Immigrants Stir New Life Into São Paulo’s Gritty Old Center

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive on 2014-04-17 01:32Z by Steven

Immigrants Stir New Life Into São Paulo’s Gritty Old Center

The New York Times

Simon Romero, Brazil Bureau Chief

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — For obvious reasons, many Paulistanos still consider this megacity’s decrepit old center a no-go zone.

Carjacking and kidnapping gangs prey on motorists at stoplights. Squatters control dozens of graffiti-splattered apartment buildings. Sinewy addicts roam through the streets smoking crack cocaine in broad daylight.

But slip into Jean Katumba’s cramped Internet cafe and a different picture emerges.

“They call this place ugly, but I see its beauty,” said Mr. Katumba, 37, who arrived from the Democratic Republic of Congo just 11 months ago.

Trained as an engineer in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, he earns a living here in Baixada do Glicério, a crime-ridden district, renting computers to customers speaking a variety of languages, from Haitian Creole to Colombian-accented Spanish and the Lingala of his homeland.

“São Paulo means a great thing to me: opportunity,” he said.

An array of similar ventures started by immigrants is flourishing amid the grit of São Paulo’s old center, reflecting shifts in global immigration patterns. Reinforcing São Paulo’s status as Brazil’s premier global city, Asians, largely from China, Africans and Spanish-speaking Latin Americans are flowing in…

…São Paulo’s new immigration surge stands in contrast to previous waves. After the overthrow of Emperor Dom Pedro II in 1889, Brazil’s first Constitution as a republic promoted a policy of “branqueamento,” or whitening, of Brazilian society through European immigration, while prohibiting immigration from Africa and Asia, according to scholars…

Read the entire article here.

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5 Nations That Imported Europeans to Whiten The Population

Posted in Africa, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, South Africa on 2014-04-11 21:10Z by Steven

5 Nations That Imported Europeans to Whiten The Population

Atlanta Black Star

Andre Moore

After the trans-Atlantic slave trade was officially abolished toward the end of the 19th century, many whites felt threatened and feared free Blacks would become a menacing element in society. The elites spent a great dealing of time mulling over how best to solve the so-called Negro problem. A popular solution that emerged during this period was the ideology of racial whitening or “whitening.”

Supporters of the “whitening” ideology believed that if a “superior” white population was encouraged to mix with an “inferior” Black population, Blacks would advance culturally, genetically or even disappear totally, within several generations. Some also believed that an influx of immigrants from Europe would be necessary to successfully carry out the process.

Although both ideologies were driven by racism and White supremacy, whitening was in contrast to some countries that opted for segregation rather than miscegenation, ultimately outlawing the mixing of the races. This, however, was just a different means to the same end as these nations also imported more Europeans while slaughtering and oppressing the Black population.

Here are 5 of the several counties that adopted a whitening policy and what happened as a result…

Read the entire article here.

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Playing Chinese Whispers: The Official ‘Gossip’ of Racial Whitening in Jorge Amado’s Tenda dos Milagres

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, New Media on 2014-03-26 17:36Z by Steven

Playing Chinese Whispers: The Official ‘Gossip’ of Racial Whitening in Jorge Amado’s Tenda dos Milagres

Forum for Modern Language Studies
Published online: 2014-03-26
DOI: 10.1093/fmls/cqu006

Helen Lima de Sousa, Santander Post-Doctoral Senior Studentship in Portuguese Literary and Cultural Studies
Clare College, University of Cambridge

This article explores the possible inauthentic nature of official discourse, as political, religious or intellectual elites manipulate facts in a process that parallels the childhood game of Chinese Whispers. Considering this process of manipulation, and the false messages it produces, it is suggested that such discourses, while official, resemble the assumed inauthentic nature of gossip. Within the framework of this concept, the article explores the fusion of official and unofficial discourse in Jorge Amado’s novel Tenda dos milagres (1969). Initially analysing Amado’s fictionalization of the nineteenth-century Bahian doctor Raimundo Nina Rodrigues and his theories on racial whitening, the article subsequently investigates the continued manipulation of fact by the fictional Bahian political and intellectual elite of the 1960s as the image of the protagonist Pedro Archanjo is transformed, during the official posthumous celebrations of his life, from a poor mulatto who questioned the status quo, to an obedient, white intellectual.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Becoming a black woman: an identity in process

