Posted on November 6, 2015

Race in Brazil, Part I

R. Venturelli, American Renaissance, November 5, 2015

For many Americans, Brazil means Rio de Janeiro, Carnival, pretty women, and a mixed-race land of no racial tension. This makes Brazil a potential model for the United States: Immigration from the Third World will enrich us and miscegenation will make us one. In fact, Brazil is a nation of low average intelligence, very high crime rates, an aversion to work, and widespread corruption. It is precisely the multi-racial nightmare we must avoid.

The average IQ in Brazil is 87, which is lower than Mexico’s 88.[1] Fifty percent of college students are said to be functionally illiterate–they cannot understand even a basic newspaper or magazine article.[2] With 50,000 murders a year, Brazil comes close to having the highest murder rate in the world: 25.2 per 100,000. For South Africa, the figure is 31; for the United States, it is five.[3]

The Portuguese word for work (trabalho) used to mean “instrument of torture,” and as soon as they have the means, Brazilians do as little of it as possible. They hire people to put gas in their cars. In restaurants, waiters literally stand at your table to cut slices of pizza and put them on your plate. Maids do dishes, wash clothes, cook, and help children with homework.

Corruption is endemic. A common expression is jeitinho brasileiro or the “little Brazilian way,” which means the deeply rooted tradition of taking advantage of others and breaking the rules. Politicians reflect their society, so huge corruption scandals are almost daily news. Brazil’s racial history explains much of its national character.


Before the arrival of Europeans many different Indian tribes lived in the sparsely populated territory of modern-day Brazil. There were no political boundaries or cultural unity, and there was frequent tribal warfare. There were no advanced civilizations, such as the Mayans or Aztecs. The Tupinambás, Guaranis and Tupiniquins lived in the Stone Age.

First European Contact (1500-1532)

After the Portuguese arrived in 1500, there were few major conflicts and no large-scale use of Indian labor. The Catholic Church converted many Indians, and conversion was mostly voluntary. Many tribes remained untouched because they lived in remote areas with few economic attractions, while others maintained their way of life by moving away from settled areas. The Portuguese could find little gold or silver on the coast, so the newly discovered territory became little more than a refueling stop for ships headed to India or to other distant Portuguese colonies.

Lumbering was the first economic activity. The Portuguese found a relative of a dark-red, Asian species of tree that was being used in Europe to make red dye. The tree was known as pau-brazil (stick-ember or stick-burning charcoal), and this gave the territory its name. Harvesting brazilwood, as the tree is known in English, did not require permanent settlement, so there was no urgency to populate the colony.

Colonial Period (1532-1822)

Thirty years after claiming the territory, Portugal decided to populate Brazil for fear of losing it to France and Spain, who were also colonizing South America. However, not many Portuguese wanted to go. A few Jews wanted to escape forcible conversion, but Portugal was otherwise peaceful and homogeneous. Also, Catholics thought the ambition to accumulate wealth was a vice, so the government needed a way to force people to move to the colony.

The monarchy divided the territory into capitanias hereditárias (hereditary captaincies), which were huge land grants arbitrarily drawn in straight lines across the territory. The crown gave the land to baronets and earls who were ennobled during the war to drive out the Muslims but for whom no grants of land were available.


Aside from these landowners, most of the settlers were vagrants and criminals forcibly deported from Portugal. Almost all were men, so outside the nobility, there were nearly no white women.[4] The new landowners grew tobacco and sugar, both of which require a great deal of labor. Portugal already had colonies in Africa, so slaves were the obvious choice to work the plantations. Indians had captured and enslaved each other long before the arrival of Europeans, and the Portuguese enslaved a certain number of Indians as well. However, African slaves proved to be hardier workers, and by the 18th century Indian slavery survived only in the back country.

By 1700, an estimated one million African slaves had been brought to Brazil, more than to all the other colonies in the Americas combined up to that time. The African slave population had the same sex imbalance as the settler population. Chiefs in Africa often kept female slaves for themselves and the Portuguese kept only a few African women as cooks, nannies, and domestics.

