We're in the year 2228. In the United States, an elite government is alarmed: statistics show a population of 108 million Blacks vs. 206 million Whites. As the black birth rate continues to rise, the white preservation instinct rises up in legitimate defense. There is talk about a "white solution" and a "black solution". The white solution is, obviously, to expatriate the Blacks. This vision is proposed by Miss Jane, character of the Brazilian writer Monteiro Lobato (1882-1948) in O Presidente Negro ou o Choque das Raças (The Black President or the Racial Shock).
At the same time, the old Brazil is separated into two countries, one that centralizes all the South American grandeur, child of the immense industrial focus that emerged along the banks of the Paraná River and the other, a tropical republic, still having fits in political and philosophical debates, discussing voting methods and pronoun placement in the semi-dead Portuguese language. The sociologists of the time "saw in this the reflex of the bloody unbalance as a consequence of the fusion of four distinct races, white, black, red and yellow, the last one predominantly in the Amazon River valley".
Miss Jane is the daughter of an American scientist living in Brazil, Professor Benson, who can obtain an anatomical cut of the future via a type of crystal globe called a porviroscópio (futurescope) . Through this device, Jane analyzes the world of the 23rd century. (The action of the novel takes place in 1926). Sir Ayrton, her Brazilian interlocutor, displays sadness about the future of the country.
"I don't see any reason for your sadness," Jane responds. "I even think that the division of the country constitutes an excellent solution, the best possible, given the initial error of racial mixing. The hot part remained to suffer the error and its consequences; but the temperate part was saved and can follow the right path. Your sadness comes from a territorial illusion. But consider that a lot of land isn't what makes a people great, but the quality of its inhabitants. Temperate Brazil, besides this, continued to be one of the biggest countries in the world in territory, since it united in the same block Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
This idea of a territorial fragmentation of Brazil isn't new in Lobato's time. In Cartas Inéditas de Fradique Mendes (Fradique Mendes' Unpublished Letters), written at the very end of the last century, the Portuguese novelist, Eça de Queiroz was already anticipating this possibility, in a text called "A Revolution in Brazil":
"With the empire, according to all probability, Brazil also comes to an end.
"This name of Brazil, that in the beginning had grandeur, and for us Portuguese represented a glorious endeavor, becomes an antiquated name of old political geography. A little while from now, the Empire will be breaking up into different independent republics, of greater or lesser importance. This is the result of the historic division of the provinces, the rivalries that exist among them, the diversity of the climate, of character and of the interests and the force of local ambitions. Already, more than one time the provinces have made energetic separation attempts: and separatism becomes in these times, one of the most powerful factors of politics. (...)
"The states, once separated, will not be able to keep peace among themselves, being abundant the reasons for conflict the border disputes, hydrographic questions and Customs since all will naturally want to create income. Each state, left to itself, will develop its own history, under its own flag, according to its climate, the specialty of its agricultural area, its interests, its men, its education and its immigration. Some will prosper, others will falter. Maybe there will be rich Chiles and certainly they will be grotesque Nicaraguas. South America will be covered with the broken pieces of a great Empire!"
If Brazil still didn't dividein spite of suggestions every year of "indigenous nations" with pretensions of autonomy there already are the rich Chiles and the grotesque Nicaraguas, confirming Eça's intuition. But returning to O Presidente Negro. Senhor Ayrton doesn't understand the reasoning of Miss Jane. Why divide Brazil? Just populate the north the same way as the south....
A country isn't inhabited as you like, Senhor Ayrton, nor as idealists would like. A country is settled as it can. In our case, it was the climate that established the separation. From the Europeans, the Portuguese got accustomed to the hot part, where, thanks to affinities with the black man, they continued the old process of crossbreeding, ending up creating a people mentally incompatible with the people in the south.
The inflation of pigment
In order that Senhor Ayrton understand the United States of the 23rd Century, Miss Jane explains the ethnic
composition of the country. America would be the privileged region that would attract the most eugenic elements of the best European races. Who were the people on the Mayflower?
