Cholera and Structural Racism
Monday, July 7, 2014 at 7:40AM
Ian Read

I leave for Oxford UK today to present at the Society for Social History of Medicine.  My paper makes several arguments related to Brazil's worst epidemic.  First, it confirms the finding made by Donald Cooper and a few other historians that white people faced fewer risks from the cholera epidemics (1855-59, 1861-68).  Cholera disproportionately killed slaves, but also free blacks, thereby exposing structural racism in Brazil.  Second, cholera allows us to understand race relations and ideology because unlike the United States, Brazilian elite did not rely in race essentialism to explain the unequal risks.  Nor did people of color rely on organized agression to justify their calamity even though unequal risks were apparent.  Like Richard Evans has found for Europe, cholera sparked no flames of revolution.  Finally, I present evidence that cholera should be included as one of several factors that contributed to regional inequality in the twentieth century.  The fact that the Brazilian northeast is much poorer than the Brazilian southeast was much more related to the "commodity lottery," changing fortunes of global commodity prices, and international migration patterns, but cholera should not be overlooked.  For every 12 slaves that died in the northeast during the two cholera epidemics, only one slave died in the southeast.  This had much more profound effects on the regional economies than historians have recognized.  The full paper is here.

Article originally appeared on Era of Epidemics: A Spatial Approach to Disease and History in Imperial Brazil (
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