With so few European women in Brazil, most whites married Indians, thus establishing alliances with local tribes. These alliances brought peace with Indians, which allowed Europeans to expand their settlements even as Indians waged war on each other. Of these mixed-race offspring, those who most resembled Europeans received preferential treatment and were seen as more marriageable. Adventurers moved from the coast to map the interior of the captaincies. Known as bandeirantes, or “those who carry the flag,” they are now seen as Brazilian pioneers. Monuments erected in their honor tend to portray them as European.

Interest in Brazil increased tremendously when bandeirantes discovered gold in the early 18th century. A gold rush attracted approximately 700,000 Europeans,[5] many of them non-Portuguese. Most were single men. They made the sex imbalance even worse, and most failed to get rich since they could not compete with slave owners who had hundreds of laborers to work the mines. White miners bred with the already heavily mixed population. There was some mixture with blacks, but the preference was for mestizos. A tiny, mostly-white middle class of merchants and artisans tried to import orphaned teenage girls from Portugal, but few were available.

Mining changed the racial dynamic in another way. Some masters freed slaves who mined large amounts of gold. Former slaves often went to live in black communities hidden deep in the jungle known as quilombos, along with a certain number of escaped slaves. Ironically, the leaders of quilombos often owned slaves themselves.[6] Quilombos survive into the present, and the 1988 constitution grants their residents collective land ownership and a status similar to that of indigenous people.

Brazilian Empire (1822-1889)

At the time of Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal in 1807, the Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil. Napoleon was defeated in 1815, and King John VI returned to Portugal in 1821, leaving his son Dom Pedro to rule the Brazilian provinces. A series of disputes between the provinces and the Portuguese cortes, or parliament, led to a brief war for Brazilian independence. In 1822, Dom Pedro took the title of emperor so as to mark a break between his rule and that of his father, the king of Portugal. He also sought to model his title on that of ancient Rome, where emperors had been chosen by popular acclaim. The early years of the Brazilian Empire were chaotic, with a major economic crisis, many uprisings, and even secession movements.

Immense coffee plantations were established under the empire, which led to an even greater demand for slaves. Slaves were valuable, but unlike American slave owners, Brazilians did not allow slaves to marry and establish families or own property. The Brazilian elite feared slave revolts; the Haitian Revolution of 1791 to 1804 was a constant reminder of what uncontrolled slaves might do. Slave holders feared that uprisings were more likely in stable communities, since people who have resources and privacy are more dangerous than those who have barely enough space to sleep and who compete with each other for food. Slaves were therefore kept in senzalas–large houses with perhaps a few beds and nothing else. Fugitives continued to increase the populations of the quilombos.

It was common for the sons of slave owners to have their sexual initiation with slave women. This may be the origin of the sexual promiscuity common in Brazil, though actual marriage among slave owners was usually with whites.

Youthful escapades produced a mulatto class, which often led to a rise in the mother’s status and sometimes emancipation for the children. Mulattos naturally tried to draw distinctions between themselves and enslaved blacks. At the same time, mulattas were seen as much more sexually available than the few, usually Catholic and conservative European women. This is the origin of the almost cult-like carnival symbol of the sensuous, naked mulatto woman.

After independence from Portugal, the ruling class decided that the country would be better if it were whiter. Upper-class Brazilians were embarrassed by foreign travelers who, noting the huge number of slaves and heavily-mixed free population, described Rio de Janeiro as an African city. However, slavery was a huge obstacle to European immigration. Poor whites could not compete with unpaid slaves, who worked in all types of industries and even as low-ranking police officers.

Brazil’s economy was dependent on slaves, so abolition would cause chaos and anger the slave masters. Emperor Dom Pedro II therefore decided to end slavery slowly. He abolished the slave trade in 1850 and tried to promote European immigration. It was not long thereafter that approximately 10,000 Confederates fled Reconstruction, settling the town of Americana in São Paulo state, where they hold annual celebrations of their Confederate heritage to this day.[7]

The next steps were emancipation of elderly slaves, then newborns, and finally women, in the hope that landowners would accept gradual abolition. However, while the emperor was out of the country his daughter, Princess Isabel, issued a decree in 1888 freeing all the slaves. Angry plantation owners joined army generals to overthrow the empire and establish a republic. Forced labor continued in many areas, but slavery ended.