Men of such temperament, characters so Shakespearean, that between renouncing their convictions and emigrating to a wild and empty land, where everything was inhospitable and difficult, they didn't waiver. Emigrating, even today, requires much daring, a heightened tonus vital. To leave your country, your home, your friends, your language, to cut all the roots you have had since infancy that tie us to our one homeland, is there a greater heroism? Who does this is someone strong, and just this fact, is a great indicator of courage. But emigrate to an uninhabited land, leave your homeland for the unknown, this is amazing!
Immigration laws became selective and the masses that yearned for America, already good in themselves, are sifted through. Europe is drained of its best elements and in the New World, the cream of the immigrants is left over. Then what Miss Jane calls the "initial error" takes place: the black man is plucked out of Africa. Senhor Ayrton notes that the same mistake took place in Brazil, but our solution was admirable:
Within one hundred or two hundred years, our black man will have completely disappeared in virtue of successive cross-breeding with the white man. Don't you think we were happy in our solution?
Miss Jane doesn't think so. She regards such a solution as mediocre, since it destroys the two races while fusing them. She prefers that both evolve parallel within the same territory, separated by a barrier of hate, the deepest prophylaxis. Hate stops a race from denaturing, decrystalizing the other, conserving both in a relatively pure state. Ayrton doesn't understand how such an angel of goodness can defend such evil. With the coldness of a scientist, Jane decrees:
There isn't good or bad in the game of cosmic force. Hate loosens as many marvels as love. In Brazil, love killed the possibility of a supreme biological expression. In America, hate created the glory of the human eugenics...
The most beautiful examples, strong and intelligent, were discovered where they would have been found and attracted by the American Canaan. Being that the country is fairly populated, it closes its doors to the European flux and the nation begins to grow vegetatively. This is when "pigment inflation" appears. The elite thinkers had convinced themselves that the restriction of the birth rate it is a must, since quality is worth more than quantity. The balance was then broken: "The Whites had quality while the Blacks continued with quantity. Later, when the eugenics completely took over and the Department of Artificial Selection was created, the black boom was tremendous."
There is the urge to get rid of the Blacks. The white solution is simple:
All white Americans only want one thing: to export, to oust the one hundred million Black Americans to the Amazon. This, meanwhile, would constitute a formidable task, or rather, impracticable, not only in virtue of tremendous material difficulties, but by wronging the American Constitution.
Monteiro Lobato wrote his novel,or analysisin 1926. By transporting the action of his work to three centuries later, the author was creating fiction. But, an expert in the history of the United States, he relied on non-fictional projects already fed by the Americans.
A country for
Between 1840 and 1860, an obscure lieutenant in the United States Navy, a mixture of "scientist, visionary and businessman", Matthew Fontaine Maury, employee of the Letters and Instruments Department of the navy in Washington, thought seriously about the subject. The project of the American officer was simple and pragmatic: once the black slaves of his country were released from slavery, they would be sent to colonize the Brazilian Amazon. The Republic of Liberia, in Africa, was a result of one of these projects.
And why not colonize the area with Whites? Maury grasped at arguments about geographic order:
"The Amazon valley is a region for slaves. The European and the Indian were fighting its jungle for 300 years and didn't make the slightest mark. If one day, its vegetation has to be tamed and made use of, if one day the soil would have to be recaptured from the jungle, as well as the reptiles and wild animals, and subjected to the plow and spade, it will be done by the African. It is the land of parrots and monkeys and only the African is capable of the work that man has to accomplish there".
In truth, Maury's project only originality had to do with the insistence on colonizing the Amazon with freed Blacks. From the end of the 1830s, the United States had aimed to open navigation of the Amazon River to all nations. Before the military dreamer, a certain Joshua Dodge proposed establishing 20,000 American immigrants along the Amazon. All promising to recognize Brazilian sovereignty, at least during the first years of colonization.
Deep down, there was a similarity with what was done with Texas, aspiring to annex the region to the United States. The strategy was simple. Just "buy" some Brazilians in Manaus that would become "legitimate representatives" of an "Amazon Republic", which would declare itself independent from Brazil, including disagreeing with the way the country was governed, by monarchy."
In case the Brazilian government would have sent ships and troops to reestablish its sovereignty, the citizens of the new independent Amazon state would appeal for American protection. And a force of armed men would go to the Amazon to "protect the life and threatened possessions of the American citizens".
