Learning to Transgress: Law 10.639 and Teacher-Training Classrooms in São Paulo, Brazil

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Politics/Public Policy on 2018-02-22 02:01Z by Steven

Learning to Transgress: Law 10.639 and Teacher-Training Classrooms in São Paulo, Brazil

Transforming Anthropology
Volume 24, Issue 1, April 2016
Pages 70–79
DOI: 10.1111/traa.12058

Reighan Gillam, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
University of Southern California

Signed in 2003, Law 10.639 makes teaching Afro-Brazilian history and culture compulsory in primary school lessons. Training programs to educate teachers on this material have proliferated in the state of São Paulo and elsewhere in Brazil. This paper illuminates non-elite Brazilians’ lived, personal engagements with ideas of racial inequality by way of these training programs. Participants in these classrooms did not express direct rejection or acceptance of these ideas but rather relied on personal experiences to negotiate their conceptions of racial identity and racial inequality that deviate from traditional ideas of racial democracy. As Brazil takes further steps to consider race when facilitating access to resources and confronting racial inequality directly, it is imperative that the everyday iterations of this shift are understood.

As part of a series of training sessions1 to instruct teachers on how to integrate Afro-Brazilian history and culture into their curricula, trainer Flávia Gomes2 screened clips from the film Everyone’s Heroes (Heróis de Todo Mundo). This movie features prominent Afro-Brazilians and explains their role in national history. Flávia told the teachers that they could show this movie in their classrooms, or they could integrate the information from the movie into their lessons. Five female educators and I sat at our desks and quietly watched the clips that briefly recounted the lives and accomplishments of figures like Auta da Souza, an Afro-Brazilian writer, and Milton Santos, an Afro-Brazilian geographer. After showing the video, Flávia said a few words: “Violence is to whiten Black heroes. This silences the place of Blackness in the classroom. Machado de Assis, Lima Barreto. There is no way to silence this. (Não da para silenciar).” One of the participants raised her hand; Flávia called on her. She was a principal at an elementary school and participating in these classes to oversee the curricular changes at her school. Before saying anything, she began to sob, taking the entire class by surprise. “I feel so troubled because I didn’t know these people had been left out. I have heard of them but didn’t know they were Black. I liked reading the poems of Auta da Souza, but I always pictured her as White. The lack of information that we have…” Her comments trailed off as she wiped her tears. This response occurred toward the end of class, leaving Flávia with little time to initiate a conversation. Instead, she concluded class by adding a few words about using this video to educate children about the people presented in the movie before dismissing everyone for the day.

This scene played out in a teacher-training program in its first year in Flor do Campo, Brazil, in the state of São Paulo. These teacher-training programs resulted from the passage of Law 10.639, which made Afro-Brazilian history and culture compulsory material for all Brazilian public primary schools. Since its passage, teacher-training programs have proliferated throughout the country to provide teachers with classroom material about Afro-Brazilian history and culture to satisfy the legal mandate of Law 10.639. The teacher-training classrooms in which I participated were dynamic spaces of conversation, interaction, and engagement where Brazilians, like the principal above, could encounter new ways of thinking about race2 that run contrary to the common belief that racism cannot naturally exist in a mixed-race society. This article aims to examine changing understandings of race in Brazil, not as it transforms larger social and political structures, but as it is continuously reframed on the micro-social or everyday level. I argue that the critical practice of learning about and responding to subjugated knowledge and alternative experiences have the potential to transgress boundaries of belonging and recognition of racial difference in Brazil.

This article takes as a point of departure the issue of the personal in an era of changing conceptions of Brazilian race relations. This shift involves not only the macro changes of law and policy but also the personal, lived, everyday interactions of particular people as well. It uses the personal anecdotes, stories, and conversations of Brazilians offered during teacher-training sessions to examine how social change is a personal matter and how it plays out within everyday interactions. The “personal” broadly references the lived experiences of human beings. In several instances, the personal becomes the prism through which people perceive or react to macro-structural events and changing environments. I suggest that many Brazilians offer more personal responses to the shift from racial democracy based on their local and particular experiences as a way to account for the changes they are confronting in classroom education. While I would not say that these conversations were always successful at producing a shared understanding of the ways in which inequality can be tracked along racial lines, these teacher-training classrooms became sites and spaces of struggle over the limits and meanings of racial democracy and racial recognition, informed by the participants’ personal experiences of race that they frequently voiced….

