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Open Access Publications from the University of California

From Oppressive to Benign: A Comparative History of the Construction of Whiteness in Brazil in the Post Abolition Era

  • Author(s): Davis, Darién J
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

This essay deconstructs the ways in which Brazilian patriotic intellectuals transformed the oppressive whiteness of the Portuguese colonial project to what I call “benign whiteness.” After providing a brief history of the development of whiteness and hybridity in Latin America, I highlight patriotism and racism in thinkers such as Cuban José Martí, Uruguayan Enrique Rodó, and Brazilian Euclides da Cunha. After World War I, Brazilian cultural elites, along with the bourgeois state, promoted and institutionalized cultural hybridity as a unique trait that bound Brazilians together in a superior way to the United States. The patriotic trope of hybridity masked white privilege while benign whiteness stymied racial solidarity even as it continued to marginalize non-white populations. I show how whites and many almost whites along with foreign intellectuals, helped propagate the idea of Brazilian benign whiteness, an ideology that continues to impact Latin Americans today.

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