Who tells us this almost unknown American expansion project is Professor Nícia Vilela Luz, in A Amazônia para os Negros Americanos (Amazon for Black Americans). In this work, the author shows that many Americans, well before the Civil War, thought it would be more attractive to free all the slaves and send them out of America. The greatest interpreter of this desire is Lieutenant Maury:
"He was worried about the problem of the black man in the United States, since the abolition of slavery was close
at hand. Convinced of the white man's superiority, he could only accept the Black in a condition of servitude and never in an equal position with the white man. What to do then with this black population once liberated and whose multiplication could still overwhelm the white race?"
The institution of slavery such as it exists in this country mused Mauryfills the thoughts of its statesmen with anxious concern. What will be its destiny? If abolished, how would so many people be discharged? If maintained, what to do to control it?
But, "God himself, his all knowing providence, will dictate the destiny to be fulfilled by the black and white races, whatever it may be".
"And God had preserved the Amazon solitary and uninhabited in order that the problems of the South could be resolvedcontinues Vilela Luz. Cornered in the North where they would not find more "Mississippis to cultivate" nor more "cotton fields to pick", the Southerners, to free themselves of their excess Black population, saving at the same time their economy and their "strange" institution would find a "safety valve" to the south, in the Amazon valley. It was the "only ray of hope" to shine on them in that dramatic moment in which the American regime of slavery was debated".
Let's return to the fiction of Lobato. For Miss Jane, the Blacks talked of a more viable solution: they wanted the country divided in two, the South for the Blacks and the North for the Whites, since America emerged from the efforts of both races. If it wasn't possible to enjoy together the work done together, it would be reasonable to divide the land into two pieces. We have then, at the beginning of the century, a Brazilian writer anticipating the proposals of contemporary leaders like Farrakhan. It's important to remember that at this time Lobato still had not traveled to the United States.
The Whites didn't want to give up their status-quo and the problem became threatening. This is when a candidate capable of uniting the black electorate came forth: Jim Roy, with a slightly copper complexion, appearing to be a mixture of Senegalese and redskin. The color of his skin was nothing like the color of today's Blacks (this is 1926, the year in which the author situates his story).
NoMiss Jane responds. This wasn't influence from the middle, nor something particular of Jim Roy's. Almost all the black population of America had the same skin as he had. Science had resolved the case of color by destroying the pigment. So if Jim Roy should appear in front of us today, it would be a more disconcerting surprise, since this pure black man, without a drop of white blood in his veins, was, in spite of having frizzy hair, horribly whitish.
The visionary spirit of Lobato anticipates, en passant, the Black American tendency that spawned Michael Jackson. Sr. Ayrton says astonished:
Peeling cockroach, I know...
But not even eliminating with the means of science the essential characteristic of race, did Blacks stop being black in AmericaMiss Jane continued. Instead they aggravated their social situation, because the Whites, proud of their ethnic purity and the privilege of the white color, wouldn't forgive that camouflage of depigmentation.
Jim Roy, leader of the Black Association party, wasn't even a threat to power. He represented 100 million Blacks, against 200 million Whites. It just happened that among the Whites, a serious dissension was taking place, a party of women. The old Democratic and Republic parties had fused into a strong block called the Masculine party, led by Kerlog, the incumbent President who was running for reelection. This block wasn't certain of victory, since the opposition party, the Feminine, possessed a larger number of voices, led by Miss Evelyn Astor. Statistics gave the Masculine Party 51 million votes, the Feminine 51.5 and the Black Association, 54 million. The election depended, therefore, on the posture of Jim Roy.
The election was getting close. In 2228, elections occurred within a few minutes, due to technological advances predicted by Lobato.
Through Miss Jane, the writer of Taubaté begins to describe the future society of America:
By today's systemLobato refers to 1926man goes to work, to the theater to a concert, in a coming and going that constitutes an enormous loss of energy and is the creator of millions of vehicles cluttering up space, streetcars, cars, bicycles, trains, planes and others. With the fecund discovery of Hertzian waves and similar findings and its consequent use in the interests of man, coming and going was reduced to a minimum. Work, theater, concerts started to come to peoples' place. The transformation of the world was fabulous when the larger part of industrial and commercial work began to be done from a distance via radio-transport."