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Galileo Wept: A Critical Assessment of the Use of Race in Forensic Anthropology

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Media Archive on 2014-06-10 20:24Z by Steven

Galileo Wept: A Critical Assessment of the Use of Race in Forensic Anthropology

Transforming Anthropology
Volume 9, Issue 2 (July 2000)
pages 19–29
DOI: 10.1525/tran.2000.9.2.19

Diana Smay
Emory University

George Armelago, Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropolgy (1936-2014)
Emory University

Anthropology has been haunted by the misuse of the race concept since its beginnings. Although modern genetics has shown time and again that race is not a biological reality and cannot adequately describe human variation, many anthropologists are unable or unwilling to put aside racial typology as an explanatory tool. Here, we consider the case of forensic anthropology as an example often held up by uncritical anthropologists as evidence that the race concept “works.” The logic appears to be that if forensic anthropologists are able to identify races in skeletal remains, races must be biological phenomena. We consider four general viewpoints on the subject of the validity and utility of race in forensic anthropology and offer an argument for the elimination of race as part of the “biological profile” identified by forensic anthropologists.

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“Look at Her Hair”: The Body Politics of Black Womanhood in Brazil

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Social Science, Women on 2013-03-31 02:50Z by Steven

“Look at Her Hair”: The Body Politics of Black Womanhood in Brazil

Transforming Anthropology
Volume 11, Issue 2 (July 2003)
pages 18–29
DOI: 10.1525/tran.2003.11.2.18

Kia Lilly Caldwell, Associate Professor of African and Afro-American Studies
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

This article examines Brazilian ideals of female beauty and explores their impact on Black women’s subjective experiences. The analysis focuses on hair as a key site for investigating how Black women’s bodies and identities are marked by Brazilian discourses on race and gender. Despite Brazil’s image as a “racial democracy,” derogatory images of Black women in Brazilian popular culture highlight the prevalence of anti-Black aesthetic standards in the country. Through analysis of Black women’s personal narratives, this article examines how individual women attempt to reconstruct their subjectivities by contesting dominant aesthetic norms. The analysis provides insight into the gendered dimensions of Brazilian racism by demonstrating the ways in which Black women’s views of, and experiences with, their hair highlight the complex relationship among race, gender, sexuality, and beauty.

“Otherness” is constructed on bodies. Racism uses the physicality of bodies to punish, to expunge and isolate certain bodies and construct them as outsiders.
—Zillah Eisenstein


This article examines Brazilian ideals of female beauty and explores their impact on Black women’s processes of identity construction. Given Brazil’s longstanding image as a “racial democracy,” examining the racialized and gendered significance of hair provides key insights into the ways in which Black women’s bodies are marked by larger political and social forces. My analysis focuses on hair as a key site for investigating how Black women’s identities are circumscribed by dominant discourses on race and gender. I examine the pervasiveness of anti-Black aesthetic standards in Brazilian popular culture and explore Black women’s attempts to reinvest their bodies with positive significance.

The racial implications of hair and beauty have received scant attention in most research on race in Brazil (Burdick 1998). This tendency is largely due to the lack of research on the intersection of race and gender and the near invisibility of Afro-Brazilian women as a focus of scholarly inquiry (Caldwell 2000). Nonetheless, examining the social construction of beauty provides crucial insights into the intersection of race, gender, and power in contemporary Brazil. As a key marker of racial difference, hair assumes a central role in the racial politics of everyday life in Brazil. Most Brazilians are keenly aware of the social and racial significance of gradations in hair texture and use this knowledge as a standard for categorizing individuals into racial and color groups. The racial implications of hair texture take on added significance for Black women, given the central role accorded to hair in racialized constructions of femininity and female beauty.

