Jennifer Roth-Gordon on her new book, Race and the Brazilian Body

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Interviews on 2017-11-13 00:52Z by Steven

Jennifer Roth-Gordon on her new book, Race and the Brazilian Body

CaMP Anthropology
2017-09-04

Interview by: Ilana Gershon, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Indiana University, Bloomington

Jennifer Roth-Gordon, Race and the Brazilian Body: Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de Janeiro (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

If you were at a wedding, and the person at your table happened to be a scholar of African-American experiences of the Jim Crow South who wanted to know a bit about your book, what would you say?

Can the person sitting next to the Jim Crow scholar at our table be someone who witnessed the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville? I think I might open by saying to them that I study race relations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a context which is both very similar and very different from the ones that they are immersed in. My book is an investigation into how we can watch people draw on and perpetuate racial hierarchy in daily conversations and interactions, in a national context where noticing racial difference is (and has long been) taboo. These racial ideas – about the superiority of whiteness and the inferiority of blackness – are the same ideas that were legalized in the Jim Crow South and that white people marched to uphold just a few weeks ago, in defense of statues meant to keep nonwhite people “in their place.” I can point to very little that changes, over time or across national boundaries, in the civilized/uncivilized and upstanding/dangerous distinctions between what whiteness and nonwhiteness are thought to represent.

Brazil also suffers from incredibly high levels of structural racism that almost always exceed statistics from the present-day U.S. (from racial gaps in education levels, income, and where people live, to what scholars have called a black genocide of thousands of Afro-descended youth killed by police each year). Despite these national similarities, Brazil has long used incidents like Charlottesville (such as the Civil War, lynchings, the LA riots and Rodney King beating, Ferguson, and so on) to define themselves in contrast to the violent history and aggressive nature of race relations in the U.S. Though they are now more aware of racism than ever before, many Brazilians continue to take pride in their reputation for racial mixture and racial tolerance. While most would admit that Brazil is not (and has never been) a “racial democracy,” there is a strong belief that inequality in Brazil is socioeconomic, rather than racial.

My book seeks to explain the “comfortable racial contradiction” that surrounds Rio residents with signs of blackness and whiteness but discourages them from describing what they see in racial terms. It’s not a contradiction that is “comfortable” for all, but I argue that this contradiction is surprisingly easy to live within, even as it may be hard to unravel and explain – in the same way that we now have to contemplate what it means to live in a “colorblind” America that has people on both ends of the political spectrum loudly proclaiming that race matters. I study how racial ideology allows us to live in societies that promote themselves as tolerant and equal, even as we are daily surrounded by (and participating in) profoundly racially unequal and unjust circumstances. Laws and torches are not the only ways to maintain white supremacy, and swastika-flag bearers are not the only ones who keep systems of racial hierarchy in place…

Read the entire interview here.

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Race and the Brazilian Body: Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de Janeiro

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Monographs on 2017-11-12 23:03Z by Steven

Race and the Brazilian Body: Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de Janeiro

University of North Carolina Press
December 2016
248 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9780520293793
Paperback ISBN: 9780520293809
Adobe PDF E-Book ISBN: 9780520967151
ePUB Format ISBN: 9780520967151

Jennifer Roth-Gordon, Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Arizona

Based on spontaneous conversations of shantytown youth hanging out on the streets of their neighborhoods and interviews from the comfortable living rooms of the middle class, Jennifer Roth-Gordon shows how racial ideas permeate the daily lives of Rio de Janeiro’s residents across race and class lines. Race and the Brazilian Body weaves together the experiences of these two groups to explore what the author calls Brazil’s “comfortable racial contradiction,” where embedded structural racism that privileges whiteness exists alongside a deeply held pride in the country’s history of racial mixture and lack of overt racial conflict. This linguistic and ethnographic account describes how cariocas (people who live in Rio de Janeiro) “read” the body for racial signs. The amount of whiteness or blackness a body displays is determined not only through observations of phenotypical features—including skin color, hair texture, and facial features—but also through careful attention paid to cultural and linguistic practices, including the use of nonstandard speech commonly described as gíria (slang).

