In 1933, Gilberto Freyre published his classic Casagrande y senzala. Although it was ostensibly about the uniquely Portuguese origins of Brazilian civilization, it included innumerable obiter dicta about the difference between the role of race in Portuguese and English America. Freyre argued that the relatively harmonious Brazilian race relations were due to more or less smooth Afro-European miscegenation, which contrasted so sharply with the rigid “one-drop rule” of the United States.

In the years since Freyre published his classic, Brazilian and U.S. scholars and social critics have been debating Freyre’s claims. But the issue has been viewed largely through the prism of each country’s distinct racial experience. In the earlier literature, in particular, relatively few scholars achieved an analysis that could be described as truly objective. That situation began to change several decades ago, as scholars emerged who were generally familiar with...

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