Racial democracy (Template:Lang-pt) is a term used by some to describe race relations in Brazil. The term denotes some scholars' belief that Brazil has escaped racism and racial discrimination. These researchers contend that Brazilians do not view each other through the lens of race, and do not harbor racial prejudice towards one another. Because of this, while social mobility of Brazilians may be constrained by many factors, gender and class included, racial discrimination is considered irrelevant (within the confines of the concept racial democracy).
Racial democracy was first advanced by Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre in his work Casa-Grande & Senzala (Template:Lang-en), published in 1933. Although Freyre never uses this term in the book, he did adopt it in later publications, and his theories paved the way for other scholars who would popularize the concept. Freyre argued that several factors, including close relations between masters and slaves prior to legal emancipation in 1888 and the supposedly benign character of Portuguese imperialism prevented the emergence of strict racial categories. Freyre also argued that continued miscegenation between the three races -- Amerindians, the descendants of African slaves, and whites—would lead to a "whitening" of the former two groups, creating a distinct and superior "meta-race".
Freyre's theory became a source of national pride for Brazil, which contrasted itself favorably with the racial divisions and violence then taking place in the United States. Over time, racial democracy would become widely accepted among Brazilians of all stripes and many foreign academics. Black researchers in the United States would make unfavorable comparisons between their own country and Brazil during the 1960s.
In the past four decades, beginning around the publication in 1974 of Thomas E. Skidmore's Black into White, a revisionist study of Brazilian race relations, scholars have begun to criticize the notion that Brazil is actually a "racial democracy." Skidmore argues that the predominantly white elite within Brazilian society promoted racial democracy to obscure very real forms of racial oppression. Michael Hanchard, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, has argued that the ideology of racial democracy, often promoted by state apparatuses, prevents effective action to combat racial discrimination by leading people to ascribe discrimination to other forms of oppression and allowing government officials charged with preventing racism to deny its existence a priori.
Hanchard and others further argue that Freyre's very notion that "whitening" is essential to the creation of a new, superior race is racist in itself. He further compiles a great deal of research from other scholars demonstrating widespread discrimination in employment, education, and electoral politics. The seemingly paradoxical use of racial democracy to obscure the realities of racism has been referred to by scholar Florestan Fernandes as the "prejudice of having no prejudices." That is, because the state assumes the absence of racial prejudice, it fails to enforce what few laws exist to counter racial discrimination, believing such efforts to be unnecessary.
- Gilberto Freyre. The Masters and the Slaves: A Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization. Samuel Putnam (trans.). Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Michael Hanchard. Orpheus and Power: The Movimento Negro of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil, 1945-1988. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.
- Thomas E. Skidmore. Black into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.