Vivid scenes from daily interactions illustrate how implicit social and racial imperatives encourage individuals to invest in and display whiteness (by demonstrating a “good appearance”), avoid blackness (a preference challenged by rappers and hip-hop fans), and “be cordial” (by not noticing racial differences). Roth-Gordon suggests that it is through this unspoken racial etiquette that Rio residents determine who belongs on the world famous beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon; who deserves to shop in privatized, carefully guarded, air conditioned shopping malls; and who merits the rights of citizenship.

Contents

  • ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
  • 1. BRAZIL’S “COMFORTABLE RACIAL CONTRADICTION”
  • 2. “GOOD” APPEARANCES: RACE, LANGUAGE, AND CITIZENSHIP
  • 3. INVESTING IN WHITENESS: MIDDLE-CLASS PRACTICES OF LINGUISTIC DISCIPLINE
  • 4. FEARS OF RACIAL CONTACT: CRIME, VIOLENCE, AND THE STRUGGLE OVER URBAN SPACE
  • 5. AVOIDING BLACKNESS: THE FLIP SIDE OF BOA APARENCIA
  • 6. MAKING THE MANO: THE UNCOMFORTABLE VISIBILITY OF BLACKNESS IN POLITICALLY CONSCIOUS BRAZILIAN HIP-HOP
  • CONCLUSION: “SEEING” RACE
  • NOTES
  • REFERENCES
  • INDEX
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Skin Color Still Plays Big Role In Ethnically Diverse Brazil

Posted in Anthropology, Audio, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2016-08-22 21:49Z by Steven

Skin Color Still Plays Big Role In Ethnically Diverse Brazil

All Things Considered
National Public Radio
2013-09-19

Audie Cornish, Host

Melissa Block visits a historic section of Rio de Janeiro that pays homage to Afro-Brazilian history and the many slaves that came ashore there. She talks with Brazilian filmmaker Joel Zito Araujo about what it means to be black or mixed race in Brazil, and how skin color still dictates many aspects of life.


Download the story here. Read the transcript here.

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Dreaming Equality: Color, Race, and Racism in Urban Brazil

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science on 2016-06-18 21:26Z by Steven

Dreaming Equality: Color, Race, and Racism in Urban Brazil

Rutgers University Press
November 2001
278 pages
6 x 9
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8135-3000-0
Web PDF ISBN: 978-0-8135-5602-4

Robin E. Sheriff, Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of New Hampshire

In the 1933 publication The Masters and the Slaves, Brazilian scholar and novelist Gilberto Freyre challenged the racist ideas of his day by defending the “African contribution” to Brazil’s culture. In so doing, he proposed that Brazil was relatively free of most forms of racial prejudice and could best be understood as a “racial democracy.” Over time this view has grown into the popular myth that racism in Brazil is very mild or nonexistent.

This myth contrasts starkly with the realities of a pernicious racial inequality that permeates every aspect of Brazilian life. To study the grip of this myth on African Brazilians’ views of themselves and their nation, Robin E. Sheriff spent twenty months in a primarily black shantytown in Rio de Janeiro, studying the inhabitants’s views of race and racism. How, she asks, do poor African Brazilians experience and interpret racism in a country where its very existence tends to be publicly denied? How is racism talked about privately in the family and publicly in the community—or is it talked about at all?

Sheriff’s analysis is particularly important because most Brazilians live in urban settings, and her examination of their views of race and racism sheds light on common but underarticulated racial attitudes. This book is the first to demonstrate that urban African Brazilians do not subscribe to the racial democracy myth and recognize racism as a central factor shaping their lives.

