Race, Racism and Inter-Racialism in Brazil

Race, Racism and Inter-Racialism in Brazil: Clinical and Cultural Perspectives
Walter Boechat, M.D. (AJB, AGAP, IAAP)
Paula Pantoja Boechat, M.D. (AJB, IAAP)
(To be Presented in English : Tuesday 14 August 2007)


We would like modestly to suggest that any congress held in South Africa will be likely to address racial and ethnic questions. We hope that a paper derived from Brazilian cultural and clinical experiences of these questions will be welcomed. Whilst we are not proposing to do a direct comparison, because we are not equipped to do so, we believe that the milieu and composition of the Congress will make our presentation highly relevant and, we hope, illuminating. Brazil has, arguably, traveled along some of the incredibly difficult pathways that South Africa is traversing in its new situation.

The history of Brazil is a history of journeys by and encounters between different peoples and races since its "discovery" in 1500 by the White Portuguese. The Portuguese groupings that arrived in Brazil in 1500 were not Calvinistic families like those on the Mayflower. To the contrary, they were composed of single men, many of whom had had experiences in prison, hence being truly outcasts. Intermixture with Indians occurred without inhibition since the start of the colonial era. It has been said that the first mother of all Brazilians is an "Indian great mother." This was even reflected in the language spoken: the nheengatu, a mixture of Tupi-Guarani and Portuguese, an authentic dialect. The strong unbiased admixture of races is demonstrated even in speech.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that the coexistence of the two races was conducted on peaceful terms. As long as the Portuguese needed more hands for labor, they tried to enslave Indians, which proved to be very difficult. So began the systematic importation of black populations from African countries, which started at the end of the XVIth century and only finished in 1850!

This paper aims to discuss racism as shadow element in Brazil, how it is elaborated and how it is repressed. A prejudiced attitude vis-à-vis skin color goes together with social class - that is, in general, people of darker skin are confined to lower jobs and occupations and earn less money, unless they become an exceptional football player or well-known samba artist.

But the general population of Brazil is made of mestiços, an admixture of Indian, Black and White blood in various degrees, although we shall show how the general Brazilian perception of this phenomenon is completely different, generally absent. The conception of being of black color for a Brazilian is completely different than for an Anglo-Saxon European, for example.

To illustrate the phenomenon of racial prejudice in Brazilian culture and especially in Brazilian families, this paper utilizes two clinical cases in which black girls were adopted at a very early age (two days old) by white upper-class families.

The first case concerns a 23 year old woman, and we will show some of her sculptures in clay, done during the analytical hour. These are very impressive, showing: 1.How the racial problem is central in her process of being accepted by friends and family. 2. How the transference counter-transference situation was developing concerning her feelings of rejection.

The second case concerns a 16 year old girl in family therapy. She shows in the sandplay how she feels living inside her white family who clearly accepts her on the conscious level but also unconsciously express strong unconscious ambivalence towards her race.

In both cases, we will bring out ways in ways double-binds are exacerbated by racial issues and questions.

Biographical Data

Walter Boechat

Walter Boechat is now 58 years old, Brazilian, studied medicine and  specialized in psychiatry. In his last years of medicine school, he became in contact with the work of C.G.Jung through Nise da Silveira, the known Brazilian psychiatrist. Shortly after, in 1974, Walter Boechat went to Zurich, were he did his training-analysis with Marie-Louise Von Franz and Mario Jacoby. He graduated in 1979 with the Thesis, “Shamanism and psychotherapy” a transcultural approach to psychotherapy. In Rio de Janeiro, he became a founding-member of Jungian Association for Analytical Psychology (Associação Junguiana do Brasil- AJB/IAAP) and dedicates a lot of his time to the training of analysts and education; his main interest now is on psychosomatics and body-mind relationship. Walter Boechat took a PHD by the State University of Rio de Janeiro with the thesis: “The Psychoid Body: the body-mind relationship and the new paradigm”. Walter Boechat also is interest in mythology, its importance in the clinic and for cultural identity. He has published a variety of articles on clinical and cultural topics on analytical psychology and edited the books: Myths and Archetypes of Modern Man and The Question of the Masculine Identity.

Paula Pantoja Boechat

Paula Pantoja Boechat is 56 years old, married to Walter Boechat, Medical Doctor, founding Member of AJB (Associação Junguiana doBrasil),and at the moment it´s Administrative Director. She lived in Zurich at the time her husband studied at the CGJung Institute, and became very interested in Jungian psychology, and also Sandplay Therapy. On her way back to Brazil, she did her training in Jungian Psychology, and at the same time she specialized in Systemic Family Therapy. She took a Master Degree in Clinical Psychology at the PUC-RJ (Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro), with the thesis: “Connections between systemic family therapy and analytical psychology”. She has published many articles on clinical and cultural themes, and published a book: Family Therapy: myths, symbols and archetypes (RJ; WAK;2005).

Paula teaches Jungian psychology at the AJB, and works in private practice with adults, adolescents, and family and couple’s therapy. She lives in Rio de Janeiro, and is also very proud of their two lovely daughters, now 30 and 26 years old.