This article forms part of a larger study that explores Afro-Brazilian women’s struggles for cultural citizenship through analysis of women’s life histories and practices of social activism. Field research was conducted in the city of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, in 1997. The research participants included activists in the Black movement, women’s movement, and Black women’s movement, as well as non-activists. My field research and ethnographic analysis examine how women who self-identify as negra (Black) develop critical consciousness about issues of race and gender, and how this consciousness translates into social and political activism. Excerpts from my interview data are used in this article to explore Afro-Brazilian women’s views of hair and beauty. My analysis places dominant constructions of female beauty in dialogue with Black women’s critical reflections on the psycho-subjective dimensions of beauty and their role in processes of identity formation…

…Brazil’s now widely disputed image as a “racial democracy” also played a central role in constructing official and popular understandings of gender during most of the twentieth century (Caldwell 1999). In an attempt to reinterpret Brazil’s national past of colonial slavery, nationalist ideologues, such as Gilberto Freyre (1986[1946]), promoted constructions of Black womanhood that legitimized colonial gender norms. These gender norms continue to buttress and perpetuate colonial hierarchies of gender, race, and class by constructing the social identities of White women as the standard of womanhood and female beauty, and the social terms of sexual and manual labor. In contemporary Brazil, the social identities of Black, Mulata and White women demonstrate how physical differences are linked to gendered notions of racial superiority. While Black and Mulata women have long been regarded as being more sexually desirable, White women have traditionally been considered to be more beautiful. In many ways, the distinctions made between White, Mulata and Black women draw upon a virgin/whore dichotomy that classifies women into different categories based on their presumed suitability for sex or marriage. These forms of differentiation are succinctly expressed in the Brazilian adage: “A white woman to marry, a mulata to fornicate, a black woman to cook.”

In Brazil, racialized gender hierarchies also classify women by dissecting their bodies and attributing certain physical features either to the category of sex or beauty. This dissection process assigns features such as skin color, hair texture, and the shape and size of the nose and lips to the category of beauty, while features such as the breasts, hips, and buttocks are assigned to the sexual category. Given the Eurocentric aesthetic standards that prevail in Brazilian society, Black women have traditionally been defined as being sexual, rather than beautiful. Ironically, however, Black and Mulata women’s association with sensuality and sexuality has been lauded as evidence of racial democracy in Brazil (Caldwell 1999; Gilliam 1998).

Representations of mixed-race or Mulata women in Brazilian popular culture reveal the complexities of Brazilian discourses on race, gender and beauty. A carnival song from 1932, “Teu Cabelo Nao Nega” (Your Hair Gives You Away), highlights the ambivalent portrayal of Mulata women in Brazilian popular culture. As the song states:

In these lands of Brazil
You don’t even have to cultivate it
The land gives
Black beans, many learned men, and giribita
A lot of beautiful mulatas

The hair gives you away.
You are mulata in color
But since color doesn’t rub off, mulata,
Mulata, I want your love. (Davis 1999:155)

“Your Hair Gives You Away” was the carnival success of 1932 and became one of the most successful carnival songs of all time (Davis 1999). The portrayal of Mulata women in the song reinforces Brazil’s nationalist image as a racial democracy and racial-sexual paradise. The lyrics portray Mulata women as being quintessentially Brazilian. Like black beans, they seem to spring from the land in large quantities. However, on closer observation, the lyrics also reveal racist beliefs premised on anti-Black aesthetic values. Both the title of the song and the lyrics contain the phrase, “hair gives you away.” When analyzed in the context of Brazilian racial beliefs, this phrase can be seen as an expression of racial “outing.” By referring to the Mulata’s hair, the narrator of the song states his belief that this desirable woman has African ancestry. Her hair texture is the marker that reveals this ancestry. The narrator then goes on to describe the Mulata as being Mulata in color. This statement reinforces the Mulata’s phenotypic characteristics and the fact that she is not negra or black in color. The narrator further states that the Mulata’s color is inconsequential since it will not “stick” to him. His desire to have the mulata’s love, or more accurately her sexual favors (Carvalho 1999), is unchanged and he continues to sing her praises, albeit with a double-voiced message of attraction and revulsion.

The process of racial outing performed in “Your Hair Gives Away” demonstrates how Afro-Brazilian women’s bodies are marked and categorized by Brazilian practices of racialization. Despite the prevalence of official and popular discourses, which emphasize the importance of racial miscegenation, practices of racial differentiation and categorization are pervasive in Brazil. As recent work by Antonio Guimaraes (1995) and Robin Sheriff (2001) has shown, the much acclaimed Brazilian color continuum coexists with practices of racialization that center on categorizing individuals into bipolar categories of Whiteness and Blackness. These practices of racialization reflect a decidedly anti-Black bias, which privileges Whiteness as an unmarked and universal identity. Lewis R. Gordon’s (1997) work on anti-Blackness provides significant insights into these processes. As Gordon provocatively argues,

in an antiblack world, race is only designated by those who signify racial identification. A clue to that identification is the notion of being “colored.” Not being colored signifies being white, and, as a consequence, being raceless, whereas being colored signifies being a race. Thus, although the human race is normatively white, racialized human beings, in other words, a subspecies of humanity, are nonwhite…. In effect, then, in the antiblack world there is but one race, and that race is black. Thus to be racialized is to be pushed “down” toward blackness, and to be deracialized is to be pushed “up” toward whiteness. (1997:76)

