Cover image for Race and Multiraciality in Brazil and the United States: Converging Paths? By G. Reginald Daniel

Race and Multiraciality in Brazil and the United States

Converging Paths?

G. Reginald Daniel


$77.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-02883-5

$29.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-03288-7

384 pages
6" × 9"

Race and Multiraciality in Brazil and the United States

Converging Paths?

G. Reginald Daniel

“Daniel's book is a careful and convincingly argued exposition on race and race mixture in the USA and Brazil. Broad in scope, impressive in detail, with a bold and compelling thesis, this book brings clarity to the comparative analysis of race in the USA and Brazil and offers a richly theoretical argument about divergent trends in patterns of racialization in the two nations. At a time when scholars of race in the USA can no longer afford to ignore the nation with largest population of African descent in the Americas, G. Reginald Daniel's book will be essential reading for scholars and students alike.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
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Although both Brazil and the United States inherited European norms that accorded whites privileged status relative to all other racial groups, the development of their societies followed different trajectories in defining white/black relations. In Brazil pervasive miscegenation and the lack of formal legal barriers to racial equality gave the appearance of its being a “racial democracy,” with a ternary system of classifying people into whites (brancos), multiracial individuals (pardos), and blacks (pretos) supporting the idea that social inequality was primarily associated with differences in class and culture rather than race. In the United States, by contrast, a binary system distinguishing blacks from whites by reference to the “one-drop rule” of African descent produced a more rigid racial hierarchy in which both legal and informal barriers operated to create socioeconomic disadvantages for blacks.

But in recent decades, Reginald Daniel argues in this comparative study, changes have taken place in both countries that have put them on “converging paths.” Brazil’s black consciousness movement stresses the binary division between brancos and negros to heighten awareness of and mobilize opposition to the real racial discrimination that exists in Brazil, while the multiracial identity movement in the U.S. works to help develop a more fluid sense of racial dynamics that was long felt to be the achievement of Brazil’s ternary system.

Against the historical background of race relations in Brazil and the U.S. that he traces in Part I of the book, including a review of earlier challenges to their respective racial orders, Daniel focuses in Part II on analyzing the new racial project on which each country has embarked, with attention to all the political possibilities and dangers they involve.

“Daniel's book is a careful and convincingly argued exposition on race and race mixture in the USA and Brazil. Broad in scope, impressive in detail, with a bold and compelling thesis, this book brings clarity to the comparative analysis of race in the USA and Brazil and offers a richly theoretical argument about divergent trends in patterns of racialization in the two nations. At a time when scholars of race in the USA can no longer afford to ignore the nation with largest population of African descent in the Americas, G. Reginald Daniel's book will be essential reading for scholars and students alike.”
Race and Multiraciality in Brazil and the United States extends our current and historical understandings of the topic beyond the United States and takes readers to a country in which multiracialism has long been an important component of national identity. Reginald Daniel’s extensive knowledge of both cases, along with his skillful comparison of the two, adds theoretical depth to the emerging debates around race and multiracialism.”
“Whether you agree or not with the author’s prescriptions, the book brings new light to new and old problems and is a more than useful contribution to the ongoing comparison of Brazil and the USA.”
“Reginald Daniel . . . has given us a systematic work on what is a most complex issue, making the volume useful for scholars in a variety of disciplines. . . . Its unusual feature is that the author approaches the topic from a sociological as well as a historical viewpoint. This interdisciplinary approach is valuable, because the subject in both countries needs a deeply historical as well as a cultural focus, a task in which the author achieves substantial success.”
“Perhaps some future focus on the voices of ordinary Brazilians of varying degrees of African ancestry could be a logical progression in Daniel’s valuable contributions to the study of comparative racial dynamics.”
“Daniel’s book is a significant contribution to the study of comparative race relations and will force scholars of Brazilian and American history to investigate more thoroughly the complex interaction of color, racial identity, and political activism.”

G. Reginald Daniel is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His previous publications include More Than Black? Multiracial Identity and the New Racial Order (2001).





Part I. The Historical Foundation

1. Eurocentrism: Racial Formation and the Master Racial Project

2. The Brazilian Path: The Ternary Racial Project

3. The Brazilian Path Less Traveled: Contesting the Ternary Racial Project

4. The U.S. Path: The Binary Racial Project

5. The U.S. Path Less Traveled: Contesting the Binary Racial Project

Part II. Converging Paths

6. A New U.S. Racial Order: The Demise of Jim Crow Segregation

7. A New Brazilian Racial Order: A Decline in the Racial Democracy Ideology

8. The U.S. Convergence: Toward the Brazilian Path

9. The Brazilian Convergence: Toward the U.S. Path

Epilogue: The U.S. and Brazilian Racial Orders: Changing Points of Reference





Since Carl Degler published his pivotal comparative historical research on race relations in Brazil and the United States (Neither Black nor White, 1971), several scholars have compared the gradual demise of Brazil’s ideology of racial democracy and the dismantling of Jim Crow segregation in the United States. There are also several comparative historical analyses of state-defined racial categories as these relate to the multiracial movement in the United States and black movement in Brazil that emerged in the late 1970s.