Table Of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 The Hill
  • Chapter 2 Talk: Discourses on Color and Race
  • Chapter 3 Silence: Racism and Cultural Censorship
  • Chapter 4 Narratives: Racism on the Asphalt
  • Chapter 5 Narratives: Racism at Home
  • Chapter 6 Whiteness: Middle-Class Discourses
  • Chapter 7 Blackness: Militant Discourses
  • Chapter 8 Conclusion: Dreaming
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index
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Whiteness and Miscegenation: Ethnographic Notes, Social Classifications and Silences in the Brazilian Context

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive on 2016-04-01 18:47Z by Steven

Whiteness and Miscegenation: Ethnographic Notes, Social Classifications and Silences in the Brazilian Context

Studi Culturali
Volume VII, Number 1, April 2010
pages 87-102
DOI: 10.1405/31883

Valeria Ribeiro Corossacz
Dipartimento di studi linguistici e culturali
Università degli studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia

This article presents some reflections from ongoing research on white upper-middle class men in Rio de Janeiro. The analysis of the construction of whiteness as an object of ethnographic enquiry permits us to consider the specificities and difficulties of ethnographic research on a category that in Euro-Western and Brazilian contexts represents the Self through which the social and cultural Other is defined. From these premises the article investigates what it means to classify him/herself and to be classified as white in Brazilian society, historically characterised by a valorisation of miscegenation and currently by a heated debate on anti-racist policies. The material presented shows how the invisibility of whiteness is associated on the one hand to the perception of the privilege connected to it, on the other hand to the pre-eminence of social class as an interpretive category.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Brazil’s hidden slavery past uncovered at Valongo Wharf

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2014-12-27 00:41Z by Steven

Brazil’s hidden slavery past uncovered at Valongo Wharf

BBC News
2014-12-24

Julia Carneiro
BBC Brasil, Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is a city looking to the future. Major development work is underway in the city’s historic port area as it prepares to host the Olympics in 2016.

But the construction effort to make all that happen has unexpectedly shone a light on a dark side of Rio: its past as the largest entry point for African slaves in the Americas.

In 2011, excavation work uncovered the site of Valongo Wharf, where almost a million African slaves disembarked before the slave trade was declared illegal in Brazil in 1831.

The wharf and the complex surrounding it were constructed in 1779 as part of an effort to move what was regarded as an unsightly trade to an area far from the city centre…

…Anthropologist Milton Guran, who co-ordinates the bid to have Valongo recognised as a Unesco World Heritage site, thinks preservation is especially important because “we had successive attempts to erase this history”.

“Slavery finally started being perceived as something heinous and the Empire sought to obliterate that mark,” he says…

…The impact of slavery on Brazilian society can be seen to this day. Over half of Brazil’s population is black or mixed race, but its elite remains largely white…

Read the entire article here.

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Divergence or Convergence in the U.S. and Brazil: Understanding Race Relations Through White Family Reactions to Black-White Interracial Couples

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2014-10-16 19:25Z by Steven

Divergence or Convergence in the U.S. and Brazil: Understanding Race Relations Through White Family Reactions to Black-White Interracial Couples

Qualitative Sociology
March 2014, Volume 37, Issue 1
pages 93-115
DOI: 10.1007/s11133-013-9268-2

Chinyere Osuji, Assistant Professor of Sociology
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden

Different approaches to race mixture in the U.S. and Brazil have led to the notion that they are polar opposites in terms of race relations. However, the end of de jure segregation in the U.S., the acknowledgement of racial inequality, and subsequent implementation of affirmative action in Brazil have called into question the extent to which these societies are vastly different. By examining race mixture as a lived reality, this study offers a novel approach to understanding racial boundaries in these two contexts. I analyze 87 interviews with individuals in black-white couples in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro to examine the cultural repertoires and discursive traditions they draw on to understand white families’ reactions to black spouses. I find that U.S. couples employ “color-blindness” to understand opposition to Blacks marrying into the family. Brazilian couples perceive overt racism and the use of humor from white family members. Nevertheless, couples with black males experienced more hostility in both sites. In addition, white male autonomy was related to the lower hostility that black female-white male couples experienced in both societies. By examining contemporary race mixture as a lived reality, this study complicates simplistic understandings of race relations as similar or different in these two societies. Furthermore, with the increase of multiracial families in both societies, it reveals the family as an important site for redrawing and policing racial boundaries.

