Militant look at inequality — Carlos Eduardo Trindade Santos’s (UFS/SINAF) review of “A sociedade desigual: racismo e branquitude na formação do Brasil”, by Mario Theodoro

Mário Theodoro | Image: Emfan

Abstract: A sociedade desigual: racismo e branquitude na formação do Brasil, by Mário Theodoro, explores the persistent racial inequality in Brazil. Theodoro analyzes how racism is structured in society, exploring areas such as the job market, education, health, urbanization and the binomial violence and justice. He criticizes the invisibility of black people in spheres of power and the limited action of the State, proposing reflections for social changes.

Keywords: inequality, racism, and whiteness.


A sociedade desigual: racismo e branquitude na formação do Brasil (Zahar, 2022) marks the latest contribution by researcher Mário Theodoro. The author characterizes an unequal society as “a social configuration characterized by extreme and persistent inequality, whose intensity surpasses the bounds of legality” (p.17). The primary goal of the work is to “present and analyze the complex dynamics of the production and reproduction of inequalities to shape and solidify the unequal society based on racism” (p.27).

Mário Theodoro, an economist with a master’s degree from the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE) and a doctorate from Paris I University — Sorbonne, is a retired Legislative Consultant for the Federal Senate and former Executive Secretary of the Special Secretariat for Racial Equality Policies of the Presidency of the Republic (SEPPIR). Currently, he is a visiting professor at the Postgraduate Program in Human Rights and Citizenship at the University of Brasília (UnB). His recent publications include Racismo, discriminação e preconceito: delimitando o raio de ação das políticas de promoção da igualdade racial (Unesp, 2019) e Dez anos da política de promoção da igualdade racial no Brasil: o que aprendemos (Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2020). In A Sociedade desigual, Theodoro builds upon his earlier analyses of the labor world, social inequalities, and public policy oversight to explore the nation’s formation through its racial dynamics. He structures his examination into six thematic chapters, culminating in an epilogue that discusses the critical role and significance of Black movements in addressing the issues presented in the 447-page book.

In the first chapter, Theodoro outlines the theoretical and methodological frameworks underpinning his arguments, critically reviewing both national and international literature in the fields of economic theory, development, labor, and Brazilian society. This review is enriched by contributions from Black intellectuals on the Brazilian racial dilemma. He notes the limited scope of economic theory, neoclassical models, Marxist perspectives, and social sciences in understanding racism. Conversely, he emphasizes authors who concentrated on inequality and racial themes, introducing concepts such as racism, prejudice, discrimination, whiteness, biopower, and necropolitics. From this analysis, he concludes that all elements necessary for the formation of an unequal society have been established in Brazil: racism as the prevailing ideology, prejudice and racial discrimination as routine practices, the exaltation of whiteness, and state actions characterized by biopower and necropolitics.

The second chapter focuses on the Brazilian labor market from historical and contemporary perspectives, highlighting its failure to foster social inclusion, the prevalence of informality as a survival strategy, and its role in perpetuating racial inequalities. Theodoro points out the market’s limited ability to offer secure, well-paying jobs, favoring white workers and relegating Black labor to a supplementary role. He argues that the labor market’s formation, rooted in the enslavement of Africans, has solidified the subordinate status of Black labor through characteristics such as rapid urbanization, poverty concentration, the existence of a large informal sector, and disparities in income and employment access based on racial background. He asserts that the labor market is a principal conduit for racism and that reversing this situation requires the integration of redistributive policies with efforts to combat racism and its impacts.

The third chapter examines the roles of education and health in perpetuating inequality, identifying a convergence of factors affecting these public policies. Theodoro discusses the ideologies of eugenics and racial improvement (whitening), the privatization and compartmentalization of these services, and the barriers to access, underscoring the advantages held by wealthier, whiter segments of society. He argues that education and health function as mechanisms of inequality dissemination, cementing the subordinate position of the Black population by inequitably distributing resources and limiting access to quality living conditions, training, care, and opportunities.

In the fourth chapter, Theodoro turns his attention to the unequal occupation of urban and rural spaces. He observes that in Brazilian cities, wealthier classes reside in secure, service-rich neighborhoods, while the majority of the Black population lives in marginalized areas lacking public or private sector presence. In rural regions, the rise of agribusiness has displaced workers, creating a class of ‘landless’ individuals. This spatialization, intensified with 19th-century urbanization, has relegated Black populations from central urban spaces and valuable rural lands, reinforcing societal margins as spaces of marginality and social disdain.

