Fantasies of Whiteness

Augusto Malta, Demolition Morro do Castelo, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, June 1, 1922. . Image Courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional Digital Brasil, Fundação Biblioteca Nacional.

At the inauguration of the First Brazilian Congress of Eugenics in July of 1929, the physician and anthropologist Edgar Roquette-Pinto addressed an audience preoccupied with the question of how a country as vast as Brazil could best increase and improve its population. To accomplish this, Roquette-Pinto exalted “eugenia” as the new science that, together with medicine and hygiene, would guarantee the efficiency and perfection of the race. With the following words, the Brazilian scientist underscored a positivist agenda that brought architecture to the very core of the eugenics—the so-called science of race “improvement”—movement: “It is critical to emphasize that the influence [on our race] does not stem from the natural environment but rather from the artificial environment, created by man.” With these opening remarks to the Congress, Roquette-Pinto called attention to the crucial role that the man-made environment plays in the “amelioration” of what he called “the biological patrimony” of Brazil’s diverse population. In his invitation to social engineering, Roquette Pinto pointed to the environmental-genetic collusion that they hoped would bring with it the very possibility of progress.

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