preload preload preload preload

Neither Black Nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States Americas South America Brazil Carl Degler University of Wisconsin Press

31st May 2013 History Books 4 Comments

“This is one of the most important books written on the subject of comparative race relations since Slave and Citizen [by Frank Tannenbaum]. Degler’s treatment of the nature of contemporary race relations is masterful.”—The Americas

Carl Degler is Margaret Byrne Professor of American History Emeritus at Stanford University. He is also the author of several books including In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought.

Carl Degler’s 1971 Pulitzer-Prize-winning study of comparative slavery in Brazil and the United States is reissued in the Wisconsin paperback edition, making it accessible for all students of American and Latin American history and sociology.
Until Degler’s groundbreaking work, scholars were puzzled by the differing courses of slavery and race relations in the two countries. Brazil never developed a system of rigid segregation, such as appeared in the United States, and blacks in Brazil were able to gain economically and retain far more of their African culture. Rejecting the theory of Giberto Freyre and Frank Tannenbaum—that Brazilian slavery was more humane—Degler instead points to a combination of demographic, economic, and cultural factors as the real reason for the differences.
“In the early 1970s when studies in social history were beginning to blossom on the North American scene, Carl Degler’s prize-winning contribution was a thoughtful provocative essay in comparative history. Its thoughtfulness has not diminished with the years. Indeed, it is as topical today as when it was first published. The Brazilian experience with rapid industrialization and its attempt to restore democratic government indicates that the issues which Degler treated in the early 1970s are more pertinent than ever today.”—Franklin W. Knight, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University.

“This is one of the most important books written on the subject of comparative race relations since Slave and Citizen [by Frank Tannenbaum]. Degler’s treatment of the nature of contemporary race relations is masterful.”—The Americas

Neither Black Nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States

Resilient Cultures: America’s Native Peoples Confront European Colonization, 1500-1800

Resilient Cultures is a triumph of multum in parvo. I do not think students will find a better conspectus of the subject.” Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Queen Mary, University of London, and Faculty of Modern History, Oxford University

“In this ambitious and pathbreaking comparative project, John Kicza considers the impact of Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and English colonialism on the diverse indigenous societies of the Americas. He argues that throughout the Americas native peoples responded to the challenges of European colonialismthe precise form it took in any particular region was heavily influenced by the nature of indigenous societies at contactwith creativity and resilience. The emphasis on the significance of Native American societies to the creation of colonial ones within an American-wide comparative context lies at the heart of the innovative and important contribution made by Resilient Cultures. It deserves the attention of every reader interested it) colonialism in the Americas.” Rebecca Horn, University of Utah

“There are several aspects to the book’s organization that I find very appealing. ’1lie effort to incorporate North and South America is laudatory. U.S. historians, in particular. are open to charges of provincialism as we rarely go beyond current United States’ borders in our investigation of the past. This book would certainly widen our perspective considerably and integrate material that most of us know nothing about.” Sherry L. Smith, Southern Methodist University

“Resilient Cultures addresses issues relating to native peoples representative of most of the Western Hemisphere, and that is what makes this book so attractive. It ignores the artificial political boundaries that divide countries and which arc not necessarily appropriate indicators of actual cultural entities and the peoples themselves …this is wonderful history, especially because it undoes stereotypes about conquest and native cultural demise.” Susan Schroeder, Tulane University

This book provides a comparative perspective of the impact of early European colonization on the native peoples of the Americas. It covers the character of the indigenous cultures before contact, and then addresses the impact ofand creative ways in which they adapted tothe establishment of colonies by the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English. Paying attention to environmental change, the book considers such issues as the nature of military conflicts, the cultural and material contributions of each side to the other, the importance of economic exchanges, and the demographic transformation. For individuals interested in the history of colonial America, colonial Latin America, and the American Indian.

Resilient Cultures: America’s Native Peoples Confront European Colonization, 1500-1800

  • 4 responses to "Neither Black Nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States Americas South America Brazil Carl Degler University of Wisconsin Press"

  • grim reaper
    2:25 on May 31st, 2013
    Reply to comment

    A very concise and succinct summary of race relations, their origins, and history in a very objective manner with numerous references to other credible sources. It also points the way to controlling the expression of racism at all social levels.