The fifth chapter identifies violence as a foundational element of the unequal society, manifesting as state practice and extending into non-state actions. This violence, characterized by frequent deaths and a police force more inclined toward repression than protection, is legitimized by a racially biased judiciary system. Theodoro contends that the violence-justice nexus is essential for understanding the operations of a racist society, illustrating how the unequal society is brutalized and arbitrary, upheld by whiteness and the systemic racism, prejudice, and discrimination it engenders.

In the final chapter, Theodoro revisits the themes of the preceding chapters to delineate the features of the unequal society, its durability, and its consequences. He seeks to highlight the centrality of racism and its effects, alongside the distorted production profile and labor market and a legal-constitutional framework favoring dominant groups. He proposes a consensus agenda aimed at mitigating inequalities but notes the challenges posed by the entrenched use of violence as a foundation of societal inequality.

Theodoro underscores the failure of Brazil, despite significant growth rates in the last century, to address poverty and inequality during economic booms—a failure he attributes directly to the pervasive influence of racism at both micro and macro societal levels.

“Entra Apulso” resists real estate speculation in the prime area of Recife | Image: Brasil de Fato

A sociedade desigual serves as a testament to Mário Theodoro’s journey, offering an in-depth analysis of the complex dynamics sustaining Brazil’s unequal society. The book’s examination of the Brazilian political model and the near invisibility of Black individuals in political power spheres suggests areas for further enrichment and underscores the importance of Black political action in initiating societal change. Theodoro successfully achieves the book’s objectives, making it a recommended read not only for activists but also for politicians, public managers, and academics, to contemplate the unequal society we inhabit and to seek collective solutions for a more equitable future.

Summary of A sociedade desigual: Racismo e branquitude na formação do Brasil

  • Prefácio | Hélio Santos
  • Introdução
  • 1. O desafio de se estudar o racismo como elemento organizador da sociedade desigual: Aspectos teóricos e metodológicos
  • 2. Mercado de trabalho, desigualdade e racismo
  • 3. O papel da educação e da saúde na construção da desigual
  • 4. Quilombos, favelas, alagados, mocambos, palafitas e a periferia: A ocupação do espaço na construção da desigualdade
  • 5. Violência e ausência de justiça: A consolidação da sociedade desigual
  • 6. Juntando as partes: As bases gerais da sociedade desigual
  • Epilogo: O papel do ativismo negro, um contraponto necessário
  • Agradecimentos
  • Notas
  • Bibliografia

Reviewer

Carlos Eduardo Trindade Santos is a master’s student in Sociologia (UFS), specialist in Ciência Política (UnB) and graduated in  Ciências Econômicas (UFS). He founded and presided over the União dos Negros de Aracaju (UNA) and the Sociedade Afrosergipana de Estudos e Cidadania  (SACI). He serves as treasurer of the Instituto Braços de Direitos Humanos (IB) and IB representative at the Instituto Braços no Fórum de Organizações Negras Contra o Racismo e pela Democracia e o Bem Comum (FONERD). He is the author of Estado, Politicas Públicas e Comunidades Tradicionais Negras no Brasil: um panorama das ações governamentais junto as comunidades quilombolas no período 2003-2006 e Há luz no fim do túnel para a igualdade racial em Sergipe. ID LATTES: http://lattes.cnpq.br/5268778020592238; ID ORCID: https://orcid.org/0009-0002-7886-2666; Redes soiais: https://br.linkedin.com/in/carlos-eduardo-trindade-santos-74365059; E.mail: [email protected].


To cite this review

THEODORO, Mário. A sociedade desigual: racismo e branquitude na formação do Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2022. 477p. Review by: SANTOS, Carlos Eduardo Trindade. Militant look at inequality. Crítica Historiográfica. Natal, v.4, n.15, jan./feb., 2024. Available at <https://www.criticahistoriografica.com.br/en/militant-look-at-inequality-carlos-eduardo-trindade-santoss-ufs-sinaf-review-of-a-sociedade-desigual-racismo-e-branquitude-na-formacao-do-brasil-by-mario-theodoro/>.


© – Authors who publish in Historiographical Criticism agree to the distribution, remixing, adaptation and creation based on their texts, even for commercial purposes, as long as due credit for the original creations is guaranteed. (CC BY-SA).

