As broadly discussed by scholars in the field, the concept of modernity has had a bumpy ride in the context of Brazil, a nation built upon slavery and racial inequalities. Brazil was the last nation in the world to abolish slavery in 1888. During the last part of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, the Brazilian elite vocally sought to portray Brazil as a modern nation where modernity was synonymous with whiteness. Today, racial divides continue to inform all sectors of Brazilian culture, urban configurations, and society in general.
In recent years, Brazil has been constantly featured in the international news as it emerged as a major world power and gained global visibility as one of the world’s most promising developing economies through its membership in the BRICS block. Brazil’s rise was featured on the 2009 cover of The Economist, which depicted Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue digitally transformed into a rocket blasting off into outer-space, representing the country’s spectacular launch to economic prosperity and geopolitical significance. But a mere four years later, The Economist‘s cover depicted the same statue spiraling downward with the caption “Has Brazil blown it?” These golden years of economic expansion transformed into a full-on economic recession by 2014, with the World Cup and the Olympic Games (respectively from mid-June to mid-July 2014 and August 2016) just around the corner, catapulting Brazil’s flawed modernity, political instability, and social inequality into the international spotlight. This situation was only heightened by the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in August 2016 following her suspension from office in May of that year—only weeks before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Rio. In March 2018, the assassination of the black politician, human rights, and LGBQT activist Marielle Franco projected the complexity of these issues in Brazil to the attention of the international media once again. Since the rise to power of far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, political and economic instability, social inequality, and environmental devastation have further increased. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the impact of Bolsonaro’s dismantling of governmental institutions and the federal government’s inadequate response to the pandemic made Brazil among the hardest hit countries in the world. Environmental and human rights observers note that the pandemic saw dramatic increases in the invasion of Indigenous and quilombola territories by miners and loggers, an increase in destructive fires, and the further erosion of human rights. Bolsonaro’s role in the destruction of the Amazon has prompted an ongoing court case in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Because of Brazil’s geographic position (it shares a border with every South American country except Chile), its global economic significance, and its importance for planetary environmental sustainability, knowing more about Brazil– and disseminating this information to others through research and teaching-- is relevant and critical.