The Dialogue About “Racial Democracy” Among African-American and Afro-Brazilian Literatures

The Dialogue About “Racial Democracy” Among African-American and Afro-Brazilian Literatures

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
262 pages

Isabel Cristina Rodrigues Ferreira

A dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures (Portuguese).

This dissertation focuses on the myth of racial democracy in the works of African-American and Afro-Brazilian writers in the early and late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Their novels, short stories, and a play dialogue among each other. The African-American novels Passing (1929) of Nella Larsen and Caucasia (1998) of Danzy Senna reflect on their perception of Brazilian reality of racial democracy, which was related to their own racial realities. Both authors use Brazilian racial harmony as an option to their characters to experience a different racial relation that did not involve segregation in the 1920s or violent acts in the 1960s and 1970s. The Afro-Brazilian selection of stories reflects on the Brazilian reality for Afrodescendants, which presents no sign of racial harmony. The novels Vida e morte de M. J. Gonzaga de Sá (1919) and Clara dos Anjos (1923-24) of Lima Barreto, Malungos e milongas (1988) of Esmeralda Ribeiro and Ponciá Vicêncio (2003) of Conceição Evaristo; the unpublished play Uma boneca no lixo of Cristiane Sobral; and short stories of Cuti, Márcio Barbosa, Éle Semog, Esmeralda Ribeiro, Oubi Inaê Kibuko, Conceição Evaristo, Lia Vieira and Cristiane Sobral show that Afro-Brazilian reality in the 1920s and in the late twentieth and early twentieth-first centuries is of discrimination, and prejudice, but they reflect on non-violent solutions to fight against their fate.

In Chapter One, I introduce the subject of racial democracy, which will be discussed in two African-American novels and some Afro-Brazilian literary works. Chapters Two and Three are overviews of Brazilian history, examining the role and perception of Afro-descendants by society, and Afro-Brazilian literature throughout the centuries, respectively. The former helps readers understand how important the myth of racial democracy was to maintain the order and power to those controlling the country’s economy and politics. Chapter Four examines African-American novels, relating them not only to their perception of Brazil, but also to their own history and racial relations. Chapter Five shows different racial issues discussed in some of the works. These interpretations of Brazilian racial reality can dismantle the discourse of the myth of racial democracy. The last Chapter is the conclusion of what I presented and discussed in the previous chapters and some thoughts about future research topics.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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