For the less attentive reader, the text could be a production of some more or less contemporary utopian, planning for the near future a society where every citizen would depend on public transportation either a little or not at all. Utopian, perhaps. Contemporary, not so much. Clairvoyant, without a doubt. Let's go! Let's see his journalistic vision, in the eyes of Miss Jane:
"With today's system, the journalist writes his topic at home or he goes to write it in the editorial room; after writing, he gives it to the typesetter; he typesets it, gives it to the form maker, who puts it in a form and gives it to the proofer, he make a proof and sends it to the proofreader; he proofreads it and sends it to the corrector, he makes the corrections and..... it never ends! It's a chain of uncountable links, this inside the offices, since the newspaper on the street starts a whole new chain on the way to the readermail, agents, delivery men, vendors, the devil".
"I was in a newspaper office and I know what you are talking about. Pure hell...", Ayrton responds.
According to Miss Jane, "all these complications disappeared. Every writer of Remember transmitted from his house,
at a certain time, his article, and immediately his written ideas appeared in shining characters in the house of the subscriber."
"Yes, there wasn't an industry, like that of the newspaper, that wouldn't undergo a simplifying influence from radio-transportand that took from daily living the old trait of being trampled and agitated."
At a time in which the computer, fiber optics and satellites belonged to the mental universe of visionaries, Lobato speaks of radio-transport. If we would substitute this expression for fax/modem, we have the creator of Bentinho and Jeca Tatu anticipating, seven decades beforehand, a newspaper business that only exists today. The correspondents of any of today's leading newspapers for some time have sent their "shining characters" to their editorial offices. The reader at the end of this century already receives on a screen practically all the newspapers on the planet. When the great quantity of universal literature is digitized, you will be able to consult, from your house, all the libraries in the world.
"The streets became friendly, clean and with little traffic"Lobato continues. "Vehicles still glided along on them, but rarely, like in the long ago, old, provincial cities that had little commercial life. Man delighted in walking and lost his old habits of haste. He found out that haste is just an index of a defective organization and anti-natural. Nature doesn't hurry. Everything in it is calm."
This prediction, better to credit it to the utopian disposition of the writer, who didn't manage to glimpse this Brazilian provincial side, who feels naked and humiliated if he doesn't have a four-wheels carriage. After all, you don't have to pay taxes to dream. But Lobato goes even further. Miss Jane considers old-fashioned the revolution of the wheel. According to the girl, "man took the first giant step in transportation with the invention of the wheel. But it ended there. Note that our industrial civilization developed the wheel and now wants to extract all the possibilities from it. Centuries from now, when man can see a vast version of his history, all of this period that comes from the dawn of history and that is going to continue for many generations will be called the Age of the Wheel".
"Radio will kill the wheel", Miss Jane concludes. "The wheel, which was the greatest mechanical invention of man, and today reigns supreme, will have its end and man will walk again. What will happen is the following: radio-transport will make today's rush useless. Instead of the employee going to work every day in a street car that glides over noisy steel wheels, he will do his work at home and transmit it to the office. In summary: long distance work".
Lobato speaks of radio, the must of the 1920s. If he couldn't have predicted the clouds of terabytes transmitted daily from one end of the planet to the other by the WEB, he perceived very well its consequences. Long distance "telework"work "transmitted" to the office, as Lobato would sayis already a phenomenon in expansion. Today, any intellectual worker, as long as he has a telephone nearby, can send his product to any corner of the world, fugitive in a chalet in Itatiaia or in search of solitude and wilderness in Tamanrasset. Printed newspapers thousands of kilometers from their offices aren't a novelty anymore.
According to the French historian Roger Chartier, the revolution taking place today is much bigger than Gutenberg's of 1455, "since it transforms the very forms of written transmission. The passing of a book, newspaper or magazine, as we know them today, to the computer screen, breaks the structural materials of written text. The only possible historical comparison is the beginning of Christianity, in the second and third century when the book of Antiquity, in the form of a scroll, gave way to the book bequeathed by Gutenberg, the ancient manuscript, with sheets and pages united in notebooks.".
