The representation of black people in school textbooks
December 06, 2017
By José Tadeu Arantes | Agência FAPESP – The National Textbook Program (PNLD) has transformed the Brazilian state into one of the world’s largest book buyers. When publishers enroll books in competitive bidding for acquisition, they must comply with a series of requirements. Bidding notices list the characteristics that can contribute to acceptance or rejection of textbooks.
A research project conducted at São Paulo State University (UNESP) in the city of Assis investigated how a topic as controversial as the representation of black people in textbooks on Brazilian history may have been affected by the PNLD, which was established in 1985 but issued its first bidding notice for public secondary schools only in 2008.
The results of the research by Doctor of History Mírian Cristina de Moura Garrido are published in Escravo, africano, negro e afrodescendente – A representação do negro no contexto pós-abolição e o mercado de materiais didáticos (1997-2012) (only in Portuguese), with FAPESP’s support.
“I devoted special attention to three authors of best-selling textbooks whose books were published before and after 2008. I wanted to know whether the process of analysis introduced by the PNLD influenced the end products, and if so, how,” Garrido told Agência FAPESP.
The chosen authors are Gilberto Cotrim, Mario Furley Schmidt and Antonio Pedro, whose textbooks have been used by schoolteachers for many years. The focus is on how the post-Abolition period is treated by the books in comparison with academic historians’ works on the period in the literature.
“The construction of this period differs considerably from one author to another,” Garrido said. “They all emphasize the fact that former slaves received no reparations of any kind from the state and that as a result they faced huge difficulties in becoming full members of society. But none of the authors cites the contributions of the most recent historiography, especially by scholars at UNICAMP [the State University of Campinas], who have explored survival strategies used by black people in the post-Abolition period.”
For example, she continued, one of Antonio Pedro’s textbooks states the following (translated here from the original in Portuguese): “Generally speaking, former slaves were not integrated into the world of consumption to energize the market, as some historians believe. When they found jobs, they would work a few days, just enough for survival. This was perfectly logical, since working meant recalling centuries of submission and calamity. They preferred leisure. This was an additional hindrance to their social integration, since they were unable to consume the goods produced by society.”
“In my interpretation, this passage is well-supported by the historiographical choice made by the author, who also considers canonical the formulations developed by Florestan Fernandes (1920-95), according to whom black people weren’t integrated into class society,” Garrido said. “However, it isn’t supported by more recent historiography and reiterates the idea of submissive afrodescendants who were incapable of organizing. It reinforces a negative idea of the identity of black school students considered descendants of Africans in today’s Brazil.”
For Garrido, the idea of non-insertion in the labor market is refuted by studies such as those of Brazilianist George Andrews. “Black workers may not have integrated in the city of São Paulo, not owing to the incapacity of former slaves but because there was an abundant supply of European labor. This wasn’t the case in Rio de Janeiro, where industry rapidly included black workers,” she said.
Because the contents of the three textbooks are out of touch with the research produced by historians since the 1990s, Garrido argues, they fail to comply fully with the requirements of Law 10,639 (January 9, 2003) and Law 11,645 (March 10, 2008), which make the study of Afro-Brazilian and indigenous history and culture mandatory in public and private elementary and secondary schools.
Garrido points in particular to the first paragraph of article 26-A: “The programmatic content to which this article refers shall include various aspects of the history and culture that characterize the formation of the Brazilian population from these two ethnic groups, such as the study of the history of Africa and the Africans, the struggle of black people and indigenous people in Brazil, Brazilian black and indigenous culture, and black people and Indians in the formation of national society, reclaiming their social, economic and political contributions to the history of Brazil.”
“In my book, based on my analysis of these three authors, I discuss what to offer students and how to comply with the legislation in light of the material available, which is a complex issue of considerable concern to teachers in primary and secondary schools. I analyzed both of these laws, as well as the implementing rules laid down subsequently and still poorly understood. Even now, most schoolteachers are unaware of the special guidelines published to help enforce the legislation. These guidelines were largely written by black intellectuals and activists, and they make explicit what in their opinion should be taught in schools, with examples of content and classroom methods,” Garrido said.
“What intrigues me is that after Law 10,639, while the contents of textbooks were maintained with all the problems noted, the same publishers began bringing out excellent readers written by academics. These books won a number of prizes including the Jabuti, and they were also bought by governments. It’s an intriguing question, which I mention at the end of the book, but I left it open because I lacked sources to explore it in depth.”
With regard to the terms “slave”, “African”, “black” and “Afrodescendant” used in the title of her book, Garrido explained that they are intended to make explicit the successive resignifications of blackness in Brazil. “The terms ‘slave’ and ‘African’ refer to the colonial period, which still accounts for most of the content of these textbooks,” she said.
For Garrido, the term “black” is a militant resignification deriving from the black movement’s pressure to include racial discrimination in the agenda for discussion.
“The term ‘Afrodescendant’ is a contemporary formulation, adopted particularly during Brazil’s preparation for the Durban Conference [the Third World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance – WCAR, held on August 31-September 7, 2001, in Durban, South Africa], when the Brazilian delegation and the activists endeavored to align their position with the rest of Latin America,” she said. “I use this term at the end of the title because it’s the latest resignification of black identity in Brazil and also covers politics and power disputes.”
Escravo, africano, negro e afrodescendente – A representação do negro no contexto pós-abolição e o mercado de materiais didáticos (1997-2012)
Author: Mírian Cristina de Moura Garrido
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