Brazilian Republic (1889-1930)

Some emancipated slaves continued to work for their previous owners and some went to the old quilombos to live among other blacks, but the majority became vagabonds in the cities. They built the slums or favelas that today ring the city centers. Favelas have very high crime, extreme poverty, and no government services. Electricity and water supplies are irregular and improvised, which results in frequent accidents. To the extent that there is any order, it is provided by armed bandits. The police are afraid to patrol the favelas, and when there are major events, such as the Olympics or a Papal visit, the army maintains order.

The Brazilian Republic continued the racial policies of the Empire, importing large numbers of Europeans to make Brazil whiter and replace black labor. Indentured servants worked for a fixed period before being granted land. At first, most immigrants came from Portugal, Spain, Italy and Germany. Later, a more limited number of Slavs and a considerable number of Japanese arrived.

The demographic transformation was remarkable. According to the 1940 census, 63.47 percent of the population identified as white–up from 38.17 percent in the first census, taken in 1872. The principal point of entry for immigrants was Port Santos, the Brazilian equivalent of Ellis Island. Here are arrivals from 1908 to 1936:[8]

Nationality Total Male Percentage
Portuguese 275,257 67.9
Italian 270,749 64.7
Japanese 210,775 56.2
Spaniard 190,282 59.4
German 89,989 64.3
Turk 26,321 73.4
Romanian 23,756 53.2
Yugoslav 21,209 52.1
Lithuanian 20,918 58.6
Lebanese & Syrian 17,275 65.4
Polish 15,220 61.9
Austrian 15,041 72.7
Others 47,664 64.9
Total 2,221,282 63.8

For the first time, there were enough women immigrants to make endogamy common. Immigrants married and lived among themselves, retaining their folkways and languages. There was no dominant culture and therefore no assimilation to a larger whole. Brazil was still a broad geographical area with little cohesion and a weak federal government. States had almost complete autonomy and even imposed tariffs against each other.[9]

Italian community in São Paulo circa 1920.

Italian community in São Paulo circa 1920.

European immigrants came in such numbers that the Portuguese elite were quickly outnumbered. They may also have been less competitive than the newcomers because of many generations of inbreeding. This decline explains why there are so few Portuguese surnames in the Brazilian upper class today. Instead, Portuguese names such as “Silva” and “dos Santos” are more common among non-whites and the poor.

This is especially striking in the South, which was sparsely populated, and where the demographic change was almost complete. Many small municipalities in the South still recognize Italian or German as an official language. In the 1940 census, the three states of the South–Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul, and Santa Catarina–respectively had populations that were 86.6, 88.7, and 94.4 percent white.[10]

The ethnic origins of the owners of industrial firms in the state of São Paulo–Brazil’s richest state–show the disappearance of the old elite. These figures are from 1962:[11]

Ethnic Origin Percentage
Italians 35
Brazilians* 16
Portuguese 12
Germans 10
Syrians and Lebanese 9
Russians 2.9
Austrians 2.4
Swiss 2.4
Other Europeans 9
Others 2

*Those who had been in Brazil for at least three generations.

Even if every one of the “Brazilians” is counted as Portuguese, the combined “Portuguese” total is only 28 percent.

At this time the idea of European superiority was open and widespread. The government and the intelligentsia hoped immigrants would intermarry with the existing population and turn the country white. After the death in 1908 of Brazil’s greatest writer, Machado de Assis, the race on his birth certificate was changed from mulatto to white so as to better explain his talent.[12]

New State (1930-1945)

In 1930, Getúlio Vargas took power in a coup that became known as the 1930 Revolution, and implemented nationalist measures designed to turn Brazil into a unified nation. He wanted to break up ethnic enclaves of European immigrants who hired and married each other, and refused to learn Portuguese.[13] He established ethnic quotas on immigrants to stop the growth of these enclaves, and required that employers ensure that their workforces were at least 60 percent native-born Brazilians. These measures effectively ended the era of mass immigration.

Getúlio Vargas

Getúlio Vargas

To promote a national identity, Vargas limited the autonomy of the states, ordered all state flags burned, and promoted cultural unification. He forbade the use of languages other than Portuguese in public, banned ethnic clubs and schools, and “Brazilianized” surnames and names of institutions in the hope of forcing Europeans and Japanese to integrate rather than maintain their own communities.