  • Dino Meat
    3:55 on May 31st, 2013
    Reply to comment

    What large country in the Western hemisphere is a melting pot of races and religions, has a long history of geographically-based slavery, and whose popular culture portrays an image of “white is better”? Many people north of the border would instantly say America. But for those south of the border, Brazil might be the first answer. Both answers are correct as both Brazil and the USA are large countries with diverse populations and a history of slavery and racism. But the similarities end there and a host of differences arise. This book examines both and asks the question why. Why was racism more aligned with slavery in the US versus Brazil? Why is inter-racial marriage more acceptable in Brazil than in the US? Or more importantly, why do people of all colors often believe that “whiter is better” in both countries. This book attempts to answer these questions by examining the economic and social history of both countries, and how this was affected by the natural environment of climate and geography.

    I read this book as part of a college class, but it is a great stand-alone book that does not require an instructor to help you understand it. It is a good example of a multidiscplinary work, and draws from many fields in the social sciences such as history, economics, sociology, and geography. The book is great reading, and deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1972. It is a good study on slavery, though its textual difficulty is beyond that of an introductory text on the subject.

  • Tessie S.
    5:43 on May 31st, 2013
    Reply to comment

    By comparing and contrasting the two separate, though similar contries, Degler not only provides a world class history ofthe institution of slavery in both countries, but forces the reader to examine their own prejudices in the matter. Perhaps it is the best book written upon the subject, and is a valuable addition to historians, socialogists, and anyone interested in understanding the difficulties of overcoming discrimination.

  • Strong Hands
    7:51 on June 2nd, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Mr. Degler’s book is writing and history at it serious best. Using Frank Tannenbaum’s “Slave and Citizen,” as a launching pad, Carl Degler adds in all the nuances, bells and whistles needed not only to give us a good historical account, but also to tell an exceedingly interesting story. He “texurizes” and puts “flesh and bones” onto Tannebaum’s skeletal framework: Taking up where Tannenbaum’s leaves off, he adds dimensionality to that author’s work. In re-examining the Tannenbaum hypotheses with a fine-tooth comb, Degler sorts and churns them, and squeezes them until all the truth is wrung out. Then he begins anew with his own modified hypotheses that extend and builds upon those of Tannenbaum. In this re-examination, nothing is left to chance. Every cul de sac is explored until its secrets are dug up. Only then does Degler move on to the next topic and on to the next discovery.

    The book is much too rich and robust for a single review to do it any kind of justice; for the real substance lies in the beauty of the details and in the many culturally fresh examples. The best one can do is to point to the highlights of the book and to encourage the reader to buy it and discover for himself what outstanding historical writing is really like.

    In Degler’s version of the comparative analysis of slavery in the U.S. and Brazil, two central questions guide the study:

    (1) What accounts for the development of miscegenation in Brazil, and the corresponding development of segregation in the U.S.?

    (2) Can the differences in the two forms of slavery account for these societal differences?

    It is chapter I and II, of six, that does the heavy lifting, as the author sets about the business of answering these two questions. Regarding the first, it seems that Brazil did not experience the same hardening of attitudes into a negative and stereotype-laced ideology about the evils of being blacks and of blackness, as was to become a commonplace in the U.S. This was true in part because, even during slavery, freed blacks were a normal accepted part of Brazilian societal and cultural life. Although there were, and still remain racial sensitivities, a racial caste system was not allowed to develop in Brazil. As far as the racial hierarchy was concerned, there were “whites” and descending gradations of mulattoes that led to blacks being at the bottom of the ladder. But a much more important difference, was that Brazilians always saw slavery as a “morally dirty business”: a moral wrong, and unlike the majority of Americans, uniformly refused to identify with, or to rationalize its immorality. At no time, did Brazilian morality show sympathy for, or solidarity with, the slave owning classes as was done in the U.S. With the single exception of a handful of Quaker families from the Northeast (where slavery was unprofitable in any case), Americans North and South were sympathetic to the causes of the slave owning class, and after the Civil War, closed ranks to unify the nation under the banner of white supremacy.