 

Crítica Historiográfica. Natal, v.4, n. 15, jan./feb., 2024 | ISSN 2764-2666

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Militant look at inequality — Carlos Eduardo Trindade Santos’s (UFS/SINAF) review of “A sociedade desigual: racismo e branquitude na formação do Brasil”, by Mario Theodoro

Mário Theodoro | Image: Emfan

Abstract: A sociedade desigual: racismo e branquitude na formação do Brasil, by Mário Theodoro, explores the persistent racial inequality in Brazil. Theodoro analyzes how racism is structured in society, exploring areas such as the job market, education, health, urbanization and the binomial violence and justice. He criticizes the invisibility of black people in spheres of power and the limited action of the State, proposing reflections for social changes.

Keywords: inequality, racism, and whiteness.


A sociedade desigual: racismo e branquitude na formação do Brasil (Zahar, 2022) marks the latest contribution by researcher Mário Theodoro. The author characterizes an unequal society as “a social configuration characterized by extreme and persistent inequality, whose intensity surpasses the bounds of legality” (p.17). The primary goal of the work is to “present and analyze the complex dynamics of the production and reproduction of inequalities to shape and solidify the unequal society based on racism” (p.27).

Mário Theodoro, an economist with a master’s degree from the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE) and a doctorate from Paris I University — Sorbonne, is a retired Legislative Consultant for the Federal Senate and former Executive Secretary of the Special Secretariat for Racial Equality Policies of the Presidency of the Republic (SEPPIR). Currently, he is a visiting professor at the Postgraduate Program in Human Rights and Citizenship at the University of Brasília (UnB). His recent publications include Racismo, discriminação e preconceito: delimitando o raio de ação das políticas de promoção da igualdade racial (Unesp, 2019) e Dez anos da política de promoção da igualdade racial no Brasil: o que aprendemos (Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2020). In A Sociedade desigual, Theodoro builds upon his earlier analyses of the labor world, social inequalities, and public policy oversight to explore the nation’s formation through its racial dynamics. He structures his examination into six thematic chapters, culminating in an epilogue that discusses the critical role and significance of Black movements in addressing the issues presented in the 447-page book.

In the first chapter, Theodoro outlines the theoretical and methodological frameworks underpinning his arguments, critically reviewing both national and international literature in the fields of economic theory, development, labor, and Brazilian society. This review is enriched by contributions from Black intellectuals on the Brazilian racial dilemma. He notes the limited scope of economic theory, neoclassical models, Marxist perspectives, and social sciences in understanding racism. Conversely, he emphasizes authors who concentrated on inequality and racial themes, introducing concepts such as racism, prejudice, discrimination, whiteness, biopower, and necropolitics. From this analysis, he concludes that all elements necessary for the formation of an unequal society have been established in Brazil: racism as the prevailing ideology, prejudice and racial discrimination as routine practices, the exaltation of whiteness, and state actions characterized by biopower and necropolitics.

The second chapter focuses on the Brazilian labor market from historical and contemporary perspectives, highlighting its failure to foster social inclusion, the prevalence of informality as a survival strategy, and its role in perpetuating racial inequalities. Theodoro points out the market’s limited ability to offer secure, well-paying jobs, favoring white workers and relegating Black labor to a supplementary role. He argues that the labor market’s formation, rooted in the enslavement of Africans, has solidified the subordinate status of Black labor through characteristics such as rapid urbanization, poverty concentration, the existence of a large informal sector, and disparities in income and employment access based on racial background. He asserts that the labor market is a principal conduit for racism and that reversing this situation requires the integration of redistributive policies with efforts to combat racism and its impacts.

The third chapter examines the roles of education and health in perpetuating inequality, identifying a convergence of factors affecting these public policies. Theodoro discusses the ideologies of eugenics and racial improvement (whitening), the privatization and compartmentalization of these services, and the barriers to access, underscoring the advantages held by wealthier, whiter segments of society. He argues that education and health function as mechanisms of inequality dissemination, cementing the subordinate position of the Black population by inequitably distributing resources and limiting access to quality living conditions, training, care, and opportunities.

In the fourth chapter, Theodoro turns his attention to the unequal occupation of urban and rural spaces. He observes that in Brazilian cities, wealthier classes reside in secure, service-rich neighborhoods, while the majority of the Black population lives in marginalized areas lacking public or private sector presence. In rural regions, the rise of agribusiness has displaced workers, creating a class of ‘landless’ individuals. This spatialization, intensified with 19th-century urbanization, has relegated Black populations from central urban spaces and valuable rural lands, reinforcing societal margins as spaces of marginality and social disdain.