“Your Hair Gives You Away” demonstrates how a national preference for Whiteness and a concomitant devaluation of Blackness circumscribe the social identities of Afro-Brazilian women. The anti-Black aesthetic values articulated in “The Hair Gives You Away” describe the Mulata’s hair texture and skin color as being unappealing. These physical attributes were considered to be undesirable largely because they were associated with the Mulata’s African ancestry. Furthermore, while not explicitly stated, Brazilian notions of “good” and “bad” hair are present in the narrator’s evaluation of the woman described in the song. By stating, “the hair gives you away,” the narrator indicates that she does not have “good” hair and thus has not completely escaped the “stain” of Blackness…

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Caroline Bond Day (1889–1948): A Black Woman Outsider Within Physical Anthropology

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2012-03-19 01:00Z by Steven

Caroline Bond Day (1889–1948): A Black Woman Outsider Within Physical Anthropology

Transforming Anthropology
Volume 20, Issue 1, April 2012
pages 79–89
DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-7466.2011.01145.x

Anastasia C. Curwood, Visiting Fellow
James Weldon Johnson Institute for Race and Difference
Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

This article examines the significance of Caroline Bond Day’s vindicationist anthropological work on mixed-race families early in the 20th century. Day used the techniques of physical anthropology to demonstrate that mixed-race African Americans were in no way inherently deformed or inferior. Using Day’s published work and unpublished correspondence, I show that her study was noteworthy for two reasons. First, unlike most other anthropologists of her time, but presaging later scholars, she studied her own family and social world, a perspective that both gave her unique data unavailable to others and removed barriers between herself and her subjects. Second, as a mixed-race African American woman, she found herself not only fighting preconceptions about the racial inferiority of African Americans but also serving as a liaison between her research subjects and mainstream, White-dominated physical anthropology. This article argues that Day’s importance as a scholar lies not only in her argument against racial inferiority but also in the outsider-within status that allowed her to make her case within academic anthropology in the early 20th century.


Caroline Bond Day (CBD; 1889–1948) was one of the first African American anthropologists to turn her lens on her own people. As a Radcliffe College senior in 1918, she decided to pursue scholarly training in physical anthropology. The African American undergraduate was well aware that anthropologists had long used physical measurements and descriptions to demonstrate the racial inferiority of non-White people, and that many scholars thought the racial mixing of Whites and African Americans would create aberrant, malformed offspring. As a race woman, that is, an advocate for race consciousness and race pride who also experienced the effects of sexism, Day sought to combine the tools of anthropologists and her own social networks to refute the idea of mongrelization.

In 1932, under the supervision of Harvard physical anthropologist Earnest Hooton, Day published her Radcliffe master’s thesis, A Study of Some Negro-White Families in the United States. It showed that the mixture of African Americans and Whites simply yielded children with some characteristics of each race, who were entirely normal. In fact, Day observed, these offspring were often middle-class and lived lives that were very like those of middle-class White people, although in U.S. culture they were regarded as African American. As an outsider within her field, Day adapted the methods of anthropology to her own uses.

Caroline Bond Day reflected the desire of many Black intellectuals, led by her teacher W. E. B. Du Bois, to redirect scholarly and popular ideas about African Americans away from the realm of pathology and stereotype. St. Clair Drake, himself a scholar-activist who spent his career from the 1930s to the 1980s charting African Americans’ experiences of domination, adaptation, and resistance (Harrison 1992:253), called this intellectual tradition of refuting racist and imperialist assertions of Black inferiority “racial vindication” and situated CBD within it (Drake 1980:2, 10; Harrison and Harrison 1999a, 1999b:12). Like many other scholars and social activists of her period, she presented what she thought was the best possible image to the White gaze. In her case, this meant members of the “best families” among Black Americans, most of whom, she demonstrated, had White and, in some cases, Indian ancestry. She had faith that the scientific quantification of race could help with the task that Drake prescribed for Black intellectuals and that John L. Gwaltney would take on 50 years later: “setting the historical record straight” (Baber 1998:198; Gwaltney 1981[1980]xxiv).

