Brazilian society is rife with inequality. In her brilliant new book The Color of Modernity: Sao Paulo and the Making of Race and Nation in Brazil
(Duke University Press, 2015), Barbara Weinstein
argues that one of the sources of enduring inequality is the historical production of the region of Sao Paulo as Brazil's engine of modernity, and of whiteness. Maintaining that discourses of difference informed political decisions that in turn delineated regional inequalities, her book gleans a discursive trail from a variety of sources and archives. It makes a powerful case for understanding region as a deeply politicized historical artifact rather than defined by natural boundaries.
The book centers on the Constitutionalist uprising of 1932 in Sao Paulo as well as its memorialization in subsequent years, and draws from a wide variety of sources including memoirs, press, music, photography, graphic design, exhibits and staged spectacles. Despite the participation of people of African descent and women, narratives elaborating on and commemorating the uprising upheld the notion of a white, male protagonists defending the status of SÃ£o Paulo as Brazil's most modern and progressive region. This narrative took hold and, as a variety of constituencies found it compelling, became intrinsic to expressions of Brazilian nationalism, even as it existed in tension with declarations of racial democracy. Weinstein writes with precision and clarity that make this important book a pleasure to read.