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Racial ‘Boundary-policing’: Perceptions of Black-White Interracial Couples in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2014-10-16 18:15Z by Steven

Racial ‘Boundary-policing’: Perceptions of Black-White Interracial Couples in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro

Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
Volume 10 / Issue 01 / Spring 2013
pages 179-203
DOI: 10.1017/S1742058X13000118

Chinyere K. Osuji, Assistant Professor of Sociology
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden

As people who cross racial boundaries in the family formation process, the experiences of interracial couples can actually reveal the nature of racial boundaries within and across societies. I draw on in-depth qualitative interviews with eighty-seven respondents in interracial Black and White couples in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro to compare perceptions of public stigmatization by outsiders, a term I call “boundary-policing.” I find that couples in Los Angeles perceive gendered, Black individuals as perpetrators of this boundary-policing. In Rio de Janeiro, couples perceive regionalized and classed, White perpetrators. These findings suggest that in the United States and Brazil, racial boundaries are intertwined with class and gender boundaries to shape negotiation of boundary-policing in the two contexts. This analysis builds on previous studies of ethnoracial boundaries by showing how individuals reinforce and negotiate them through interpersonal relations. It demonstrates the similarities and differences in the negotiation and reinforcement of racial boundaries in the two sites.

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Confronting whitening in an era of black consciousness: racial ideology and black-white interracial marriages in Rio de Janeiro

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Social Science on 2014-10-15 19:39Z by Steven

Confronting whitening in an era of black consciousness: racial ideology and black-white interracial marriages in Rio de Janeiro

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 36, Issue 10, 2013
Special Issue: Rethinking Race, Racism, Identity, and Ideology in Latin America
pages 1490-1506
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2013.783926

Chinyere Osuji, Assistant Professor of Sociology
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden

In Latin America, whitening is understood as a goal of darker-skinned individuals who marry whites to gain access to white social circles, increase their social status, and produce lighter offspring. However, in Brazil, increasing black consciousness and race-based policies are seemingly at odds with contemporary attempts to whiten. Drawing on qualitative interviews with forty-nine individuals in black–white couples, I examine how they make sense of whitening in their lives. I find that unlike in the past, respondents do not describe themselves engaged in whitening and either find it offensive or recognize admissions of whitening as stigmatized. Nevertheless, whitening is how friends, families and other outsiders give meaning to their relationships, depending on the gender of the respondent. In addition, I find evidence of some white women understanding their relationships as a way of darkening themselves. This study reveals a transformation in the meanings associated with whitening ideology in contemporary Brazil.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Unraveling the Concept of Race in Brazil: Issues for the Rio de Janeiro Cooperative Agreement Site

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Social Science on 2013-10-12 21:33Z by Steven

Unraveling the Concept of Race in Brazil: Issues for the Rio de Janeiro Cooperative Agreement Site

Journal of Psychoactive Drugs
Volume 30,  Issue 3, 1998 
Special Issue: HIV/AIDS Interventions For Out-of-Treatment Drug Users
pages 255-260
DOI: 10.1080/02791072.1998.10399700

Hilary L. Surratt
The Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies
University of Delaware

James A. Inciardi (1939-2009), Co-Director of the Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies; Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice
University of Delaware

Scholars throughout the Americas have spent much of the 20th century studying race and its meaning in Brazil. Racial identities in Brazil are dynamic concepts which can only be understood if situated and explored within the appropriate cultural context. Empirical evidence of the fluidity of racial identification quickly came to the authors’ attention within the context of a prevention initiative targeting segments of the Rio de Janeiro population at high risk for HIV/AIDS. Because the main objective of this program was to slow the spread of AIDS through an intervention designed to promote behavioral change, comparisons of client data at the baseline and follow-up assessments for the core of the analyses. Through quality control procedures used to link client information collected at different points in time, it was revealed that 106 clients, or 12.5% of the follow-up sample, had changed their racial self-identification. The authors’ attempts to engage project staff in a dialogue about the fluidity of racial identity among these clients have provided some insight into what might be called the “contextual redefinition” of race in Brazil. Within the framework of this study, the ramifications of this phenomenon are clear. Racial comparisons of HIV risk, sexual activity, drug use, and behavioral change, which are part and parcel of U.S.-based research, would appear to be of little utility in this setting.

Read or purchase the article here.

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