Inhabitants of the end of this millennium, we are privileged witnesses of the revolution predicted by Lobato. A good revolution, without blood and without return. Without even imagining the existence of computers, the writer from São Paulo heralded the coming of the Internet. Remember that in 1996, Brazil was one of the first countries to institute electronic voting, an institution already functioning in this work of fiction done seven decades ago.
The Black victory
It is this possibility of "radio-transport" of information that produces an about-face in the elections of 2228 in the United States. Jim Roy is going to cleverly exploit this new element, speed. The elections had been scheduled for 11 a.m. and would last just 30 minutes. The candidate of the Black Association advised his district agents that only at 10 a.m. he would announce the name in which the Blacks should vote. Upon his announcement, the uncomfortable surprise came: it wasn't Evelyn Astor, the leader of the Feminine Party. Much less Kerlog, President and aspiring to be reelected by the Masculine Party.
The candidate of the black race is Jim RoyJim Roy announced.
To the amazement of everyone, after 87 white presidents, the first black would come, elected by 54 million blood brothers. The Masculine and Feminine parties had more or less tied, with somewhere around 50 million and a half votes. "The astonishment of the defeated Whites wasn't any less than the black winners. They had acted automatically; they gave their vote to Roy like they would have given it to Kerlog, or Miss Astor, or they wouldn't have given it to any of the three if they were told. And now they looked at each other in a bewildering victory absolutely unprecedented for them".
The perplexity passing, Blacks and Whites were hit with reality the following day. "The old racial contempt of the
White for the Black transformed itself into rage, and restrained hate of the Black for the White, baring its teeth, showed a monstrous smile of revenge. (...) Slowly, the black mass woke up from its long, lethargic submission and its nostrils quivered in the wind, like a tiger loose in the jungle. All the atavistic barbarism, all the appetites in repression, impotent rancor, long suffered injustices, all the skin lacerated by whips until the advent of Lincoln, and after Lincoln, all the humiliations of unequal treatmentthis legion of ghosts burst forth from the black soul like snakes from under a slab that an imprudent hand raises up".
For Kerlog, 87th president of the United States and a defeated candidate, there comes a historic headache: he sees in the black victory America transformed into a volcano and threatened by death. Considering that the reins of the two monstersblack inebriation and white prideweren't held in check, the massacre would be terrible. Jim explains his project:
America is as much yours as it is mineJim says. I have it in my hands. I'm going to divide it.
Justice is with you, Jim. Order justice to divide America. But Blood is above justice. Blood has its justice. And for the justice of White Blood, it is a crime to divide America.
Summing up the story: Six white leaders meet together and discuss a solution for the impasse. The solution, kept secret, is unanimously accepted. At the time, John Dudley, an inventor and one of the members of the group, had just discovered Omega rays, that had the miraculous ability to change African hair. With the treatment, the most rebel curly hair became not only smooth, but also fine and silky, like the most refined hair of a White. Omega rays flowed in the follicle and eliminated the kinkiness, the last stigma of the black race, which had already solved its pigmentation problem.
The White Solution
For Senhor Ayrton everything was becoming clear. He hit his hand on his forehead and said to Miss Jane:
I can guess the real solution of the black problem in America! Not sending the Blacks out of the country, not the division of the country. Just whitening the Black, making him equal with the White!
But the strategy wasn't so simple. Like in a game of chessMiss Jane explainsa humble move of the peon has as much importance for a check-mate as a spectacular move by the queen. The capillary episode should be seen as a move of the peon.
Still not recuperated from the emotions of victory, 100 million individuals thanked the heavens for the new discovery, that would result in the physical betterment of the race. The pigment was destroyed, but the whitening of the skin didn't manifest an agreeable color on sight. With the Omega rays, there was hope of obtaining, with time, the perfect similarity in skin.
In all neighborhoods in all cities, the Dudley Uncurling Company established unkinking posts, posts that multiplied without stopping, as if a hidden force was pushing the business of the inventor of Omega rays to unkink Black America in the least amount of time possible.
It was one of the most simple processes. Just three applications, each one lasting three minutes, at a cost of ten cents a head, made Blacks run to the posts like hungry dogs. Whites, initially irritated with what they called the "second camouflage of the Blacks" ended up enjoying the spectacle of the subtle hair transformation of 100 million individuals.
