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Brazil had the largest population of free and freed Black people on the continent, starting in the early 19th century, despite being the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery. The 1872 General Census of the Empire reported that six out of every ten Black or brown people could claim a series of rights associated with citizenship by virtue of not being enslaved. These included some individuals who were literate and active in the cultural and political spaces in which plans for the country’s present and future were drawn up. Especially in the second half of the 19th century, a time of deepening crisis for the slaveholding system, individuals such as José Ferreira de Menezes, Luiz Gama, Machado de Assis, José do Patrocínio, Ignácio de Araújo Lima, Arthur Carlos, and Theophilo Dias de Castro, all of whom were born free and resided in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, invested in their individual aspirations but also joined groups that defended the citizenship rights of free, freed, and enslaved Black people. Facing daily experiences of “color prejudice,” they not only participated in debates waged in the abolitionist, Black, literary, and general press, but they also played leading roles in the creation of mechanisms and instruments of resistance, confrontation, and dialogue. Although this aspect has not received much attention in recent historical accounts that recognize their existences, these and other Black intellectuals developed bonds of affection and solidarity over the course of their careers. To reflect on the scope of this shared racial identity in the latter 19th century and the possible impact of these ties on public positions taken by Black intellectuals, the demonstrations of friendship and companionship experienced by these individuals are traced, as well as by some others. An exercise in approaching the traces of different practices surrounding the politicization of race is given, and paths for future research on the social history of ideas and antiracism in Brazil are suggested.

Article

Several voices inside and outside Brazil define it as a racial democracy—that is, a nation without segregation or rigid boundaries separating the different groups of race and color. This understanding interacts with issues like nationality and a positive image that this nation conveys for itself worldwide as a land of cordiality, happiness, and racial integration. More than origin, personal appearance is the basis of social interactions. Society can identify a continuum of hues of skin color among its individuals who are racially classified according to their social class and the social spaces in which they interact. However, it does not mean that the social prestige assigned to an individual’s skin color is neutral. The literature shows that the pattern of race relations in Brazil is characteristically ambiguous, based on constant racial prejudice and discrimination against the Afro-Brazilian population while systematically denying its existence. As such, Brazil’s individuals have an asymmetrical standard of social acceptance and access to economic, political, and symbolic power, based on their physical features, including their skin color, their hair type, and the shape or size of their lips and nose. Despite methodological complexities, several research pieces from 1990–2020 confirm that a racial hierarchy system exists in Brazil and that racial injustice, violence, and inequality are prevalent. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Brazil has implemented comprehensive social policies to combat poverty and affirmative action policies that target Afro-Brazilian individuals in an effort to improve the quality of the lives of Brazil’s poorest citizens. Nevertheless, these endeavors were not enough to overcome the consequences of a long historical period of slavery, discrimination, and racial injustice.