In this book I build on this research as well as examine broader racial dynamics as they relate to the multiracial phenomenon. Part I (“The Historical Foundation”) argues that the historical trajectories of the seemingly divergent racial orders in Brazil and the United States have much in common.

Chapter 1 traces the origin of Eurocentrism, as well as its companions white racism and white supremacy, which are the foundation of the Brazilian and U.S. racial orders.

Chapter 2 examines the history of Brazil’s ternary racial project, the mulatto escape hatch, and the associated “whitening through miscegenation” ideology, along with the absence of legalized barriers to racial equality. These phenomena led to the notion that class and cultural rather than racial signifiers determine social stratification in Brazil. More important, they earned Brazil the reputation as a racial democracy, an image popularized by anthropologist Gilberto Freyre in his monumental studies of Brazilian race relations: The Masters and the Slaves (1933), The Mansions and the Shanties (1936), and Order and Progress (1959).

Chapter 3 highlights racial projects during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that challenged the ternary racial project, the mulatto escape hatch, and whitening ideology. These included projects formulated by individuals such as Luís Gama and Lima Barreto, who spoke out against racial oppression. Collective strategies involved the Black Guard (Guarda Negra), the Brazilian Black Front (Frente Negra Brasileira), and the Black Experimental Theater (O Teatro Experimental do Negro), which sought to unify blacks and mulattoes in the struggle for African Brazilian rights. In order to accomplish this aim these organizations and others like them deployed binary racial projects similar to those in the United States. Yet racial pluralism was generally viewed as a temporary tactic in the struggle for racial equality. The goal was to fulfill Brazil’s ideology of racial democracy by integrating blacks and mulattoes into the social order as equals, rather than maintaining African Brazilians as a distinct group.

Chapter 4 maps out the historical development of the U.S. one-drop rule and the binary racial project. It also analyzes the informal and formal practices sanctioning the unequal treatment of African-descent Americans in most aspects of social life.

Chapter 5 focuses on racial projects that historically contested the binary racial project and the one-drop rule. Individual projects have included “passing.” Collective strategies have included the formation of blue-vein societies, Louisiana Creoles of color, and triracial isolates, which created alternative third identities (or ternary racial projects) in a manner similar to Brazil. Yet these tactics were inegalitarian and maintained the racial hierarchy.

Part II (“Converging Paths”) analyzes the changes in Brazilian and U.S. race relations beginning in the 1950s and 1960s that led to the gradual erosion of the racial democracy ideology in Brazil and the dismantling of legalized racial segregation in the United States. I argue that by the late 1970s race relations in these two countries began to converge, particularly in terms of the multiracial phenomenon.

Chapter 6 examines the U.S. racial order that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s with the dismantling of Jim Crow segregation, the implementation of civil rights legislation and affirmative action initiatives, and the removal of the last laws against racial intermarriage (Loving v. Virginia). After the 1967 Loving decision, social relations became comparatively more fluid, the rate of interracial marriage rose, and many interracial couples began raising their offspring to embrace a “multiracial” identity. By 1979, interracial couples in Berkeley, California, founded I-Pride (Interracial/Intercultural Pride) to demand that the Berkeley Board of Education include a multiracial identifier on public school forms.

Although previous work on the one-drop rule existed, only beginning in the late 1980s did there emerge ground-breaking research on the “new” multiracial identity generally, and more specifically, the implications of this device on a multiracial identification, premier examples being Paul R. Spickard’s Mixed Blood (1989) and Maria P.P. Root’s Racially Mixed People in America (1992) and The Multiracial Experience (1996). This new multiracial identity seeks to resist the one-drop rule and the binary racial project, as did previous racial strategies (passing, blue-vein societies, triracial isolates, Louisiana Creoles of color). Yet it differs from those tactics in that it is egalitarian and challenges the racial hierarchy.

Chapter 7 looks at Brazil’s racial democracy ideology in terms of research on Brazilian race relations conducted in the 1950s and 1960s. This research indicated that the more phenotypically African the individual, the lower he or she was in the social order in terms of education, occupation, and income despite the lack of legal barriers to equality. Notwithstanding the contradiction between the reality of race relations and the ideology of racial democracy, these findings, along with research conducted in the early 1970s by U.S. scholars indicated that Brazil exhibits fluid racial markers. However, during the two decades of military rule (1964–85) Brazilian scholars were largely prohibited from discussing the problem of racial inequality by a government invested in claiming that no such problem existed.

The return of civilian rule in the 1970s set the stage for a revitalized black movement. Activists argued that racial inequality, apart from class, was a main factor in social stratification. A new generation of Brazilian social scientists (most of whom are white) bolstered these claims by providing a rigorous analysis of official data on health, income, and education (see, for example, Silva 1978 and Hasenbalg 1979). Further analyses since the 1980s support these findings.

The racial mobilization beginning in the 1970s generated a more radical critique of the ternary racial project, mulatto escape hatch, and whitening ideology. New modes of political organization and confrontation, as well as new conceptions of racial identity and definitions of the state’s role in promoting and achieving equality, were debated and contested in the political sphere. In order to forge a politicized racial identity the black movement sought to sensitize individuals to the notion of African ancestry in a manner similar to African American identity in the United States. Accordingly, they deployed a racial discourse that replaced the color terms preto and pardo with the racial term negro (African Brazilian). In addition, the public and political debate increasingly focused on the importance of race in determining social inequality.