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science on 2014-03-26 15:36Z by Steven

Becoming a black woman: an identity in process

Black Women of Brazil: The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

Fernanda Souza

“(…) We are born preta (black), mulata, parda, brown, roxinha (a little purple) among others, but becoming negra (black) (1) is an achievement.” (Lélia Gonzalez)

“How (does one) to form an identity around color and non self-acceptance of blackness by the majority whose future was projected in the dream of branqueamento (whitening)?” (Munanga, p. 137, 2004)

My entire life I saw myself as a parda (brown), morena, mulata, mestiça (mixed race), but never, under any circumstances, negra (black). Although having blacks uncles and cousins, besides my late grandmother being black, I didn’t not recognize as such because of not thinking my parents were black, because I believed in the idea that blacks were only those people who had darker skin and my father and my mother could be seen, even by themselves, as mestiços and not as negros. That’s where we have one of the great subtleties while one of the biggest problems for racial consciousness in the country: the mestiço. The mestiço, as an intermediate category between white and black, is a result of the long process of mestiçagem (racial mixture) that marks Brazil. Mestiço here should be understood primarily as someone who is the child of a interracial couple (in this case, I refer to the union between a black man/ white woman and white man/black woman) and can also, to facilitate understanding of the text, be understood as someone who, even though not being the son/daughter of an interracial couple but of black parents, having lighter skin and had/has difficulty in defining themselves as black. Again I reiterate: this extension of the concept of “mestiço” is only to help in the understanding of the text and not to have to use the term “non-white” because it encompasses other ethnic groups, such as indigenous and neither “pardos (browns)”, because I find it politically innocuous for a text that will discuss mainly mestiçagem and the difficulty of asserting a racial-ethnic identity.

Miscegenation constitutes the cornerstone of the myth of racial democracy, whose central idea is that we are mestiços, the result of interbreeding between the three races – white, Indian and Black – which occurred through a contact and a harmonious coexistence between the three – forgetting that this process started from the rape of black women enslaved by plantation masters and there is nothing harmonious about it – and, in this sense, here there doesn’t exist so much discrimination and racial prejudice and people recognize themselves first as Brazilian than from a racial-ethnic identity of the oppressed, because as the myth of racial democracy dissolves, it mitigates and obscures the tensions, conflicts and racial prejudices present in Brazil, as Kabengele Munanga (2004) pointed out…

Read the entire article here.

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Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science on 2014-02-12 08:58Z by Steven

Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements

University of Illinois Press
December 2013
224 pages
1 map
6 x 9 in
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-252-03793-1
Paper ISBN: 978-0-252-07944-3

Erica Lorraine Williams, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia

Winner of the National Women’s Studies Association/University of Illinois Press First Book Prize

How sexism, racism, and socio-economic inequality interact in the Brazilian sex industry

Brazil has the largest economy of any Latin American country with a population five times greater than any other South American country, and for nearly a decade, Brazil has surpassed Thailand as the world’s premier sex tourism destination. As the first full-length ethnography of sex tourism in Brazil, this pioneering study treats sex tourism as a complex and multidimensional phenomenon that involves a range of activities and erotic connections, from sex work to romantic transnational relationships. Erica Lorraine Williams explores sex tourism in the Brazilian state of Bahia from the perspectives of foreign tourists, tourism industry workers, sex workers who engage in liaisons with foreigners, and Afro-Brazilian men and women who contend with foreigners’ stereotypical assumptions about their licentiousness.

In her analysis, Williams argues that the cultural and sexual economies of tourism are inextricably linked in the Bahian capital city of Salvador’s tourism industry. She shows how the Bahian state strategically exploits the touristic desire for exotic culture by appropriating an eroticized blackness and commodifying the Afro-Brazilian culture in order to sell Bahia to foreign travelers. Drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic research and in-depth interviews, Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements combines historical, sociological, anthropological, cultural studies, and feminist perspectives to demonstrate how sexism, racism, and socio-economic inequality interact in the context of tourism in Bahia.

