Kim D. Butler. Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition Sao Paulo and Salvador. New Brunswick, N.J., and London: Rutgers University Press, 1998. x + 285 pp. $23.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8135-2504-4; $59.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8135-2503-7.
Reviewed by Aims McGuinness (Department of History, University of Michigan)
Published on H-Urban (August, 1999)
In Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition Sao Paulo and Salvador , Kim Butler of the Department of Africana Studies at Rutgers University compares the politics of Afro-Brazilians in the cities of Sao Paulo and Salvador from the abolition of slavery in 1888 through the 1930s. She proposes a theoretical framework to explain why African descendants in these two cities adopted different strategies of self-representation and suggests how this framework might contribute to the comparative study of the politics of freedpeople in the Afro-Atlantic diaspora. The result is an important contribution to the historiography of race and politics in Brazil that raises intriguing questions for scholars of postemancipation societies more generally.
Butler begins the book by reviewing elite visions of national progress and social order in Brazil during the First Republic. In the second chapter, she moves to the level of theory. She begins with the assertion that acts of self-determination by people of African descent in the Afro-Atlantic diaspora may be situated along a spectrum that ranges between the poles of integration and separatism. She then focuses on three distinct modalities of politics on this spectrum: integrationism, alternative integrationism, and separatism (p. 59). To understand why one pattern of politics prevails over another, Butler insists that historians must consider not only the politics of elites, but also how marginalized peoples have chosen to marshal the resources available to them (p. 66).
In her discussion of Sao Paulo, Butler does a masterful job of evoking the society created by the thousands of Afro-Brazilians who migrated to the city from rural areas following abolition. After discussing aspects of urban sociability such as the carnival club and the botequim (bar), Butler directs her attention to the rise of a race-based politics in the city. The bulk of the fourth chapter of the book is devoted to the Frente Negra Brasileira (FNB). Founded in 1931, the FNB was the first explicitly black political party in Brazil. Butler traces the history of the FNB until its demise in the wake of President Getulio Vargas's dissolution of all political parties in December of 1937. Butler attributes the rise of this black political movement in part to the character of racial oppression in Sao Paulo, which according to her account targeted blacks as a race in areas such as employment and the use of public space. Yet in keeping with her interactive approach, she also stresses the importance of the ways in which Afro-Brazilians fashioned "blackness" into a basis for political action. Her discussion of the role of black newspapers in this process of identity formation is especially compelling.
Butler makes excellent use of interviews with former members of the party in her discussion of the FNB. Her treatment of domingueiras--the public meetings sponsored by the FNB on Sundays--provides a fascinating example of how the party sought to form a specifically black political consciousness both inside and outside the ranks of its membership. Butler offers a portrait of the FNB's day-to-day operations that is more detailed than George Reid Andrews' discussion of the party in his Blacks and Whites in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1888-1988. Both Butler and Andrews explain the fascist leanings of the FNB as a reflection of broader tendencies in Paulista politics of the period. In contrast to Butler, Andrews pays closer attention to class tensions within the FNB and relates the party's objectives more clearly to Afro-Brazilian struggles in the workplace.
In Butler's theoretical framework, the FNB represents an example of "alternative integrationism," in that the party sought to create a space in dominant society for Afro-Brazilians through means that were not necessarily condoned by elites. Integrationism, in contrast, "seeks to become a part of society using the mechanisms of access sanctioned by the dominant sector" (p. 63). Butler's third modality of politics, separatism, is most fully examined in her case study of Salvador. In Salvador, according to Butler, the mechanisms of discrimination focused not on Afro-Brazilians as a race, but rather on the cultural practices of certain Afro-Brazilians, such as candomble (an Afro-Brazilian religion) and drumming in carnival processions. Cultural divisions among Afro-Brazilians in Salvador also militated against race-based political action. These divisions included distinctions between those who identified as "Africans" and those born in Brazil; among Africans of different nacoe s or nationalities; and among practitioners of candomble and capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art. Afro-Brazilian strategies of self-determination in Salvador tended to be organized not around a racial identity but rather around cultural groups or institutions within the city's population of African descendants. Not surprisingly, the FNB enjoyed little success in the city.
