Diploma of Whiteness

Race and Social Policy in Brazil, 1917–1945

Diploma of Whiteness

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 41 illustrations Published: March 2003

Author: Jerry Dávila

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Brazil, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

In Brazil, the country with the largest population of African descent in the Americas, the idea of race underwent a dramatic shift in the first half of the twentieth century. Brazilian authorities, who had considered race a biological fact, began to view it as a cultural and environmental condition. Jerry Dávila explores the significance of this transition by looking at the history of the Rio de Janeiro school system between 1917 and 1945. He demonstrates how, in the period between the world wars, the dramatic proliferation of social policy initiatives in Brazil was subtly but powerfully shaped by beliefs that racially mixed and nonwhite Brazilians could be symbolically, if not physically, whitened through changes in culture, habits, and health.
Providing a unique historical perspective on how racial attitudes move from elite discourse into people’s lives, Diploma of Whiteness shows how public schools promoted the idea that whites were inherently fit and those of African or mixed ancestry were necessarily in need of remedial attention. Analyzing primary material—including school system records, teacher journals, photographs, private letters, and unpublished documents—Dávila traces the emergence of racially coded hiring practices and student-tracking policies as well as the development of a social and scientific philosophy of eugenics. He contends that the implementation of the various policies intended to “improve” nonwhites institutionalized subtle barriers to their equitable integration into Brazilian society.


"Diploma of Whiteness is more than a history of Brazilian education. It provides a brilliant lesson that in order to analyze critically any educational system (and/or structure), knowledge of its past can be illuminating. Similarly, this text can elucidate how and why race remains a hidden force to be reckoned with in societies that are not only multiethnic/cultural, but are, in fact, fundamentally multiracial. Finally, this study of social reforms proves that the real measure of policy effectiveness should be sought in the lives of people: the human face of change and social equality." — Francis Musa Boakari , Comparative Education Review

"Diploma of Whiteness should be read by anyone interested in Brazilian race-relations or history, and Latin America more generally. This book, additionally, makes a wonderful contribution to a better understanding of race relations in Brazil in the 21st century." — José de Arimatéia da Cruz , The Latin Americanist

"[A] superb history of Brazilian racial ideas and the implementation of those ideas in the educational system of Rio de Janeiro in the first half of the twentieth century. . . . Diploma of Whiteness should be essential reading for modern scholars of Latin America." — Michael Monteón , History: Reviews of New Books

"[A]n essential book. . . . Dávila's book is a well-researched and valuable contribution to an enhanced understanding of this formative period in modern Brazilian cultural history." — Andrew J. Kirkendall, Luso-Brazilian Review

"An illuminating contribution. . . . Diploma of Whiteness will be of special interest to those who study education, race, citizenship, and state building. It will make a fine addition to the books that are appropriate for upper-level undergraduate and graduate seminars on Brazilian and Latin American history." — Peter M. Beattie , The Americas

"[S]uperb. . . . [T]he book deserves credit for enriching the debate on race relations in Brazil. . . . [H]ighly recommended to specialists and students alike." — Silke Hensel, Iberoamericana

"[T]he reader is captivated by the many similarities between the Brazilian experience and that of the United States. . . . This book is important if we are to avoid repeating history-especially since the history of Brazil's educational system is not very different from our own." — Myrka A. González , Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

"A noteworthy book precisely because it strives to tackle the thorny set of methodological, analytical, and political issues that have clouded an assessment of the historic relationship between race and social policy in Brazil." — Seth Garfield , American Historical Review

"A timely work for current debates about affirmative action policies in Brazil, this study describes the long history of issues related to race, racism, and class in Brazil's education system. . . . Diploma of Whiteness is an interesting and clearly written book, appropriate for both graduate and undergraduate courses on Brazil and Latin America." — Sarah Sarzynski , Hispanic American Historical Review

"Dávila has achieved an important and laudable goal: his book is very well documented, presenting new archival data." — Antonio Sérgio Alfredo Guimarães , Journal of Latin American Studies

"Dávila writes well and makes his case forcefully. . . . Stimulating." — Richard Graham , Ethnic and Racial Studies

"Dávila's exhaustively researched analysis is an excellent example of the study of micro-institutions" — Rebecca Reichmann , Anthropology & Education Quarterly

"This detailed study of educational policy and the history of the inclusiveness of the school system in Rio de Janeiro is an excellent analysis of how a racist elite agenda was perpetuated through apparently progressive social policies in early twentieth-century Rio de Janeiro." — Elizabeth A. Kuznesof , Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"This extensively documented study will present new dimensions to the well-known studies of race by Dávila’s mentor, Thomas Skidmore, and will enhance the importance of
education and the educational pioneers whose visions of the ‘Brazilian Man of the Future’ structured racial and social policy during the first half of the twentieth century." — Nancy Priscilla Naro , Bulletin of Latin American Research

“A superbly researched analysis of the application of the whitening ideal, with all its contradictions, in the Rio de Janeiro schools during the interwar years.” — Thomas Skidmore, author of Black into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought

“By taking an innovative approach to the study of race and social policy, Jerry Dávila has written a rare book that shows how racial attitudes move from elite discourse into the real lives of real people. This approach combines with fascinating research and a narrative style that is compelling and often dramatic to make a first-rate contribution to the fields of Latin American and Brazilian history.” — Jeffrey Lesser, author of Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jerry Dávila is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Building the “Brazilian Man” 21

2. Educating Brazil 52

3. What Happened to Rio’s Teachers of Color? 90

4. Elementary Education 125

5. Escola Nova no Estado Novo: The New School in the New State 155

6. Behaving White: Rio’s Secondary Schools 192

Epilogue: The Enduring Brazilian Fascination with Race 233

List of Abbreviations 244

Notes 247

Bibliography 271

Index 287
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3070-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3058-5
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