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Brazil Endorses International Decade for People of African Descent

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2014-01-19 04:16Z by Steven

Brazil Endorses International Decade for People of African Descent

Americas Quarterly: The Policy Journal for Our Hemisphere


Shari Wejsa

On Monday, December 23, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing the International Decade for People of African Descent, which will run from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2024. The aim will be to raise social consciousness in the fight against prejudice, intolerance, xenophobia, and racism.

The resolution follows a series of related efforts, including the General Assembly’s December 12, 1997 resolution, which convened the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, and the December 16, 2005 resolution, which guided the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

Assembly representatives emphasized its importance. Verene Shepherd, chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, stated that the “indigestible fishbone of slavery” continued to stick in the throat due to the persistence of its legacies.  She added that the impact of slavery and colonialism were most obvious in the Americas and on the African content itself.

Responses from Brazilian representatives reinforced this perspective.  Bruno Santos de Oliveira noted that the 2010 national census data indicated that “more than 100 million Brazilians, more than half the population, had declared themselves African descendants,” and that the country has the largest number of people of African descent outside of Africa. The Brazilian Delegation recalled that the country continues to face racism and intolerance inherited from its colonial past.

This legacy is evident in high poverty levels, which vary significantly by region within Brazil. More than half of all poor Brazilians live in the Northeast, which is home to the highest concentration of African descendants. In the Northeast, the head of the household is often illiterate, despite attending school, and works in agriculture. Poor households are generally quite large, having nearly twice as many children when compared to families in higher socioeconomic levels, with limited resources and access to utilities. In Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia, approximately 80 percent of the population is said to be of African ancestry.  Some critics claim that “the majority of Brazilians of African descent in Salvador are an example of continuing discrimination, living in the poorest areas, their lives often blighted by violence and largely excluded from political power.” Although recent studies indicate that the income gap between black and mixed race Brazilians and that of white Brazilians has been falling, a notable difference remains. From access to a high quality education to health and housing, Brazilians of African descent are usually worse off than their white counterparts…

Read the entire article here.

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Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist by G. Reginald Daniel (review)

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2014-01-15 08:15Z by Steven

Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist by G. Reginald Daniel (review)

Hispanic Review
Volume 82, Number 1, Winter 2014
pages 116-119
DOI: 10.1353/hir.2014.0008

Mércia Santana Flannery, Lecturer of Portuguese
Romance Languages Department
University of Pennsylvania

G. Reginald Daniel, Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist, 336 pages, hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-05246-5. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012).

In Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, the sociologist Erving Goffman (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1963) discusses the relationship between individuals who possess a social stigma and the “normals” (8). Reginald Daniel’s new book, Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist, discusses the stigmatized identity of the most celebrated Brazilian novelist as perceived in his literary work. Machado’s biography is traced, his work commented on, and we are offered a picture of the Brazilian mulatto writer as a way to understand the inclusion, or lack thereof, of race relations and black identification in his writings.

Having written extensively about Brazil’s racial relations and about Machado, Daniel is delving into known territory, being more than well qualified to take on the subject. In the introduction, the author comments on the importance of Machado’s legacy to the Brazilian literary canon, and on this famous author’s “betrayal” and his “racial self-negation” (1). From here on, the assumption seems to be that a mulatto writer should be expected to make his race a topic of his literary writings, but we miss the advancement of this line of thought.

In the first chapter, Daniel includes a panoramic consideration of Brazil’s racial configuration. A recapitulation of the country’s racial makeup and the role of miscegenation as an explanation for who Brazilians are as a people is also incorporated. Daniel discusses the Brazilian preference for the white-European phenotype, along with the stigmatization of African ancestry, which foregrounds the ensuing analysis of Machado’s relationship with his own racial ambiguity.

This chapter supplies an interesting account of Brazil, and particularly Rio de Janeiro, during the nineteenth century, the time when Machado wrote and that he used to contextualize most of his novels and short stories. Daniel stresses Brazil’s looking to the outside, especially to Europe (France and England in particular) as a way for the elites to “reckon with the embarrassing gulf between themselves and the masses” (26). Machado is guilty of the same, having chiseled out his characters mostly from European models.

