A modernidade negra

Of Agamben, I was going to read the author as gesture. So I have remembered.

I am looking through my files and finding my things. I once printed and wrote on this article by S. P. Guimarães, and kept the copy for years as I waited to work with it. I am going to take notes on my notes now, so I can recycle the printout. I will not require myself to reread the entire text, or to order these notes; nor shall I write the notes in such a way as to make them comprehensible to anyone knowing less about its topic than I do.

It is a long article, over 50pp. in typescript, written in sections that are called chapters; I should find out where it was actually published (in the early 21st century). Black intellectuals and modernity in Brazil, it is called. It is smart, and starts out with a discussion of modernity as a Western (and colonialist) notion. It places the Others of the West outside itself. It also likes revolution and expansion, and thus comes to include elements of this Otherness in itself and even recognizes Other peoples as creators of civilization. So modernity “tal como ocorreu” is the fruit of Europe’s malaise. Black modernity takes part in this process in a very specific way, says Guimarães, and his text discusses this.

Some of the notes I took on the manuscript were:

+ It was the Movimento Negro Unificado, not academics, who deconstructed the myth of racial democracy
+ Racial discrimination in Brazil exists, it is just more implicit and subtle than was [Jim Crow-style discrimination]; black people in Brazil sought assimilation to the national culture but sought to create their own culture in the U.S.; in both cases, blackness meant opposition to an “Anglo-Saxon” ideal (I say the construction of the “Anglo-Saxon” in Iberian and Ibero-American cultural discourse is a question of great interest, by the way)
+ Convivência social with white people does not necessarily mean a good life or an end to discrimination
+ Many Brazilian intellectuals have studied “o negro” as object of study; black intellectuals themselves have not gotten this kind of attention as a class
+ Both Sílvio Romero and Paulo Prado wanted the extinction of the “negro” and importation of European workers
+ Important, and I am not sure whether this is Guimarães speaking or me speaking, noticing that he supports me: modernidade negra involves (a) the romantic inclusion of non-European origins as possible origins of the nation and (b) abolition, so that negros can join modernity as citizens
+ Harlem renaissance was not a black movement but a negotiation between black writers and white audiences; other modern/primitive negotiations of the period are similar; Guimarães points out that this is a white thing: for them, the negro could be equal if (s)he remained different
+ race consciousness among negros was strongest in S.P. due to the importation of European workers; black intellectuals were interested in inclusion in and assimilation to national culture
+ Black culture, black identities as ethnogenesis
+ The idea of “race” is imported; creation of Frente Negra Brasileira (1931) was possible because of this importation (see p. 16); this is why we have “cultura afro-brasileira” (a national term) and the idea of “cultura negra” did not take hold until the 1960s. (Can this be true? Does Guimarães agree? He seems to accept it on some pages, and disagree on others.)
+ He does say that “negro” in Brazil was a political, not a cultural identity until the 1970s; this is interesting
+ Consider the journal Quilombo, published by Abdias do Nascimento, RJ 1948-1950
+ The word “raça” has often referred to a believed-in idea of race as breed or biological category, and it may be for this reason it is disliked (there is a lot in this article about connections to US ideas and vocabulary, from early on, and interesting quotations from SP black newspapers of the 1920s)
+ An important US idea (cf. DuBois) is wanting to preserve black culture — not wanting to be absorbed into a (white) nation. Os negros brasileiros seem to feel differently, not to feel like a separate culture — race and blackness mean African cultural values, and/but are not considered part of a separate nation as in the US and in the Francophone world. So Afro-Brazilian culture may have overlappings with other black cultures / world black cultures, but it isn’t the same as the black culture of Pan-Africanism.
+ Modernismo in Brazil goes in a different direction from the New Negro Movement or Negritude, because it represented motivos negros as belonging to the culture in general and as being mestiços (syncretism, not the creation of a different or separate ethnic identity, was the sign of Brazilian modernism)
+ Abdias do Nascimento was one of those who believed in mixture, not a separate cultura negra; where the idea of a separate culture appears, it is seen as more negative, more primitive, not more civilized. And part of the reason why the idea of cultura negra did appear in the 1960s was that democracy had ended in Brazil, and had to be sought internationally–in this case, in the Black Atlantic
+ But Quilombo was still a publication with a black identity
+ Important: democracia racial may be a white idea originally, but it was reinterpreted and deployed by black intellectuals to their ends
+ Interesting: the creation of national identities is not always an answer to the same question (simple example of different questions: what is the Brazilian people? and what is Brazil?)

There is a lot more in this piece.


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