A Real Conversation Between Lydia and Ellen

Lydia: Hey Ellen! What did you do on your last full day in Brazil?


Ellen: Today was a pretty full day! This morning we took off to visit a quilombo community, which is a settlement established by African or African-descendants in Brazil.


Lydia: That sounds pretty neat, did you do anything else?


Ellen: In fact we did! We ate a delicious home-cooked lunch with some of the members of the community and learned more about traditional Brazilian food and we saw a waterfall. We also got to have mango, avocado, guava, and siriguela fruit straight from the tree.


Lydia: That sounds awesome, but what does the quilombo have to do with race, inequality and development in Brazil?


Ellen: Well i’m glad you asked Lydia! Today’s visit reminded me a lot of one of the themes that has been woven throughout this course, which is what it means to be a citizen here. In Montero’s book, he discusses citizenship in Brazil as “democracy without citizenship” (Montero p. 9). This essentially encompasses the idea that Brazil’s democracy is limited to a certain kind of citizen. Black, brown, indigenous, and female demographics do not fit the mold that Brazil’s democracy is made for.


Lydia: Do you think you’ve seen this “democracy without citizenship” other places in Brazil, besides the quilombo?


Ellen: Yes I believe so. We have seen the manifestation of disenfranchisement of these groups throughout our trip at NGOs, favelas, on the street, and in dialogue with speakers. Today’s visit was just another example of a group of people that do not have the idealized citizenship a democracy ensures.


Lydia: Well I still don’t entirely understand how these quilumbo communities were wronged by the ideals of Brazilian democracy


Ellen: For example, during the visit we were told that the 100- page long 1988 constitution of Brazil, which catered to the newfound democracy, only had one article dedicated to the quilombo communities. These leaves rights ambiguous, and vulnerable to outside forces. Land encroachment by farmers, miners, and nature preserves, we were told, was and remains a significant threat to the quilombo communities. Methods of ameliorating this threat involve land titling and education of the people in these communities.


Lydia: Woah, that sounds very familiar! I remember seeing in one of our last readings, about Brazils ideas of racial democracy that pretty much state that Brazil is so diverse that there is not possible for the country to racist. I also remember in that same article that many people disagree with this idea, “…Brazil likes to spread this around the world .But it’s a huge lie…The black people feel in their flesh the lie that is racial democracy. You just have to to look at the black families. Where do they live? The black children-how are they educated” (Gates, pg. 48). The author of this article stated that the best hope for this “racial democracy” is education and affirmative action (Gates p. 58). Now I know these are not synonymous, much of a democracy without citizenship is made up of racial components.


Ellen: Yes! Both today’s experience and this reading underscore the notion that existing in this democracy does not ensure inclusion. Although quilombo communities exist under a democracy, they operate under a constant threat of land encroachment. Their voice in government action does not resonate the same way farming and mining companies will.


Lydia: Woah, that’s heavy stuff. So it sounds like the quilimbo communities are just one of the many populations that fall victim to the complicated racial inequalities that are at play in Brazil


Ellen: I think this course has shed a lot of light on racial issues in Brazil. We’ve seen a lot of parallels with racial issues in the U.S too, like police violence, housing segregation, and representation in government. Inequality and race here go hand in hand, and we’ve seen how these have been perpetuated by the systematic foundation that Brazil was built upon. You can read all the books about race you want, but seeing it in action has been a very visceral experience.


Lydia: Definitely. In Rio we got our first taste of what Brazil was all about, and started seeing how race plays out in society. The favela, the Negro Museum, the National History Museum gave us a history and a current look at how racial history and inequality plays out. Salvador, whose population is mostly black, showed us how Afro-Brazilians celebrate their roots throughout the religion of Candomblé, as well as samba, capoeira, and balé. It was incredible to get to immerse ourselves in these experiences! Here in Brasilia we have seen more of a technical perspective from our visits to monuments and government buildings.


Ellen: It’s been a good mix of hands-on learning and more of a lecture style with our tours and readings.


Lydia: For sure. The weather hasn’t been too bad either!


Ellen: Soak it up, we’ll be back in the cold midwest in just a matter of hours!



Farfan-Santos, Elizabeth. ""Fraudulent" Identities: The Politics of Defining Quilombo Descendants in Brazil." The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology20.1 (2015): 110-32. Print.

Gates, Henry L. Black in Latin America. New York: New York. University Press, 2011. 12-58.

Montero, Alfred P. Brazilian Politics: Reforming a Democratic State in a Changing World. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2005. Print.

Quilombo Community Buildings
Quilobo church built by the community