In chapter two, Daniel reflects on the “absence” of literary voices of African ancestry in Brazil. He explains this situation through a description of the African Brazilian condition, which worked to “neutralize” those who could have worked as “mouthpieces in the African Brazilian struggle” (35). According to Daniel, this was a result of how European Brazilians thought about blackness. Considering that blackness in Brazil was so “irreconcilable with social advancement,” those who moved upwards could only be perceived as “whitened” (35). The chapter includes a brief account of other Brazilian mulatto writers and the degree to which they included the African Brazilian tradition in their work. For example, Caldas Barbosa used the African Brazilian vernacular in his modinhas and lundus, whereas Lima Barreto “openly discussed the topic of racism from an African Brazilian point of view” (58).

In chapter three, Daniel offers a biographical account of Machado’s life, including his modest origins in Livramento (born to a Portuguese immigrant mother, a washerwoman and seamstress, and a mulatto house painter), until his death as an acclaimed writer in Laranjeiras. Machado’s transition, the accomplishment of his hard-fought upward mobility, with scant formal education, as he was mostly self-taught, is a reason for praise and part of what is used to compose his portrait as a genius. However, as Daniel indicates, Machado was also condemned for his refusal to discuss racial themes in his works, or, as demonstrated by José do Patrocínio’s accusation, for having “hated his race” (67).

What is unclear is how we are meant to believe that Machado was a detractor, in view of what was said thus far in the book about Brazil’s racial relations. Was Machado acting as the majority of Brazilians did—and do—as far as race is concerned? Do we expect more of him because of his notoriety? In addition, Daniel notes, citing other scholars, that “Machado disguised his mulatto facial features by wearing a thick moustache and a beard and that he also wore his hair closely cropped in his late years to enhance this camouflage…

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Home is Where the Hurt Is: Racial Socialization, Stigma, and Well-Being in Afro-Brazilian Families

Posted in Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Media Archive, Social Science on 2014-01-09 03:25Z by Steven

Home is Where the Hurt Is: Racial Socialization, Stigma, and Well-Being in Afro-Brazilian Families

Duke University
228 pages

Elizabeth Hordge Freeman

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Sociology in the Graduate School of Duke University

This dissertation examines racial socialization in Afro-Brazilian families in order to understand how phenotypically diverse families negotiate racial hierarchies and ideologies of white supremacy. As an inductive, qualitative project, this research is based on over fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil in fifteen poor and working-class Bahian families and 116 semi-structured interviews with family members and informants. Findings suggest that one of the most prominent features of racial socialization is the pervasive devaluation of black/African influences, which is conveyed through implicit and explicit messages as well as concrete practices (including rituals) that promote the stigmatization of negatively valued racialized physical features. The study reveals a pattern of unequal distribution of affection based on racial appearance (phenotype), which is evident in parent-child, sibling, extended family, and romantic relationships. Findings suggest that negative appraisals of racial phenotype may significantly compromise affective bonds in families and have social psychological consequences impacting self-esteem and sense of belonging, while also eliciting suicidal ideations and anxieties. These outcomes are most pronounced for Afro-Brazilian females. Racial socialization also conveys the “strategically ambiguous” logic of color and racial classification, uncritically exposes family members to racist messages, jokes, and stereotypical images of Afro-Brazilians, and encourages cultural participation that superficially valorizes Afro-Brazilian culture and fosters nationalism, rather than racial identity. In contrast to traditional findings of racial socialization in the U.S., messages valorizing racial heritage are rare and efforts to prepare family members for bias rely on universal terms. Families do employ counter-discourses and creative strategies of resistance; and so, racial socialization is characterized by practices that reflect both resistance and accommodation to racial hierarchies. I conclude that racial socialization in families is influenced by and sustains racialization processes that maintain the broader system of white supremacy. Contrary to how racial socialization has been framed as having a purely protective role in families, this study illustrates how it may disadvantage blacks vis-à-vis whites and uniquely stigmatizes the most “black-looking” family members vis-à-vis those who more closely approximate an idealized (whiter) somatic norm. Future studies should triangulate data on racial socialization from other regions of the Americas.