This essay contains some preliminary explorations into the intersection of her work and life as a Black woman and anthropologist in the early 20th century. Building on the work of Faye V. Harrison (1992:244) and Hubert B. Ross et al. (1999:40), and drawing on additional archival (CBD Papers) and secondary (Alexander 1999) sources that did not inform those earlier works, this essay documents her early influences, including her relationship with Du Bois and exposure to Franz Boas, and the methodologies with which she later challenged the discipline of anthropology…

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Navigating the Racial Terrain: Blackness and Mixedness in the United States and the Dominican Republic

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2011-03-25 21:52Z by Steven

Navigating the Racial Terrain: Blackness and Mixedness in the United States and the Dominican Republic

Transforming Anthropology
Volume 16, Issue 2 (October 2008)
pages 95–111
DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-7466.2008.00019.x

Kimberly Eison Simmons, Associate Professor Anthropology & African American Studies
University of South Carolina

In this article, I draw on the experiences of students who participated in the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) Program in Spanish Language and Caribbean Studies, in Santiago, Dominican Republic, from 2000 to 2004, to situate the seemingly conflicting racial projects of the Dominican Republic and the United States. I discuss how, for African Americans and Dominicans, the question of race is actually very similar when it becomes a question of color as Blackness and mixedness are situated processes that encompass ideas of ancestry as well as phenotypic expression in both countries. I argue that racial discourses, and the politics surrounding race and color, for Dominicans in the United States, and African Americans in the Dominican Republic, is very similar because of historical colorization—which I define as intragroup racial and color-naming practices. I suggest that growing interactions between African Americans and Afro-Dominicans, and a growing understanding of race and the racial systems in both the United States and the Dominican Republic, contribute to how identities are being reconstructed. Particularly, African Americans in the Dominican Republic and Dominicans in the United States encounter a racial dilemma—how one is racially defined within a new national context as categories are often based on the state’s own definitions, series of laws, and informal ways of classifying people based on skin color.

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Transforming Mulatto Identity in Colonial Guatemala and El Salvador; 1670-1720

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2010-01-19 01:17Z by Steven

Transforming Mulatto Identity in Colonial Guatemala and El Salvador; 1670-1720

Transforming Anthropology
Volume 12, Issue 1-2 (January 2004)
Pages 9 – 20
DOI: 10.1525/tran.2004.12.1-2.9

Paul Lokken, Assistant Professor of Latin American History
Bryant University, Smithfield Rhode Island

This article examines an important moment in the history of people of African origins in the region now encompassed by the republics of Guatemala and El Salvador. That moment has received relatively little attention in modern scholarship because the entire subject of the colonial African presence in the region was largely ignored until recently. The lingering effects of nineteenth-century scientific racism contributed to the “forgetting” of African origins, but developments during the colonial era initiated the process. During that era, the dependence of Spaniards primarily on the labor of the region’s indigenous majority allowed members of an African-defined minority—both free and enslaved—to rework the contours of the identity assigned to them, via marriage, militia service, and other avenues. This transformation in identity was marked by shifts away from association with the “inferiority” of tributary status and toward incorporation into a broader category—gente ladina (hispanized people)—that carried connotations unrelated to African identity.

…Increased fluidity in classification was perhaps inevitable, at least where identification of “mixed” origins was concerned. For instance, while marriage records demonstrate clearly that in seventeenth-century Guatemala the term “mulato” was generally applied to people who actually possessed some African origins, examples of labeling “mistakes” were beginning to crop up as well, notably in San Salvador and San Miguel. In 1671, the son of an “espafiol” and an “india” from San Miguel was identified as “mulato libre” in a marriage record produced in Olocuilta, just outside San Salvador, and in 1691, a record filed in Amapala listed the parents of a “mulato libre” as “indios vecinos” (Indian residents) of San Miguel.” The vulnerability of Spanish efforts to enforce boundaries between “types” of individuals with plural origins as a means of divide-and-rule (Cope 1994:3-26, Lutz 1994:79-112, 140) is also underscored in court cases in which people whom others defined as mulatto claimed mestizo status in order to avoid tribute or otherwise dissociate themselves from the “taint” of African ancestry (Few 1997:120).”…

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