Vargas’s measures were inspired at least in part by the policies of the Axis powers, with which he had good relations.[14] Ironically, his nationalist attempts to unify the country damaged his relations with Italy, Germany and Japan. There were many Hitler Youth chapters in Brazil, as well as Italian clubs that worked to preserve national loyalty, and some members opted to return to Europe rather than integrate.

Vargas continued the eugenic policies of the previous republic and prevented the promotion of Army officers with clear African ancestry. Vargas celebrated such things as Race Day and Fatherland Week, and noted in a radio speech on September 7, 1938, that:

A rapid solution needs to be found for the question of strengthening the race, one that guarantees the cultural and eugenic preparation of the generations to come. . . The celebrations of the Fatherland and the Race must therefore show beyond any doubt our struggle to elevate the cultural and eugenic level of the youth. . . For a united Brazil, for a great Brazil.[15]

There is an interesting anecdote from shortly after President Vargas’s coup d’état. Spanish nobles of the same name asked the Pope to check baptism records to see whether Mr. Vargas was a relation. He asked that the research not be carried out for fear of what might be found in his family tree: “In Brazil we always expose ourselves to the risk of ending up in the jungles [being part Indian] or the kitchen [being part black].”[16]

There was a strong fascist movement called Integralismo, which arose outside of Vargas’s control and promoted the idea of a “Brazilian race.” Its more radical elements argued that genuine Brazilians were a mixture of whites, blacks, and Indians, and that only complete mixture would bring forth the true Brazilian race. The movement did not last long, but it influenced many patriotic Brazilians, and its ideas of mixture remained influential.

Despite Vargas’s racial nationalism, his attempts at imposing cultural unity stopped the flow of European immigrants, and the percentage of whites declined after the 1940 census. As of the 2010 census, only 47.7 percent of the Brazilian population calls itself white.

Military Regime (1964-1985)

Brazil returned to democratic government in 1946, but the government moved sharply to the Left. President Jânio Quadros awarded Che Guevara a medal, and President João Gular proposed redistribution of property. Both the Communists and the military were planning coups d’état, but the military struck first in 1964, with wide support from the population.

The Military Regime lasted until 1985, at a time when the West was trying to disassociate itself from anything perceived as “racist.” The generals had a “race blind” policy and promoted civic nationalism. However, they also enforced meritocracy, and did not pass laws against “racism” or promote any form of “affirmative action.” There was very little immigration, and the “race blind” policy seems to have encouraged more people to identify as brown/mixed rather than white. The government abandoned the idea that Brazil should be a white, European country, and this probably eased the pressure on poor and lower-middle-class people to identify as white.

Read part two here.

[1] Richard Lynn & Tatu Vanhanen, IQ & Global Inequality, Washington Summit Publishers, 2006, appendix 1.

[2] retrieved on September 2, 2015.

[3] retrieved on September 2, 2015.

[4] Renato Pinto Venâncio, “Presença portuguesa: de colonizadores a imigrantes.” In Brasil, 500 anos de povoamento, IBGE, Centro de Documentação e Disseminação de Informação, 2000.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Leandro Narloch, Guia Politicamente Incorreto da História do Brasil (edição ampliada), LeYa, 2009, page 83.

[7] Paul N Herbert, Confederados forge new cultural identity, Washington Times, December 17, 2009 edition.

[8] Ana Silvia Volpi Scott, As Duas Faces da Imigração Portuguesa Para o Brasil (décadas de 1820-1930), 2000.

[9] Richard Bourne, Getúlio Vargas a Esfinge dos Pampas, Geração Editorial, 1974, page 32.

[10] retrieved on September 3, 2015.

[11] Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira, Origens Étnicas e Sociais do Empresário Paulista, page 13.

[12] Edward Eric Telles, “Racial Classification:” the Significance of Skin Color in Brazil, Princeton University Press, 2004, pages 81 to 84.

[13] retrieved on September 15, 2015.

[14] Richard Bourne, Getúlio Vargas a Esfinge dos Pampas, Geração Editorial, 1974, page 150.

[15] Richard Bourne, Getúlio Vargas a Esfinge dos Pampas, Geração Editorial, 1974, page 138.

[16] Richard Bourne, Getúlio Vargas a Esfinge dos Pampas, Geração Editorial, 1974, page 27.