  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements
  • 1. Introduction
    • 1.1 “The Face of A Slave”
    • 1.2 Background
    • 1.3 Case Selection
      • 1.3.1 Community Site
    • 1.4 Data and Methods
    • 1.5 Methodology
    • 1.6 “Second Sight” or Double Vision? My Subjectivity in the Field
    • 1.7 Organization of the Dissertation
  • 2. Literature Review
    • 2.1 Crafting a Social Order: Race and Racialization
      • 2.1.1 Towards a Phenotypic Continuum
    • 2.2 Blinded by the White: Whitening and Racial Socialization in Families
      • 2.2.1 Studying Families in the U.S. and Brazil
      • 2.2.2 Mothering in Families
    • 2.3 The Stigmatized Body and Well Being
    • 2.4 The Family Systems Paradigm and Emotions
    • 2.5 Conceptual Framework
    • 2.6 Theoretical Framework
    • 2.7 The Racial Rubik: Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
  • 3. “All in the Family”: Implicit and Explicit Racial Socialization
    • 3.1 Chapter Preface
    • 3.2 “Strategic Ambiguity” and Color Inconsistencies
      • 3.2.1 Family Interventions in Racial Classification
      • 3.2.2 Will the real white person please stand up?
      • 3.2.3 There are no whites, We are all black!
    • 3.3 Race and Space
      • 3.3.1 Todo no seu Lugar – Everything in its Place
    • 3.4 “Explicit Socialization Messages?.
      • 3.4.1 Educação é Salvação: Education is Salvation
      • 3.4.2 Reading Bodies, Not Books
    • 3.5 Racially (Mixed Messages) and Quotas
    • 3.6 What is racism?
    • 3.7 Media and Culture
      • 3.7.1 Novelas
      • 3.7.2 Re-Telling National Tales
    • 3.8 Conclusion
  • 4. What’s Love Got to Do With It? : The Stigma of Racialized Features, Affect, and Socialization in Families
    • 4.1 Context
    • 4.2 The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: Mother-Child Relationships
    • 4.2.1 Harbingers of Racial Socialization: Babies
    • 4.3 Like a Good Neighbor
    • 4.4 Mama’s Baby is Daddy’s Maybe
    • 4.5 Racial Roulette and Sibling Rivalry
    • 4.6 She’s just my (pheno)Type: Romantic Love
      • 4.6.1 Race and Romance
    • 4.7 Discussion
  • 5. Black and “Blue”: Racial Stigma and Well being
    • 5.1 Incog-negro: Abandoning Blackness
    • 5.2 When Racial Roulette is Violent
    • 5.3 Depression, Trust, and Trauma
    • 5.4 Pretty Please?! Beauty and Self-Esteem
    • 5.5 We (Don’t) Belong Together
    • 5.6 Discussion
  • 6. Pigments of the Imagination: Beauty, Body, and Racialization
    • 6.1 The Bodies Exhibit
    • 6.2 Hands, Feet, and Ears, Oh My!
    • 6.3 Hair-itage
      • 6.3.1 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
    • 6.4 The Roots of Resistance: Afro-Aesthetics
      • 6.4.1 Hide My Roots! Afro-Aesthetics and Cultural Movements at Home
    • 6.5 Discussion
  • 7. “Where There is Power, There is Also Resistance
    • 7.1 Nascimento Family Values
      • 7.1.1 Racial Names.
      • 7.1.2 Race and Privilege
      • 7.1.3 Beauty
      • 7.1.4 Racial History
      • 7.1.5 Internalized Racism
    • 7.2 The Santos Family
      • 7.2.1 Racial Rituals
    • 7.3 The de Jesus Family: The Brazilian Black Panthers
      • 7.3.1 Brief Life History of Pantera Negra
      • 7.3.2 Explicit Socialization
    • 7.4 Discussion
  • 8. Conclusion – The Ties That Bind
    • 8.1 Limitations and Future Directions
    • 8.2 Conclusions
  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B
  • Appendix C
  • Appendix D
  • Appendix E
  • References
  • Bibliography

List of Tables

  • Table 1: Color Categorization by Percentage
  • Table 2: Summary of the color terms used in interviews and observations
  • Table 3: Summary of responses to the question: What is your race?
  • Table 4: List of all color or racial nicknames used by informants

Read the entire dissertation here.

