In contrast to the division between slave and free, which the official world copiously recorded, race is a category that is curiously absent from official documents concerning the free born. It could be maintained that this silence was due to avoidance of any information undermining the hegemonic assumption that Brazil was “white.” However, the “whiteness” of Brazil was rarely asserted as such. What was claimed was that Brazil was “civilized” or, more precisely, that the country was becoming “civilized.” “Civilization” was equated with but was not identical to “whiteness,” since the former could be acquired and the latter not. Accordingly, whiteness was a cultural construct, not a physical denominator. In the official police inquiry into the Praieira Rebellion of 1849, every prisoner who was literate was recorded as “white” while every captive who was illiterate was given as “black.”
The paper will consider the employment of the racial designations in official records in the years 1822-1872 and will analyze the significance of these designations – their presence and their absence – for understanding race in the first half century of the Empire.
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