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"Ham's Redemption" - miscegenation as a way to whiten Brazil



"Ham's Redemption" is a painting made in 1895 by Modesto Brocos, which summarizes the way miscegenation was seen in Brazil. In this painting, it is possible to observe a black grandmother, a mixed mother, a white father and a son who is also white. The grandmother is looking up, thanking God for her grandson who was born white.

In addition, other elements of the picture portray the meaning of this miscegenation. The grandmother is close to a plant, and stepping barefoot on the dirt floor, symbolizing that black people were seen as savage, and underdeveloped. The father is in front of a building, and steps with his shoe on a cobbled street, showing how white people were seen as more civilized and advanced. All of these elements help us understand the racial history of Brazil, and indicate how miscegenation was seen as a way to whiten the diverse Brazilian population.

As is commonly known, Brazil's racial past has consequences that impact society even today. Brazil was the country that most imported African slaves. Because of this, currently the majority of the Brazilian population is composed of black and mixed people. However, even so, little is known about the African culture in Brazil. The remains of the enslaved people's cultures were erased over time, and the black population, which was structured in Brazil on an unequal basis, continues to feel the effects of this problematic history. One example is the richest segment of the population, in which only 27% of people are black. These consequences that are felt today used to be justified by theories that were considered scientific.

The Darwinian theory and Robert Knox's studies were two of them, and sought to justify the negative view of black people. Knox used the study of corpses and skulls to justify the thoughts that already existed in a racist society. He said that non-Europeans had smaller skulls, so they were intellectually inferior, which was used to justify slavery, torture, and violence against black people. Black and indigenous people were seen as non-intellectual and uncivilized. Brazil, composed mainly of a mixture of these three races, caused concern in the white elite

The white race was idealized as having a higher culture, and being racially valuable. Thus, aiming at a higher and more developed society, only whites were "worthy" of reproduction. With miscegenation, there was a risk of forming decadent societies, which would disseminate cultures and behaviors harmful to the evolution of the nation, putting the formation of the Brazilian national identity at stake.

This representation would serve as the face of Brazil for the international community. However, in addition to unifying a people, the creation of a single identity for such a diverse country could also spread many prejudices. Brazil had a very distinct people, with numerous regional characteristics due to its long territorial extension. So, how to build a positive national identity that would unify the country, with its people being composed of several races?

The solution occurred in the problem itself: in miscegenation.

Then, miscegenation in Brazil was planned in order to whiten the population. The aim was that, after a few generations, the white genes would remain, and the black race would be "erased" from the country. This occurred mainly after the abolition of slavery, with the arrival of several Europeans in Brazil, who were supposed to leave the country more civilized. This idea of ​​whitening the population was promoted by several intellectuals from the 19th and 20th century, and is represented in the work "Ham's Redemption", that illustrates this process.

Even though racial theories have been refuted, and the plan to whiten the population has been discarded, the marks of these events are still present. Currently, it is not unusual to come across a newspaper headline talking about racial injuries against football players, or protests defending unmet rights of black people, or hate crimes carried out against this portion of the population. Brazil is a country with a black majority, but still very racist. Therefore, it is important to keep your eyes open, and to notice the traces that Brazil's racist history has left. The fight against racism still has a long way to go, and it is through education and an active fight against this system that we will be able to dismantle the racist structure in Brazil.


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