By the 1990s, the debate surrounding multiraciality in Brazil and the United States increasingly centered on the collection of official data on race. These developments, which have been explored in previous analyses (see, for example, Daniel 2000 and Nobles 2000), further support the argument that Brazilian and U.S. race relations are converging.

In Chapter 8 I discuss the growth of the multiracial movement since the founding of I-Pride, particularly the campaign to bring about changes in official racial classification to make possible a “multiracial” identification. I also analyze the public and political debate, which more and more includes discussions about the declining importance of race as a factor influencing social stratification since the dismantling of legalized segregation (see, for example, Wilson 1980 and Sowell 1984), and discuss how many have begun to question the need for affirmative action and other directives aimed at tracking and eradicating patterns of racial discrimination, which they claim supposedly no longer exist, despite extensive research pointing to the persistence of pervasive, if largely informal, racial barriers to equality. These trends indicate the United States is moving toward a ternary racial project, as well as increasingly informal expressions of racism accompanied by a racial democracy ideology, which have typified Brazil (see, for example, Hacker 1992, Feagin and Sikes 1994, and Bonilla-Silva 2001 and 2003).

Chapter 9 explores the growth of the black movement in Brazil since the founding of the Unified Black Movement (O Movimento Negro Unificado, MNU), particularly the campaign to replace the terms pardo and preto with the term negro on the census. One of the goals of the movement is to persuade blacks, and particularly multiracial-identified individuals, to view themselves as part of an African Brazilian constituency. In addition, activists reject the notion that Brazil is a racially and culturally integrated, or a whiter, nation. Rather, they consider it to be composed of differentiated and mutually respectful, if not mutually exclusive, African Brazilian and European Brazilian racial/cultural pluralities.

Earlier strategies (of, for example, the Black Guard, the Black Front, and the Black Experimental Theater) generally viewed group pluralism as a temporary tactic to mobilize against social inequities—and ultimately to fulfill the racial democracy ideology. The contemporary black movement considers pluralism a strategy for dismantling the racial democracy ideology. In addition, they are working to achieve a more equitable redistribution along racial and class lines through the implementation of affirmative action. These trends indicate that Brazil is moving in the direction of a binary racial project, as well as a rethinking of public policy to attack racial inequality, in a manner similar to the United States.

In the epilogue I assess the multiracial and black movements as they relate to several questions. For example, what impact might changes in traditional racial categories and boundaries have on the social construction of “whiteness” and “blackness” in Brazil and the United States? Also, to what extent might the deconstruction of these categories help dismantle or maintain racist ideology and racial privilege?

I examine race and multiraciality in Brazil and the United States as part of the ongoing sociohistorical process of racial formation as outlined by sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant in Racial Formation in the United States from the 1960s to 1990s (1994). My data are drawn from various sources, including secondary literature, along with data obtained from academic journals, the popular print media—particularly newspapers, magazines, and the Internet—television and radio, as well as from the U.S. Congressional Hearings on Racial Census Categories, U.S. Federal Register reports, Brazilian and U.S. census data tabulations, which are available through the Statistical Information Office and Bureau of the Census in the United States and the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografía e Estadística in Brazil (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, IBGE). My data are also taken from analyses of written correspondence by activists as well as from observations of public behavior in Brazil and the United States as it relates to the topic of racial identity and race relations. In particular, I have relied on data collected through observation of the public behavior of students at the University of California at Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz, and that of individuals in attendance at support group meetings and conferences on the subject of multiracial identity, as well as data obtained through observation as a member of the advisory board of the Association of MultiEthnic Americans (AMEA) and former advisory board member of Project RACE (Reclassify All Children Equally, 1992–97). These two organizations have sought to revise the collection of official racial and ethnic data to make possible a multiracial identification.

Finally, my analysis builds on my essay “Multiracial Identity in Brazil and the United States,” in We Are a People: Narrative and Multiplicity in Constructing Ethnic Identity, edited by Jeffrey Burroughs and Paul R. Spickard. Earlier versions of this research appeared in my paper “Converging Paths: Race Relations in Brazil and the United States,” which I presented at the Winter Colloquium Series, Center for African American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, in 1989. Other versions were presented at the Seventeenth International Congress on Latin American Studies in Los Angeles in 1992 and the Conference on Ethnicity and Multiethnicity: “The Construction and Deconstruction of Identity at Brigham Young University,” in Laie, Hawaii, in 1996. Finally, sections of my analysis of multiraciality in the United States (Chapters 1, 4, 5, 6, and 8 and the epilogue) borrow heavily from my book More Than Black? Multiracial Identity and the New Racial Order and from the essay I coauthored with Josef Castañeda-Liles, “Race, Multiraciality, and the Neoconservative Agenda,” which appears in Mixed Messages: Multiracial Identities in the “Color-Blind” Era, edited by David Brunsma.

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