Book Review: Carl Degler’s Neither Black Nor White
Carl Degler’s Neither Black Nor White (Amazon) is a comparative study of race relations in the United States in Brazil. A number of historical reviews have declared this as a markedly important work in the field of comparative race studies. Neither Black Nor White is both enlightening and effective. Degler takes into account a great many aspects of society within the two nations, including politics, religion, art, literature, architecture, science, and others.
Brazil and the United States are similar in that black populations in both countries were enslaved for the better part of the two countries histories. However, the enslavements took on different tones and the black populaces were received differently after the two countries abolished slavery. In his introduction, Degler dismantles the theory about Brazilian race relations proposed by Tannenbaum.
Degler shows that while certain aspects of black/white relations have proceeded more smoothly in Brazil than the United States, Brazil has not been without problems. He proposes that the willingness of whites and nonwhites in Brazil to intermarry aided Brazilian society. However, miscegenation is still frowned upon in many parts of the United States.
Degler also suggests that the existence of mulattos in Brazil served as an “escape hatch” for society. It seems, though, that the escape hatch could also serve as a guise that masks problems and does not allow them to be easily attended. The United States had no such alternative, no escape hatch. The majority of the population was either white or black, and a solution had to be approached eventually.
Through no fault of his own, Degler’s work seems dated as the racial picture in the United States has changed dramatically since the book’s publishing in 1971. Race is still an issue, and a large one, in the United States, but the field of opportunity, in many respects, has become more level for blacks, although there is still much to be done in the area of racial equality.