lorenzo veracini reviews isfahani-hammond’s white negritude


Lorenzo Veracini: Rezension zu: Isfahani-Hammond, Alexandra: White Negritude. Race, Writing, and Brazilian Cultural Identity. New York 2008, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, 26.02.2010. :

Transference of cultural practices by close contact allows whites to write “black”, a move that, besides the ultimate (albeit one step removed) indigenisation of the Euro-Brazilian, enables another transfer: the disappearance of the black by way of simultaneous incorporation and erasure. Black autonomous authorship (a voice that Freyre perceives as emblematic of US segregationism) is thus disqualified through transfer, together with mixed race authorship, a voice Freyre accuses of being intrinsically incapable of genuinely representing either race: not the manor, not the subaltern periphery, yet alone a synthesis or Brazilian ineffable heterogeneity. Isfahani-Hammond recognises this dynamic, and sees Freyre situating “himself as a seignorial figure who has equal domain in elite and marginal sites, displacing people of mixed European/African ancestry from the embodiment of hybridization and, therein, from the ability to narrate or speak about national identity” (p. 14). Freyre finally “transfers” the south of Brazil: a site of degenerative modernisation, European immigration and influence, and, ultimately, Americanization. It is an alien and unauthentic locale; a source of foreign and therefore distorting stimuli.

At the end of a succession of discursive transfers, the white master’s claim is the last one standing. His proximity to black commodified bodies enables authentic linguistic and spiritual incorporation, something that is denied to everyone else. Only the specific conditions of the northeastern plantation and the intimate contact between masters and slaves could produce Brazil’s exceptional “Racial Democracy”: “[t]he social history of the plantation manor is the intimate history of almost every Brazilian”, Freyre concludes (quoted, p. 134). Casa Grande e Senzala is therefore exactly what the title says it is: a hierarchically organised dyad constituted by seigneural manor plus the contribution that emanates from the slave quarters. Despite their contribution, indeed exactly because of their contribution, the autonomous agency of the slaves and their descendants is effaced, and the seigneural manor remains the unique site of “genuine” Brazilian culture. Once the sequence of transfers is completed, Freyre’s “almost every Brazilian”, ends up reading like “every Brazilian who happens to be a white male seigneur who grew up in a plantation in the northeast of the country”. An exceptionally inclusive tradition is thus recast into an exceptionally selective one.


Freyre’s transferist strategy, however, is not unique. Settlers elsewhere also need to enact physical and discursive transfers against their indigenous and exogenous opponents in order to effectively claim local versions of “genuine” indigenising cultural authenticity. Freyre’s “creolization/indigenization”, Isfahani-Hammond concludes, “is nationalistic and anticolonial yet grounded in symbolically Africanized, white dominance” (p. 52). Settler indigenisations elsewhere are also nationalistic and anticolonial; settlers need to build independent nations and supersede their dependency on the motherland. Settler indigenisation, of course, is also grounded on an indigenised white dominance that effaces really existing indigenous peoples.

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