Multicultural: Stories of Political and Cultural (Mis)Understandings
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Miguel Vale de Almeida
Multicultural: Stories of Political and Cultural (Mis)Understandings1
Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freire’s masterwork Casa-Grande e Senzala (The Masters and the Slaves) was published in the early 1930s. Freire’s main contention was that Brazilian society was the outcome of a specific process of colonisation by the Portuguese. That process consisted of a plantation society – in north-eastern Brazil – where the white masters lived in close proximity to the black slaves, according to patriarchal and Catholic standards that promoted miscegenation, not only from a “racial” point of view, through sexual, albeit unequal, contact, but mostly from a cultural point of view. Although Freire does not dismiss the hierarchical and exploitative nature of slavery-based plantation society, he does, however, stress the specific difficulties of Portuguese colonisation (Portuguese demographic scarcity, low levels of capital investment, a weak state that outsourced many functions to the Church, etc.) and the way in which they allowed precisely for the meeting of the indigenous, the Black and the European roots. Freire’s narrative was to fuel the hegemonic Brazilian narrative of the mixture of the three “races” of “racial democracy,” and of supposedly low levels of explicit racism that are still so much part of the representations of Brazil (both the perceptions of non-Brazilians and the self-representation of the Brazilian nation state). Freire also tried to explain the reasons for the Portuguese specificity: he portrayed Portugal itself as the outcome of miscegenation between north-African, Jewish, Latin, Celtic, and...
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