Silvio Romero

Date: 1888
Owner:  H. Garnier, Livreiro-Editor
Source Type: Images


Silvio Romero, the essayist, sociologist, ethnographer, and literary historian, created a theory that portrayed Brazil's high degree of racial mixing to be good for the nation's social evolution. This analysis stood in stark contrast to contemporary European theories that claimed mestizaje led to degeneracy, a sentiment that was also very popular among elite Brazilians (see the Table of Whitening in the Eugenics topic). Romero's ideas, though, would become increasingly prevalent in Brazil as the rhetoric of nationalism took ever more pride in Brazil's racial melting pot.

Perhaps surprisingly, Romero elaborated on this theory as part of his work on the history of literature in Brazil. In his seminal Historia da Litteratura Brasileira (1888), Romero looked at the contributions of blacks, Indians, and whites to both literature and the Brazilian social milieu as a whole. Romero could have gone with the tied and claimed that the historical and biological influence of blacks and Indians made Brazil inferior. But, instead, he chose to alter the tenets of scientific racism espoused by Social Darwinists like Herbert Spencer. But, being a staunch advocate of positivism, Romero needed another "scientific" explanation as to why racial mixing was not only not a bad thing, but a good one. He thus created an argument that combined environmental determinism, race, and a concept of "civilization" that, through his selective reasoning, made Brazilian mestizos and mulattoes the race best suited for civilizing the tropics. Mixed-race Brazilians would combine the intellectual and cultural attributes of Europeans with the hardiness that allowed blacks and Indians to withstand the worst effects of the tropical climate.

Romero adapted the inherently racist ideas of Social Darwinism into a new theory in which racial mixing--instead of causing degeneration--facilitated the union of the best characteristics of each race. Romero's new Brazilian race was thus not only a successful Darwinian adaptation to local conditions, but a valuable contribution to the evolution of mankind on the whole.

Reference: Eakin, Marshall C. "Race and Identity: Silvio Romero, Science, and Social Thought in Late 19th Century Brazil." In Luso-Brazilian Review, vol. 22, no. 2 (Winter, 1985), pp. 151-174.

CITATION: Romero, Sylvio. Historia da Litteratura Brasiliera. Tomo Primeiro. 2nd edition. Rio de Janeiro: H. Garnier, Livreiro-Editor, 1902.