"Blanqueamiento": The Forced Racial Whitening Of Brasil


     Brasil’s history of receiving the most African slaves of any country— more than 10 times the US— during the slave trade, along with the intermixing of the slaves with the indigenous population and Portuguese colonizers, created the groundwork for what we now understand as the beautiful South American nation.

     However, like the U.S., Brasil possesses a long and sordid history centered around race, and has also failed on both an economic and social level to properly address the misdeeds of its past. This failure to do so, has led the nation to possess many of the same problems as the U.S.: highly disproportionate police brutality against its colored population, being just one of them. In particular, the social, political, and economic results of one of Brasil’s past misdeeds, can be readily seen in the beautiful country’s present day.

     The Blanqueamiento: an organized system, with the sole purpose of diminishing the melanin within its own citizens, and thereby move them ever closer to “whiteness”. Brasil’s government enacted this during the late 19th century throughout the early 20th century.

     During this time, Brasil banned African immigration, and did all they could to bolster European immigration, even offering land as an incentive to stay. Needless to say, it paid off. By 1914, more than 1 million Europeans had immigrated to Brasil from a diverse assortment of European countries, including: Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, and Russia.

     How did things come to this? Well, it started with the demographics of Brasil: the Brasilian elite were mostly white, however, they constituted a very small segment of the population. These elites began to blindly accept European pseudo-scientific theories, that were situated upon the establishment of a superior white race. And because of their blind acceptance of these deeply flawed theories, it became increasingly easy for them to believe that there was no value in a mostly black and Native population; for Brasil to develop, they began to believe that it was necessary to whiten the country.   

Brasilian woman during the celebration of Carnival.

Brasilian woman during the celebration of Carnival.

    Nevertheless, unlike the U.S., where miscegenation (the mixing of races) was taboo, it was highly encouraged in Brasil, because it was believed that white genetics were a “purifying” agent that could cleanse the “corrupt” or “tainted” genetics of its black and Native population, and help move the country in a better (whiter) direction. The blanqueamiento showed results, as within nearly 400 years, around 4.9 million Africans were enslaved and shipped to Brasil, conversely, over 1 million European immigrants arrived in the short span between 1890 and 1914.

    Present day, like the United States, many Brazilians love to say that their country isn’t racist, however, centuries of racism do not simply disappear into thin air, especially when nothing is truly done to alleviate the problem. Thus, familiar controversies, will from time to time pop up and rehash uncomfortable themes that some people would rather ignore, just like what happened in 2013 during the World Cup Draw.

Lazaro Ramos and Camila Pitanga

Lazaro Ramos and Camila Pitanga

     The World Cup draw needed two of it’s citizens to play the role of representatives, as such, the responsibility fell to two of it’s prominent actors: Lazaro Ramos and Camila Pitanga. 

     That year, the World Cup draw was supposed to be held in the state of Bahia, which is known as the epicenter of Afro-Brasilian culture. However, when the news came out that the two initial (black) representatives would be swapped out for the blonde haired Brasilian couple, Rodrigo Hilbert and Fernanda Lima, many Brasilians took to social media to voice their disapproval. Most of the comments were centered around support for the former representatives, and disdain for what many saw as a “white-washing” of the perception of Brasil on the world stage. 

      Of course, there were others that thought it had nothing to do with race, and instead was merely a random turn of events. Yet, whether it was a genuine whitewash of international perception or merely a random turn of events, as stated before, centuries of racism do not cease to exist, just because some wish it so, nor does it lose its power just because some would rather believe it doesn’t exist.

    Through racism, a heritage was born, nursed, and protected in Brasil: the heritage of slavery that birthed the blanqueamiento, and the blanqueamiento which helped to nurse already apparent social, economic, and political inequalities that are still blatant throughout various segments of Brazilian society, and will continue to be so, as long as racial inequalities are protected under the false guise of a "post-racial" or "color blind" society.