The fifth chapter identifies violence as a foundational element of the unequal society, manifesting as state practice and extending into non-state actions. This violence, characterized by frequent deaths and a police force more inclined toward repression than protection, is legitimized by a racially biased judiciary system. Theodoro contends that the violence-justice nexus is essential for understanding the operations of a racist society, illustrating how the unequal society is brutalized and arbitrary, upheld by whiteness and the systemic racism, prejudice, and discrimination it engenders.

In the final chapter, Theodoro revisits the themes of the preceding chapters to delineate the features of the unequal society, its durability, and its consequences. He seeks to highlight the centrality of racism and its effects, alongside the distorted production profile and labor market and a legal-constitutional framework favoring dominant groups. He proposes a consensus agenda aimed at mitigating inequalities but notes the challenges posed by the entrenched use of violence as a foundation of societal inequality.

Theodoro underscores the failure of Brazil, despite significant growth rates in the last century, to address poverty and inequality during economic booms—a failure he attributes directly to the pervasive influence of racism at both micro and macro societal levels.

“Entra Apulso” resists real estate speculation in the prime area of Recife | Image: Brasil de Fato

A sociedade desigual serves as a testament to Mário Theodoro’s journey, offering an in-depth analysis of the complex dynamics sustaining Brazil’s unequal society. The book’s examination of the Brazilian political model and the near invisibility of Black individuals in political power spheres suggests areas for further enrichment and underscores the importance of Black political action in initiating societal change. Theodoro successfully achieves the book’s objectives, making it a recommended read not only for activists but also for politicians, public managers, and academics, to contemplate the unequal society we inhabit and to seek collective solutions for a more equitable future.

Summary of A sociedade desigual: Racismo e branquitude na formação do Brasil

  • Prefácio | Hélio Santos
  • Introdução
  • 1. O desafio de se estudar o racismo como elemento organizador da sociedade desigual: Aspectos teóricos e metodológicos
  • 2. Mercado de trabalho, desigualdade e racismo
  • 3. O papel da educação e da saúde na construção da desigual
  • 4. Quilombos, favelas, alagados, mocambos, palafitas e a periferia: A ocupação do espaço na construção da desigualdade
  • 5. Violência e ausência de justiça: A consolidação da sociedade desigual
  • 6. Juntando as partes: As bases gerais da sociedade desigual
  • Epilogo: O papel do ativismo negro, um contraponto necessário
  • Agradecimentos
  • Notas
  • Bibliografia

Reviewer

Carlos Eduardo Trindade Santos is a master’s student in Sociologia (UFS), specialist in Ciência Política (UnB) and graduated in  Ciências Econômicas (UFS). He founded and presided over the União dos Negros de Aracaju (UNA) and the Sociedade Afrosergipana de Estudos e Cidadania  (SACI). He serves as treasurer of the Instituto Braços de Direitos Humanos (IB) and IB representative at the Instituto Braços no Fórum de Organizações Negras Contra o Racismo e pela Democracia e o Bem Comum (FONERD). He is the author of Estado, Politicas Públicas e Comunidades Tradicionais Negras no Brasil: um panorama das ações governamentais junto as comunidades quilombolas no período 2003-2006 e Há luz no fim do túnel para a igualdade racial em Sergipe. ID LATTES: http://lattes.cnpq.br/5268778020592238; ID ORCID: https://orcid.org/0009-0002-7886-2666; Redes soiais: https://br.linkedin.com/in/carlos-eduardo-trindade-santos-74365059; E.mail: [email protected].


To cite this review

THEODORO, Mário. A sociedade desigual: racismo e branquitude na formação do Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2022. 477p. Review by: SANTOS, Carlos Eduardo Trindade. Militant look at inequality. Crítica Historiográfica. Natal, v.4, n.15, jan./feb., 2024. Available at <https://www.criticahistoriografica.com.br/en/militant-look-at-inequality-carlos-eduardo-trindade-santoss-ufs-sinaf-review-of-a-sociedade-desigual-racismo-e-branquitude-na-formacao-do-brasil-by-mario-theodoro/>.


© – Authors who publish in Historiographical Criticism agree to the distribution, remixing, adaptation and creation based on their texts, even for commercial purposes, as long as due credit for the original creations is guaranteed. (CC BY-SA).

 

Crítica Historiográfica. Natal, v.4, n. 15, jan./feb., 2024 | ISSN 2764-2666

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