The practice of candomble,with its secretive enclaves, exemplifies for Butler a form of separatism that she defines as the "alternative community." The "alternative community," as she puts it, "creates its own institutions and social networks in which its values differ from those in the mainstream." In contrast, the "parallel community," while also a form of separatism, "replicates the institutions of mainstream society but, by limiting participation to members of the oppressed group, factors out discrimination against individuals not possessing the characteristics determining elite status" (p. 62).
Butler's comparison of Salvador and Sao Paulo enables her to develop a more differentiated portrayal of Afro-Brazilian politics than that of Michael George Hanchard or Howard Winant, two U.S.-based scholars who have recently sought to situate the politics of race in Brazil in an international perspective. Hanchard and Winant frame their studies as efforts to explain what they see as a relative absence of race-based politics among Afro-Brazilians. (They make their comparisons chiefly with African-American politics in the United States.) In contrast, Butler looks beyond the absence of explicitly racial politics in Salvador and finds the presence of other forms of politics which in her view reflected the priorities and possibilities of Afro-Brazilians in Salvador better than the race-based approach of the FNB.
It would be unfair to criticize Butler for not including a third city in what is already an impressive comparative study. Nevertheless, a more thorough consideration of events in the city of Rio de Janeiro, such as the Vaccine Revolt of 1904, might have enriched the book. Her analysis of the legal and financial strategies of slaves and libertos (freedpeople) in Salvador would have benefited from a comparison with similar practices analyzed by Sidney Chalhoub in Visoes da liberdade: uma historia das ultimas decadas da escravidao na Corte. Likewise, Butler might have paid more attention to rural society, particularly in her discussion of Sao Paulo, where rural-to-urban migration was a crucial factor in the city's development after abolition. One valuable point of reference would have been Hebe Maria Mattos de Castro's Das cores do silencio: os significados da liberdade no sudeste escravista, which examines the relationship between color categories and notions of citizen ship in the Brazilian Southeast in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The importance of rural-urban alliances in the abolition of slavery in Sao Paulo has recently been discussed by Maria Helena Machado. One wonders about the fate of these alliances after abolition, and how they might have been relevant to the political strategies addressed by Butler.
In the conclusion of the book, Butler seeks to place Afro-Brazilian politics after abolition in the context of the Afro-Atlantic diaspora, with a focus on the historiographies of Cuba and Jamaica. As Butler says, this much larger comparative project remains at a preliminary stage in this book. Nevertheless, Butler's discussion of diaspora raises an intriguing question: if emancipation opened up new possibilities for the politics of African descendants within the borders of particular nations, can abolition also be seen as a watershed in the fashioning of a transnational black politics? Butler's book points the way toward an answer to this question. In the meantime, she can be thanked for an important contribution to the historiography of postemancipation Brazil that draws its power from the author's recognition of differences in Afro-Brazilian politics after abolition.
. George Reid Andrews, Blacks and Whites in Sao Paulo, Brazil 1888-1988 (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991).
. Michael George Hanchard, Orpheus and Power: The Movimento Negro of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1945-1988 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), and Howard Winant, Racial Conditions: Politics, Theory, Comparisons (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994).
. Sidney Chalhoub, Visoes da liberdade: uma historia das ultimas decadas da escravidao na Corte (Sao Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1990).
. Hebe Maria Mattos de Castro, Das cores do silencio: os significados da liberdade no sudeste escravista-Brasil, seculo XIX (Rio de Janeiro: Arquivo Nacional, 1995).
. Maria Helena Machado, O plano e o panico: os movimentos sociais na decada da abolicao (Rio de Janeiro: Editora UFRJ; Sao Paulo: EDUSP, 1994).
Commissioned for H-Urban by Ronald Young, firstname.lastname@example.org, Department of History, Georgia Southern University
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Aims McGuinness. Review of Butler, Kim D., Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition Sao Paulo and Salvador.
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