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Imagining Brazil: Seduction, Samba

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Women on 2014-01-05 01:22Z by Steven

Imagining Brazil: Seduction, Samba

Canadian Woman Studies / Les Caheiers de la Femme
Volume 20, Number 2 (2000)
pages 48-56

Natasha Pravaz, Associate Professor
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

En utilisant des paroles de chants rythmés sur la samba et d‘autre matériel ethnographique, l‘auteure detecte la presence du mulâtre et de propos racistes dans la construction du nationalisme brézilien et discute sur l‘évidente ambivalence dans le discours ethnique local entre le désir et la rejection envers ce personage.

Using the words of songs and rhythmic samba on other ethnographic material, the author detects the presence the mulatto and racism in the construction of Brazilian nationalism and discusses the obvious ambivalence in the local ethnic discourse between desire and rejection to this personage.

A polysemic category, mulata in the Brazilian context can refer to “a woman of mixed racial descent,” but it also connotes voluptuosity, sensuality, and ability for dancing the samba. In its restricted sense, however, it names an occupation. That is, only women who engage in dancing the samba in a commodified spectacle and receive some form of remuneration for it can be called mulatas. Under this specific signification, the concept of the mulata can be contrasted to that of the passita, a solo dancer in the Carnival parades who performs, not for money, but out of love for samba and for her Samba School of choice. However, regardless of the subtleties of this and other distinctions, mulata and passista are perhaps merely privileged signifiers in a larger paradigmatic chain associating multiple cultural terms such as cabrocha, morena, criouh, brasileira, nega, pretinha, baiana, to name just a few. These multiple signifiers denoting “black woman” in Brazil may be seen as lexicological crystallisations of what has been described by Marvin Harris as a fluid “system of racial classification.” In Brazil, “race talk” has a dermal character, where slight gradations in skin colour are constructed as distinctions begging specific denomination. Depending on the context of utterance, most of the above mentioned racialized and gendered terms carry with them a certain fetishistic quality. In Brazil, the mulata is commonly portrayed as a woman always ready to deploy her tricks of sorcery and bewitching, embodying sensuality, voluptuosity, and dexterity in dancing the samba. She has become a figure of desire in the Brazilian imaginary. It is due to this semantic proliferation that I have decided to use the Brazilian lexicon, rather than to reduce its meaning by making reference to a “mulatto woman.”

Using a series of samba lyrics as my ethnographic material, I will address the figuration of the mulata as the embodiment of sensuality in the Brazilian imaginary; explore the use of racialized tropes and the figure of the mulata in the constitution of Brazilian discourses of national identity; and briefly discuss the conspicuous ambivalence between desire and abjection toward the mulata in local discourses of race…

Read the entire article here.

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Whiter Shades of Pale: “Coloring In” Machado de Assis and Race in Contemporary Brazil

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2014-01-02 03:53Z by Steven

Whiter Shades of Pale: “Coloring In” Machado de Assis and Race in Contemporary Brazil

Latin American Research Review
Volume 48, Number 3 (2013)
pages 3-24
DOI: 10.1353/lar.2013.0046

Alex Flynn, Lecturer in Anthropology
Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom

Elena Calvo-González, Professor of Anthropology
Universidade Federal da Bahia, Brazil

Marcelo Mendes de Souza
Department of Comparative Literature
University of Auckland

Debates surrounding race in Brazil have become increasingly fraught in recent years as the once hegemonic concept of racial democracy (democracia racial) continues to be subject to an ever more agnostic scrutiny. Parallel to these debates, and yet ultimately inseparable from them, is the question of what it is to be “white.” In this interdisciplinary paper, we argue that whiteness has become increasingly established in Brazilian public discourse as a naturalized category. Seeking a fresh perspective on what we perceive to have become a sterile debate, we examine Machado de Assis and his work to illustrate how assumptions surrounding his short story “Pai contra mãe,” and indeed comments on the author’s very body, reveal the extent to which whiteness has come to be seen as nonnegotiable and fixed. Placing a close reading of Machado’s text at the heart of the article, we explain its implications for the scholarly debates now unfolding in Brazil concerning the construction of whiteness. The article then develops an anthropological reading of whiteness by pointing to the inherent differences between perspectives of race as a process and perspectives of race as a fixed and naturalized given.

