Um negro á-toa, (An Insignificant Negro): Race, Public Order, and Policing in Rio de Janeiro, 1907–30

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:40 AM
Denver Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Martine Jean, University of South Carolina Columbia
This presentation addresses the role of race in shaping police work in Rio de Janeiro using official police documents.  Starting in 1902, a massive government project urbanized Rio de Janeiro, then Brazil’s federal capital, as part of a broader nation-building enterprise to modernize the country and civilize its citizens. The maintenance of public order figured prominently in the minds of contemporary authorities who reformed the city’s police as they urbanized Rio de Janeiro, sanitized its streets, and inoculated the population against recurring epidemic outbreaks of smallpox and yellow fever. The creation of the Civil Guard – as a force of order with a domestic civilizing mission –to supplement the work of the Military Police in street patrol was the most important innovation of these reforms.

This research primarily explores the influence of the guards’ racial background on policing, but addresses an important obstacle confronting scholars of Republican Brazil using official records: the absence of source materials on the guard’s racial profile and the paucity of overt reference to race in the archives concerning their work. However, a close reading of these sources reveals the ways in which race was used to challenge the guards’ authority in upholding public order in moments of conflicts. By analyzing those moments of conflicts, between the guards and soldiers of the Military Police, between the guards and various sectors of carioca society, and finally between the guards and their superiors, this study highlights the links between race, visions of public order, and the making of Modern Brazil. The research also suggests these “moments of conflicts” as an analytical lens through which scholars can denote the manifestation of race in the archive, especially when those source materials are the products of specific nationalist and racialist policies that sought to eradicate its presence from these historical records.