    In contrast, in post-slavery Brazil, blacks were quickly integrated into Brazilian life as artists, historians, writers, musicians, engineers, etc. and their contributions to society embraced. Not so in post-slavery USA, where after a brief decade of “Reconstruction” came “the Redemption,” in which the “color curtain” fell and a century of Jim Crow darkness was introduced into the U.S., the reverberations of which are still being felt. Outside of proscribed black enclaves, such as the black ghettoes, as remains more or less true now, American blacks pretty much lived a “social death” on the margins of mainstream society, in which their contributions either went unacknowledged or were conveniently subsumed under a surrogate white aegis. Even today, in the U.S. there remains no separately acknowledged black humanity based on a black identity and subjectivity.

    Chapter two attempts to answer the second question. And here I believe that Tannenbaum’s analysis of the religious aspects of slavery is the more persuasive, and gets closer to ground truth than does Degler’s. The reader may recall that while Tannenbaum argued that the two forms of slavery may have been equally repressive, the Brazilian version was more humane simply because, in principle, it granted the slave an element of humanity and moral equality with the slave owner that was missing in the U.S. version. It was the Portuguese and Catholic Justinian Code that did this. Slaves under the Brazilian system could be brave, virtuous, magnanimous, and patriotic. They had a soul and could be baptized as Christians. No such luck if you happened to be an American slave.

    Degler appears to skirt this very important issue altogether and opts to explain the difference in terms of demographics: the fact that Brazil contained a significantly larger number of free blacks than did the U.S. Degler attributes this larger number to three factors: (1) there were more slaves in Brazil which naturally resulted in more freed slaves; (2) Portuguese slave owners tended to free ailing slaves to avoid the extra care of them; and (3) Brazilians had no reason to fear that freed slaves would rise up against the slave owners, for they were seen as normal and full Brazilian citizens. Thus Degler’s argument of the differences reduces to one of demographics rather than one of moral and religious accountability.

    Chapter three take us on a dizzying excursion down the dark road of racial distinctions based on skin color and blood classifications. It compares America’s “one drop rule” with Brazil’s “pure African blood rule.” In this instance, demographics may have had more to do with the racial classifications than anything else, but this time the author shies away from making his case based on demographics. The very fact that a majority of Brazilians were, and remain mulattoes, must have had a great deal to do with the way the races were eventually defined. There are three categories: White, mulattoes, and Negroes. According to the author, while there is definitely a more subtle kind of color prejudice in Brazil than in the U.S., unlike in the U.S., anti- discrimination laws in Brazil are strictly enforced and thus racism has not been allowed to take root in Brazil and get out of hand as it has in the U.S. But, even so, it is as true in Brazil as it is in the U.S. that interracial marriages are frowned upon and discouraged.

    Chapter four focuses on the psychological aspects of race, and it is here that I wish the author had spent more time. Degler claims that just as is true in the U.S., “place” based on color is a settled issue in Brazil. The idea of upward mobility for blacks is pretty much a “dead letter” in Brazil. As is true in the U.S. blacks suffer from self-hatred and all of the same psychological problems that inhere in a society that uses race as the basis of its caste system.

    As the author notes in the preface, while Brazil moves from class to identity politics, the U.S. is moving in the opposite direction. In Brazil, as in the U.S., the better educated, the more skillful, are either whites or mulattoes, and they both are encouraged to see themselves as better than Negroes.

    The last two chapters are a recap of the author’s main themes. As noted earlier, any review is unlikely to do more than skim the surface as I have tried to do and as Maxine Margolis did in her review for the NYT Review of Books. However, I think she got it horribly wrong, failing to shed her Americanized racial rose-colored glasses. In this respect, I doubt if I have done much better.

    But the book deserves five stars.

  • Leave a Reply

    * Required
    ** Your Email is never shared