chapter  2
18 Pages

The multiple dimensions of racial mixture in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: from whitening to Brazilian negritude

WithGraziella Moraes D. Silva and Elisa P. Reis

The celebration of racial mixture has been presented as a key feature of race relations in Latin American countries when compared to others, particularly the USA (Wade 1997; Telles and Sue 2009).1 From the 1920s onwards, the process of nation building in the region has largely relied on ideas like cosmic race, racial democracy and mestizaje. More recently, the positive evaluation of racial mixture has been strongly contested by counter-hegemonic discourses that identify it as

a tool to reproduce and reinforce racism. Yet both interpretations of racial mixture in Latin America tend to be one-dimensional in the sense that scholars usually view racial mixture as either good or bad, rather than as a complex framework used to make sense of racial boundaries. Moreover, existing interpretations for racial mixture nearly always take into account only macrohistorical and/or structural factors, neglecting people’s beliefs and experiences on such matters (exceptions are Wade 1993, 2005). By relying on 160 interviews with black Brazilians eighty working

class and eighty middle class we pursue two complementary tasks. On the one hand, we explore the competing interpretations provided by previous scholarship. On the other, we broaden the focus to include a consideration of the perspectives of actors, their everyday experiences and interpretations of racial mixture. Following Boltanski, Darre´ and Schiltz (1984), instead of viewing actors’ frames as false consciousness (as critics of racial mixture often do), we view their perception as a crucial dimension of the constitution of social reality. However, we also take into account the perceptions and realities of racism, often ignored by those who celebrate Latin American hybridity. Our article starts by identifying how racial mixture has been

celebrated and denounced in most of the literature about race relations in Latin America, and particularly in Brazil the reference point for comparisons to the USA. Next we lay out the academic debates and map the contours of contemporary attitudes in Brazil regarding racial mixture. We then present our methods and main results regarding perceptions of racial mixture. In our interviews, racial mixture appears as a key response to

stigmatization (Lamont, Morning and Mooney 2002), albeit one that has multiple dimensions and diverse consequences for the maintenance of racial boundaries as well as different interpretations across class groups. We found four different, but co-existent, cognitive frameworks used by our interviewees to understand racial mixture: whitening, Brazilian negritude, national identificatio, and non-essentialist racialism. We also found that these different frameworks vary in salience among working-class and middle-class respondents. In particular, we argue that in Brazil the definition of blackness incorporates racial mixture as a key element. In addition, racial mixture serves to ‘deessentialize’ or ‘blur’ understandings of racial boundaries, which are largely perceived by our interviewees as contextual.2