whole blocks...

  11. 5 The Tropicalist Legacy of Gilberto Gil
    (pp. 127-150)

    Music, like poetry, has often been considered the language of the soul and an outlet for feelings. But music can also be visionary in its search for untraveled “outlets” such as the Brazilian Tropicalist wave of the mid-1960s spearheaded by Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Gil is credited with approximately five hundred musical pieces, an amount that underscores the productive energy of “Baba Alapala,” as he is often called. If there is anything simultaneously distinguishing and complementary about Gil and Caetano, it is the individual and collective rebelliousness inherent in their involvement with...

  12. 6 Afro-Brazilian Carnival
    (pp. 151-168)

    Partnership is the illusory ideal often aspired to by exponents of popular participation in development. With good intentions, they insist that participants in development must no longer live in “worlds apart”; rather, they must become neighbors and partners in the development enterprise. In an attempt to redefine development from a grassroots perspective, some scholars have elaborated alternative development paradigms and proposed a number of approaches.¹ The consensus is that beyond communication strategies, grassroots participation is the missing link in the development chain. In addition, the role of culture has been found to be essential as context and continuity for development....

  13. 7 Film and Fragmentation
    (pp. 169-192)

    The technologizing of the process of dehumanization through cinema provides a vivid window into the subtle reenactment of slavery in the Brazilian context. In this substitution of methods, chains are replaced with demeaning and caricatural costumes, padlocks with fragmentation and silencing of the voice, rape with the perverse desire of the mulatta (mixed-race woman), domestication with the “chickenization,” “zombification,” and “buffoonization” of black actors. As a result, while Brazil may be said to possess an Afro-Brazilian soul through African cultural presence, the political structure is dominantly and alienatingly white and this explains the fragmentation of that very soul as reflected...

  14. 8 Ancestrality and the Dynamics of Afro-Modernity
    (pp. 193-206)

    To what extent is Roland Barthes relevant to a significant discussion of “Afro-modernity,” especially as a theorist of language and culture? Barthes wrote, “To be modern is to know clearly what cannot be started over again.”¹ This is the crux of the dilemma faced by theorists of modernism and postmodernism within the context of the African diaspora—an atemporal space of contestation. This chapter explores the problematic of ancestrality and the dynamics of Afro-modernity in the Brazilian context and by extension in the African diaspora. It ponders the legitimacy of “modernism” and “postmodernism” with particular emphasis on Afro-Brazilian cultural producers...

  15. 9 The Forerunners of Afro-Modernity
    (pp. 207-238)

    My various interview sessions with contemporary Afro-Brazilian writers revealed one issue that was controversial and contested among the interviewees: modernism and modernity. For reasons best explained by their resistance to any formulation emanating from the other—that is, the dominant Brazilian intellectual currents and traditions, and Western institutions in general, which marginalize whatever does not conveniently fit their neatly packaged “canonical” paradigms—these writers reject assertions, such as that by Wilson Martins, for example, that Afro-Brazilians are yet to produce “first-quality” literature.¹ As I pointed out in the preceding chapter, Afro-Brazilian writers were excluded from the most significant cultural and...

  16. 10 (Un)Transgressed Tradition
    (pp. 239-266)

    The tenacity of Afro-Brazilian writers in general is unquestionable as they negotiate the stifling effects of the racial democracy mythology on their cultural production as well as on their threatened humanity. It must also be noted that the criticism of the new generation of Afro-Brazilian writers has been scanty at best, but also quite limited if not dismal when it comes to particular authors.¹ Hence, beyond the freedom to write, there is a constraining block on critical production due to a lack of sustained critical practice and development as well as limited publishing outlets for Afro-Brazilian issues.

    Shortly after the...

  17. 11 Ancestrality, Memory, and Citizenship
    (pp. 267-301)

    The notions of nation and citizenship are by nature complex since what constitutes each of these communities is defined equally by sociopolitical, cultural, and historical values that cannot be separated from the legacies of struggles to assert ownership, freedom, and eligibility to share in the distribution of national resources and benefits. The zero-sum political scenario is particularly informative to understand societies and peoples that have been historically oppressed and marginalized, such as inhabitants of the former colonies and their shifting conditions from the enslaved to the “emancipated” or from the colonized to the “postcolonial.” As the above quote by Abdias...

  18. 12 Quilombo without Frontiers
    (pp. 302-356)

    Throughout Brazil, many Afro-Brazilian voices are clamoring for an audience and for inclusion within a racial divide and psychosocial fragmentation that continue to hinder political representation and empowerment of the vast majority. In spite of the challenges, it is satisfying to listen to these voices in many regions and come to the realization that regardless of the geographical disparateness, stylistic diversity, and differing thematic concerns, there is at least a sense of aesthetic unity among Afro-Brazilian cultural producers. Their respective location notwithstanding—be it Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Salvador, Recife, or Maranhão—these cultural “Quilombolas” (dwellers of...

  19. 13 Ancestral Motherhood of Leci Brandão
    (pp. 357-375)

    To qualify Leci Brandão as an “ancestral mother” is to suggest that she is both successful and powerful. Yet, unlike Daniela Mercury, the Bahian solo performer who has popularized the songs of many Afro-Bahian carnival groups, Leci Brandão’s name is still not widely known—but she can no longer be neglected. Continuing the legacy of such eminent singers as Alcione and Beth Carvalho, whose samba lyrics continue to be sung by Brazilians, especially in pagode circles, Brandão’s lyrical output and political sensibility deserve to be brought to light. Given the limited research done on her to date and the scant...

  20. Conclusion: The Future of Afro-Brazilian Cultural Production
    (pp. 376-380)

    In 1997, Spike Lee gave an exclusive interview to Raça (Race), an Afro-Brazilian magazine, in Brooklyn, New York, at his 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks studio. Lee provides his thoughts on his emergence as an American icon who influenced race relations in the film industry, as well as his views on Brazilian racial democracy, especially during his visit to Brazil with Michael Jackson:

    Raça: What was your impression about the situation of blacks in Brazil?

    Lee: Everyone tries to project the image that Brazilians are just one, same, and united people under one country but I don’t think this is...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 381-396)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 397-416)
  23. Index
    (pp. 417-429)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 430-433)