Cultural Production in a Racial Democracy

Niyi Afolabi


University of Rochester Press



An interdisciplinary study on the myth of racial democracy in Brazil through the prism of producers of Afro-Brazilian culture.
Brazil, the most racially diverse Latin American country, is also the most contradictory: for centuries it has maintained fantasy as reality through the myth of racial democracy. Enshrined in that mythology is the masking of exclusionism that strategically displaces and marginalizes Afro-Brazilians from political power.
In this absorbing new study, Niyi Afolabi exposes the tensions between the official position on racial harmony and the reality of marginalization experienced by Afro-Brazilians by exploring Afro-Brazilian cultural production as a considered response to this exclusion. The author examines major contributions in music, history, literature, film, and popular culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to reveal how each performance by an Afro-Brazilian artist addresses issues of identity and racism through a variety of veils that entertain, ridicule, invoke, provoke, protest, and demand change at the same time.
Raising cogent questions such as the vital role of Afro-Brazilians in the making of Brazilian national identity; the representation of Brazilian women as hapless, exploited, and abandoned; the erosion of the influence of black movements due to fragmentation and internal disharmony; and the portrayal of Afro-Brazilians on the national screen as domestics, Afolabi provides insightful, nuanced analyses that tease out the complexities of the dilemma in their appropriate historical, political, and social contexts.

Niyi Afolabi teaches Luso-Brazilian, Yoruba, and African Diaspora studies in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese as well as the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.


April 2009
443 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora
ISBN: 9781580462624
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC SOC008000, LCO001000, HIS033000
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Table of Contents

Negotiating Cultural Production in a Racial Democracy
Two Faces of Racial Democracy
Quilombhoje as a Cultural Collective
Beyond the Curtains: Unveiling Afro-Brazilian Women Writers
(Un)Broken Linkages
The Tropicalist Legacy of Gilberto Gil
Afro-Brazilian Carnival
Film and Fragmentation
Ancestrality and the Dynamics of Afro-Modernity
The Forerunners of Afro-Modernity
(Un)Transgressed Tradition
Ancestrality, Memory, and Citizenship
Quilombo without Frontiers
Ancestral Motherhood of Leci Brandao
The Future of Afro-Brazilian Cultural Production


Niyi Afolabi has given us a true tour de force. Astutely deploying the disciplines of history, literature, and cultural studies, he trains a keen eye on the sociopolitical articulations emerging within the contradictory world that is Brazil's race relations. He introduces us to Afro-Brazilian novelists, poets, and essayists of present-day Brazil as they deal with issues of craft, gender, nation, and race -- and most especially, the circumlocutions inherent in each. Drawing on multiple sources and interviews, Afolabi's nuanced discussion casts new light on Afro-Brazil and Brazil. A timely and important contribution to the study of Brazil and Afro-Brazil, the African diaspora, Afro-Latin America, and Latin America. --Anani Dzidzienyo, Africana Studies, Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Brown University

There are very few scholars who can match Afolabi's mastery of the linguistic and scholarly apparatus needed for a dependable study of Brazilian arts, culture, and society. This long-awaited publication of Afro-Brazilians clearly raises the level of discourse not only in this field but indeed on the African Diaspora generally. --Isidore Okpewho, State University Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, Binghamton University of SUNY

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