Brazil: Estado Novo, Fascism and Nationalism
Brazil: Estado Novo, Fascism and Nationalism
Education, under the Estado Novo, was deeply tied to nationalism and fascism. The Brazilian Military regime mimicked the European fascist of Italy. Tied to their nationalist fascism was the mobilization of youth (Davila, 2003, 158). To mobilize the young masses, investment in education was necessary. This mobilization could only work by harmonizing all the inharmonious elements in Brazil. In essence, they had to create a Brazilian culture that was white, Indian and Black. They hoped to create a Brazilian race (Davila, 2003, 169). The problem was that the elite white Brazilians still held old prejudices. They believed that nonwhites where degenerate. Only education could redeem them and save the nation (Davila, 2003, Norma Fraga 172).
By now, the elites Brazilians had given up on whitening the race. They went as far as to claim that racism did not exist in Brazil. The problem was that they still considered white culture superior. Since they could not whiten the races, they at least hoped to whiten their culture. Public education played a major role in this process. Unlike America, Brazil did not have Jim Crow, or any other type of institutional racism. Racism took a more twisted form in the education system. According to Davila, the teachers were more likely to consider smarter the white kids. The white kids usually were placed in advance classes, while the black kids were sent to remedial classes (Davila,2003,Norma Fraga 165).
Moving further back, this prejudice began at the teaching schools. They vaguely rated teachers based on gender, appearance and Temperance. Whoever did not look and behave like a white woman was excluded. Another way to exclude non white teachers was via admission fees. These fees were so high that only the upper middle class women could afford to become teachers. Plus, the exam was so hard that one had to study for at least a year (Davila, 2003,Norma Fraga 172). Naturally, poorer women, who were usually, not white could not afford to study nonstop for a year. Thus, at the administrative level, blacks were excluded from the education system without using racism as a means of exclusion.
Another method of including and excluding the black population involved the singing of nationalism songs. In the Norma Fraga reading, Davila offers a good example. The song, “Brazilian Race” included black and Indian tunes. The problem was what each tune represented. The complex lyrics represented the whites. The simple lines represented the degenerate blacks. As the song got whiter, the lyrics became more complex. This song, though it included the blacks as Part of the Brazilian race, it also excluded their culture. This implied that, for the blacks to be considered Brazilian, they had to become culturally white. In the end, Villa Lobos’ song did fulfill the Estado Novo’s desires. It fostered nationalism and it culturally whitened children (Davila, 2003, 160).
As noticed, Villa-Lobos was still tied to past prejudices. For him, whiteness stood for beauty and progress, blackness was embodied rebellion (Davila, 2003, 161-162). He represented a common contradiction in Brazil. Like other Brazilians, he clothed his racism via talks of cultural superiority. Thus, even when his main music drew a lot from Samba, he still looked down upon the original creators of the music.
During the time of the Estado Novo, the Catholic Church had once again gained prominence. They had been associated with many communist uprisings. To combat this, the Estado Novo created secular education. Thus, instead of singing to Jesus, the children sang praises to the Great Gertulio Vargas (Davila, 2003, 166). Another way to defeat the Catholics, was to exclude from Teaching schools candidates who came from Catholic schools (Davila, 2003,Norma Fraga 172). This had an interesting side effect. Usually, higher education was expensive. The poor who relied on these Catholic schools naturally did not qualify for teaching schools. Thus, in secular schools one had hardly any blacks as teachers.
Another interesting measure was one focused on hygiene. This was a type of race improvement program. This too was part of the Estado Novo’s plan of making a culturally white Brazilian race. Ideally, this program was supposed to deal with issues surrounding poverty. Davila describes how Norma Fraga checked her peers for lice, cavities and the cleanliness of their uniform. Interesting enough, this measure that was suppose to aid the poor students made things worse for them. Davila tells, that this program actually reinforced the stereotype that poor people were dirty ( Davila, 2003, Norma Fraga 176). Thus, this program serves as another prime example of contradictions embedded in the Estado Novo.
Another interesting contradiction can be observed in the building of the Brazilian man. This statue was supposed to be placed outside of the Ministry of Education. The sculptor had crafted a mulatto. However, the Minister Capanema fired the guy. He thought that a racially mixed person was physically, an unfit figure. The new statue was made to match the form of an Aryan athletic figure (Davila, 2003, Norma Fraga 175). The minister used health and not race to dismiss the racially mixed statue. This is one major contradiction. It’s like being racist, using physical education as an excuse. Either way, being a mix breed was still considered to produce a being that was inferior to both white and blacks. Thus, even when a mix breed was considered to embody Brazilians, his physical body had to match that of an Aryan.
The life of Norma Fraga embodies many contradictions. It also shows the importance of children for nation building. In the Colegio Pedro II, uniform carried status. Their uniforms were modeled after army uniforms (Davila, 2003, Norma Fraga 176). Those who wore it where respected. By wearing this uniform, Norma Fraga’s blackness was overlooked. Via the uniform, her status became equal to that of a white girl.
However, this was not the only way that Norma Fraga was able to be integrated into the Brazilian race. Her family had money. In Brazil, money whitens. Due to her wealth, the white teachers tracked her into advance classes. It also helped the eagerness that Fraga displayed for school events. Thus, by participating in the Estado Novo’s fascist ceremonies, Fraga was able to advance in school. Advancement in school was deeply tied to the fascist model of the Estado Novo. However, for them to be considered part of the group, non whites had to give up their cultural identity. In the end, Fraga gained acceptance into the system at the cost of her individualism (Davila, 2003, Norma Fraga 178). This suited well the plan of the Estado Novo. Individualism cannot exist in the Estado Novo’s Brazilian race.
Overall, the Estado Novo had many grand nationalism plans. They hoped to combat the rise of communism and the Catholic Church. The problem with their secularism was that it was still tied to past prejudices. Even though they believed that all races where equal, they still equated blackness with negativity. Via many educational measures, they indirectly excluded most of the population from their grandeurs machinations. In the end, the problem lied with their obsession with whiteness. Since they could not change the race, they at least hoped to make the Brazilians culturally white. In the end, they failed to unite the masses because they where obsessed with impressing foreigners with their white culture.