Debates surrounding race in Brazil have become increasingly fraught in recent years as the once hegemonic concept of racial democracy (democracia racial) is subjected to an ever more agnostic scrutiny. In a public sphere where certain ‘“types of mixture’ are clearly preferred to the detriment of others” (Pinho 2009), what can be understood as whiteness has an obvious and tangible importance, with various signifiers having varying levels of meaning. The texture of hair, the shape of facial features, even certain embodied notions of interaction can connote discrete positions on a racialized hierarchy. As Pinho (2009, 40) states, following the tradition of 1950s anthropologists such as Oracy Nogueira (1998) or Donald Pierson (1971), skin color is perhaps only the beginning of someone’s subjective judgment: “One’s ‘measure of whiteness,’ therefore, is not defined only by skin color; it requires a much wider economy of signs where, together with other bodily features, hair texture is almost as important as epidermal tone. In any given context, the definition of whiteness is also, necessarily, shaped by the contours of gender and class affiliation.”

These judgments take place within a wider historical discourse that has promoted the “whitening” of Brazil as a country and race. Dávila (2003) describes how from the turn of the nineteenth century, state actors in Brazil implemented policies that had at their heart a belief in whiteness as a naturalized state identified with strength, health, and virtue. This racial category was gradually shaped in opposition to “blackness,” a status that carried an explicit cargo of laziness, primitive and childlike nature, and an inherently antimodern gaze to the past. Dávila outlines how state actors believed that the nation could be “whitened” by educating people out of a black identity and leading them toward a white set of behaviors and morals. In this way, race was not a biological fact, it was rather a metaphor for the imagining of Brazil’s modernist trajectory; race was a malleable tool with which to better the future. Thus, the racial mixing of Brazilian society was a deterministic process toward securing a brighter, “whiter” future, one where blackness and its degeneracy could be cast aside and social ascension would guarantee a more productive population. Dávila (2003, 6) states that in the 1930s, “white Brazilians could safely celebrate race mixture because they saw it as an inevitable step in the nation’s evolution.” But it is important to note here that the supposedly realizable goal at the end of this process was essentially being cast as a naturalized category. There were no searching questions as to exactly what whiteness represented on this hierarchical trajectory; the definition was based upon a certain Europeanness and was whatever blackness or  indigenousness was not. As Dávila (2003, 7) states, “whiteness” was defined through both “positive and negative affirmation,” becoming a sedimented and fixed category without any internalized processes of self-reflection.

Despite this historical lack of analysis, recent state interventions have prompted a more quotidian interest into questions of whiteness in Brazil. Carlos Hasenbalg and Nelson do Vale Silva’s groundbreaking research in the 1970s had already demonstrated the disparities linked to race in socioeconomic indicators between self=-classified “whites” and “browns/blacks,” with the latter grouped together due to the similarity of results when compared to the “white” group. Such work helped to destabilize the myth of racial democracy, as well as the “mulatto escape hatch” thesis, the idea that the space ceded to people of mixed race in Brazil allowed some to escape the “disabilities of blackness” (Degler 1971, 178). However, the recent introduction of racial quotas at federal and state universities has brought into sharp relief how binary manners of self-identification can have a profound influence on one’s social trajectory, or as Vron Ware (2004, 38) describes it, “the relationship between social and symbolic power.” With an expanding middle class and growing competition for places, university places reserved for those who do not identify as white has brought into the open questions and prejudices that many people might have perhaps preferred to remain opaque. The debates around the implementation of affirmative action policies have brought into sharp focus the serious issues that a bureaucratic reconfiguration of racial categories implies, given that the category “black” subsumed those that self-declared as mixed race. At the center of these debates is the question of what it is to be black and, discussed much less, what it is to be white, a subject that has acquired all the more significance with the recent publication of census data demonstrating that for the first time since records began, those that self-identify as white are in a minority (47.7 percent) in Brazil (Phillips 2011). In this article we will build upon recent literature on whiteness as well as more classical work on race and race relations to reinforce the idea that, rather than being a fixed category, whiteness is in fact a volatile and nuanced construction continually subject to social reinterpretations as well as state-determined reconfiguration…

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