"The manufacturing plants of combs, barrettes, lotions, shampoos, pomades, hair colorings, etc., worked day and night without managing to meet the sudden demand of such products. New barbers and hairdressers appeared on every corner and no matter how much they worked, they couldn't keep up. Black women, above all, lived perpetually smiling at themselves, as if in paradise. They spent days in front of the mirror, enraptured, pleasurably combing and uncombing. Their enchantment at running their hands through their soft, "Omega-rayed" hair made them forget the humiliating past of curly hair. They were White! Finally free from the horrible stigma!"
On the eve of his inauguration, Jim Roy, in his private residence, dreamed the biggest dream dreamed on the continent, when his servant announced to him the visit of a "natural white man". It was President Kerlog, the defeated adversary. He approached the black leader and placed himself against his shoulder in a gesture of compassion:
Yes, President Kerlog, the White that comes to assassinate you, Jim...
Jim thinks it is a gag. Mercifully, Kerlog announces a new fact:
You won't go up the steps of the White House, Jim...
Why? By any chance are the Whites conspiring against the Constitution? Do they want to commit a crime?
Nothing like thatKerlog answers softly. You won't enter the White House because there's no room there for a Samson with his hair cut. Your presidency will be useless. Everything is useless when the future doesn't exist...
The black man is becoming impatient with Kerlog's mysterious tone.
Your race was victim of what you will call the white's betrayal and what I will call the white's good sense.
Kerlog explains to Jim that there aren't morals between races, just like there aren't morals between peoples. There is victory or defeat.
Your race died, Jim...
Kerlog then tells him that the Omega rays of John Dudley have a double virtue: at the same time that they straighten hair, they sterilize men.
On the day that the 88th president of the United States would take office, the first black president of America, Jim
Roy, was found dead in his study. The Blacks immediately thought about a crime having taken place and there was almost a rebellion. But ancestral fatalism rose above the hate and the large body without a head pulled back instinctively and put itself in its humble place from where Roy's victory had taken it. New elections took place and Kerlog was reelected by 100 million votes. American life returned to normal.
"For the first time in the history of people, a surgical operation took place on a large scale. The cold scalpel of a human group ablated the future of another group of 108 million without the patient realizing anything. The white race, used to war as the last motive of its majesty, wandered from the old path and imposed a peaceful final ethnic end to the group that helped to create America, but with which it could no longer live in common. It had it as an obstacle to the ideal of an Aryan super-civilization that in that land was beginning to bloom and it wasn't going to give up to weak feelings, noxious to the splendid bloom of the white man."
Blood circulation strangulated, the race extinguished itself in a painless crepuscule.
"Decades later, in the marvelous American garden where only camellias bloomed with petals slightly coppered by the mysterious force of the environment, there was at the top of the monument in homage to the black partner, the bust of the old magician who in 2228 cured the historic headache of the 87th President..."
Not exportation to Amazônia, nor whitening with the elimination of pigment and curly hair. But pure and simple extinction of a race for the full flowering of the Aryan super-civilization...
In his autobiography, Nikos Kazantzakis tell us of certain sensitive lips and fingertips that tingle when a storm is coming. "The lips and fingertips of the author are of this type"the mystic Crete writes. "When the author speaks with such certainty, what he says isn't his imagination, but his lips and fingertips that have already begun to receive the initial sparks of the storm". Monteiro Lobato, highly sensitive author, felt close to catastrophe, the most colossal undertaking of mass extermination dared in history. Before dying, he saw the German scalpel trying to annihilate an ethnic group. He was only wrong with respect to the geography.
Translated by Barbara Maglio, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Janer Cristaldo is a Brazilian writer, translator and journalist. He got a Ph.D. in French and Compared Literature from Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III) with the thesis La Révolte Chez Albert Camus et Ernesto Sábato (The Revolt in Albert Camus and Ernesto Sábato). He published among other books: O Paraíso Sexual Democrata (The Democratic Sex Paradise) (essay) , Assim Escrevem os Gaúchos (Thus Write the Gauchos) (anthology), A Força dos Mitos (The Power of Myths) (crônicas), Ponche Verde (Green Poncho) (novel), Mensageiros das Fúrias (Messengers of the Furies) (essay). You can get in touch with him via his E-mail: email@example.com