Issues in Interdisciplinarity/Imperialism in whitening of 21st century Brazil

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Imperialism can be defined as the expansion of power and control, traditionally over territories and people. Imperialism can also be viewed as cultural with the current expansion of western ideals through globalisation. Such expansions have historically been conducted by ‘westerners’ who exert their power and influence over ‘non westerners’, thus establishing certain ideals. The notion of a racial hierarchy and a ‘white ideal’ are such beliefs, that has had impacts on the perception of race in different countries. This chapter will analyse to what extent imperialism has resulted in the promotion of ‘whitening’ in Brazil. Several disciplines will be used to evaluate the claim, including; biology, economics, art and psychology among others (rewrite sentence). We will argue that the promotion of 'whitening' in Brazil has implemented racist ideals in the country, and that this is to a great extent a result of imperialism, through the colonial legacy and the globalisation of western ideals of beauty.

Literary review[edit]

'Whitening’ can be defined as “the act or process of becoming white”[1].  The concept can be divided into two main categories; biological and symbolic. Symbolical whitening describes the “ideology that emerged from the legacy of European colonialism in Latin America that catered to white dominance”[1]. Biological whitening refers to the racial whitening of the Brazilian population through interracial marriage. This section will focus on concepts that has contributed to the spread of both symbolic and biological whitening.

The painting 'A Redenção de Cam' by Modesto Brocos, 1895 displays a black grandmother, her mulatto daughter, her white husband and their white child. The grandmother is lifting her hands to the sky thanking God that her grandchild is white. The painting illustrates the notion that through 2-3 generations of interracial reproduction, black characteristics would vanish.

'Whitening' of race, society and ideals in Brazil has its roots in the country's colonial past. When slavery was abolished in 1888, Brazil had the greatest population of African descent excluding Nigeria[2]. The Brazilian elites viewed this as a problem as they believed the presence of the ‘inferior’ race would restrict the country’s development (source). Biological whitening was considered the solution to the ‘Negro problem’.[3] The idea was that through generational interracial reproduction the ‘Negro’ race would ‘whiten’. This notion was legitimised by scientific racism which claimed that the ‘caucasian' race was superior to the ‘Negro’ race. Theorists within scientific racism further asserted that caucasian genes were dominant and would prevail over black genes, highlighting a belief in the ‘survival of the fittest’ in terms of race[3]. The Brazilian elite further argued that there was a process of natural selection, as there was a tendency for females to chose partners with lighter skin colour [3], in order to have children with more opportunities in society.

In general Brazilians regard white as superior[3]. This symbolic whitening can be described by the concept of colourism. Sociologist Margaret Hunter defined this as “the process of discrimination that privileges light-skinned people of color over their dark-skinned counterparts”.[4] Hunter claims that the reason so many people are unaware of their ‘white’ preference is "because that dominant aesthetic is so deeply ingrained in our culture”[4]. Latin Americans have thus learned to incorporate these colonial values into their society and glorify european features and lighter skin tones[4].

Racial hierarchies and socio-economic class[edit]

Immigration policies[edit]

Racial hierarchies established during the Empire have biologically whitened the population of Brazil through miscegenation, caused by the mass immigration of Europeans[5]. Selective immigration policies began in 1890, at the end of imperialism, clearly prohibiting entry of “black and yellows”, preferring white labour to supplement agriculture as landowners believed they were physically more capable of work[3] . Similar discriminatory policies continued into the 20th century, such as the 1945 decree which set nationality quotas with a clear preference for Europeans, illustrating the endurance of racial hierarchies established during the Empire. The growth of the white population accommodated the elites’ desire for an overall whiter demographic (dos Santos). The whitening process was furthered through encouraged miscegenation[5], believed to have the ability to eradicate ‘blackness’ based by theories of Social Darwinism and Aryanism with the support of scientific racism. To a great extent, Brazil’s immigration policy has contributed to the success of their aims of whitening - demonstrated in 1872-2010 census data, which shows that between those years the white population increased from 38.14% to 47.73% and the black population decreased from 19.68% to 7.61%. However, Akande argues that the whitening policy had ended by the 1940s, as the white population reached its peak in 1940 at 63.47% of the country before steadily declining[1] . This suggests, therefore, that biological whitening has occurred in Brazil as a result of imperial racism, but not as widely in the 21st century as it did in the early 20th century due to the end of mass European immigration by the 1940s.

Depiction of the white ideal in Brazilian media[edit]



  1. a b Akande, H. (2016) “Illuminating the blackness: Blacks and African Muslims in Brazil” p. 82. Rabaah Publishers: London
  2. Araujo, A (2015) 'African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World.’ Cambria Press. ISBN 978-1-60497-892-6.
  3. a b c d e Skidmore, E (1993)"Black into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought" Duke University Press: Durham and London. (p. 46, 74)
  4. a b c Hunter, M (2007) 'The Persistent Problem of Colorism' Sociology Compass. Vol 1, Issue 1. September 2007, pages 237-254. Accessed 03/12/2018 on
  5. a b Fitzgerald D. S., Cook-Martin D. (2014), "Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policy in the Americas", Duke University Press.