The Symbolic Power of Color: Constructions of Race, Skin-Color, and Identity in Brazil

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Social Science on 2013-12-01 03:11Z by Steven

The Symbolic Power of Color: Constructions of Race, Skin-Color, and Identity in Brazil

Humanity & Society
Volume 35, Numbers 1-2 (February 2011)
pages 62-99
DOI: 10.1177/016059761103500104

Marcia L. Mikulak, Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of North Dakota

Some current cultural anthropologists define race as a social construct, yet explorations of the socio-historical constructions that give form and structure to racial identities perpetuating notions of “race” are rarely discussed. This study explores the theory of racial formations proposed by Michael Omi and Howard Winant as it applies to Brazil’s racial project, arguing that Brazil’s rhetoric on race and national identity during the late 19th to early 20th century culminated in a racial project ultimately known as democracia racial. As a result, I propose that Brazilian racial consciousness is symbolically pluralistic, encompassing race, social class, and social position, generating a particularly virulent, yet silent form of racism. I expand upon racial formation theory through analysis of my fieldwork carried out in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, in 2004. This analysis illustrates how contemporary Brazilian social structure and daily cultural discourses on race, skin-color, racial identity, and social marginalization reflect the nation’s early racist ideology, yet contest its reality. Informants discuss self-identifications of skin-color, the meanings attributed to color tonalities, and the impact racism has on their daily lives.

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