Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Negras in Brazil

Negras in Brazil: Re-envisioning Black Women, Citizenship, and the Politics of Identity

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 252
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Negras in Brazil
    Book Description:

    For most of the twentieth century, Brazil was widely regarded as a "racial democracy"-a country untainted by the scourge of racism and prejudice. In recent decades, however, this image has been severely critiqued, with a growing number of studies highlighting persistent and deep-seated patterns of racial discrimination and inequality. Yet, recent work on race and racism has rarely considered gender as part of its analysis.InNegras in Brazil, Kia Lilly Caldwell examines the life experiences of Afro-Brazilian women whose stories have until now been largely untold. This pathbreaking study analyzes the links between race and gender and broader processes of social, economic, and political exclusion. Drawing on ethnographic research with social movement organizations and thirty-five life history interviews, Caldwell explores the everyday struggles Afro-Brazilian women face in their efforts to achieve equal rights and full citizenship. She also shows how the black women's movement, which has emerged in recent decades, has sought to challenge racial and gender discrimination in Brazil. While proposing a broader view of citizenship that includes domains such as popular culture and the body,Negras in Brazilhighlights the continuing relevance of identity politics for members of racially marginalized communities. Providing new insights into black women's social activism and a gendered perspective on Brazilian racial dynamics, this book will be of interest to students and scholars of Latin American Studies, African diaspora studies, women's studies, politics, and cultural anthropology.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4132-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    As the daughter of a bilingual elementary school teacher, I was long intrigued by the Spanish language and Latin American cultures during my childhood. Growing up in Philadelphia during the 1970s allowed me to come into contact with members of the Puerto Rican community who had migrated to the city. Many of my mother’s students and fellow teachers were from the island, and I crossed the paths of Puerto Rican students during my daily travels to and from junior high school. During my first visit to the island as a high school senior in 1988, I came into contact with...

  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    These comments by Maria Ilma Ricardo,² a fifty-four-year-old Afro-Brazilian domestic worker and antiracist and feminist activist in Belo Horizonte, provide valuable insights into the socially devalued status of Afro-Brazilian women. By noting that black women possess an intrinsic valor, or value, as human beings, Maria Ilma’s statements challenge the ways in which Brazilian practices of racial, gender, and class domination sanction and perpetuate their social and political invisibility.³ Her use of the termsdescoberta(discovered),anonimato(anonymity), anddesvalorizada(devalued) underscores the cultural dimensions of citizenship in Brazil and points to the lack of recognition, respect, and value accorded to...

  7. PART ONE Re-envisioning the Brazilian Nation

    • 1 “A Foot in the Kitchen”: Brazilian Discourses on Race, Hybridity, and National Identity
      (pp. 27-49)

      The preceding quotes highlight two important features of Brazilian constructions of national identity: a concern with the African and Afro-Brazilian presence in the country and an emphasis on the role of interracial sexual relations and racial intermixture in the formation of the Brazilian population. Unlike countries, such as the United States, that have historically discouraged racial intermixture, both in the private sphere of intimate relationships and in the public sphere of nationalist discourse, Brazil has long been acclaimed as a society where the races freely mingle.

      This chapter examines the centrality of racial hybridity in Brazilian nationalist discourse. The analysis...

    • 2 Women in and out of Place: Engendering Brazilʹs Racial Democracy
      (pp. 50-78)

      This nineteenth-century Brazilian adage encapsulates dominant configurations of race, color, gender, and sexuality.¹ It also demonstrates the gendered dimensions of a Brazilian pigmentocracy in which “social hierarchy is primarily based on skin color” (Jackson 1976, 5). In three short lines, this popular saying describes and ascribes the social identities of white, mulata, and black women. Each phrase maps out the coordinates of socially constructed norms of femininity and their relationships to color and race. Women of each color category are placed in social roles that cannot be altered, exchanged, or escaped. While white women are assigned to the realm of...

  8. PART TWO The Body and Subjectivity

    • 3 “Look at Her Hair”: The Body Politics of Black Womanhood
      (pp. 81-106)

      This chapter examines Brazilian ideals of female beauty and explores their impact on Afro-Brazilian women’s processes of identity construction. Given Brazil’s long-standing image as a “racial democracy,” examining the racialized and gendered significance of hair provides key insights into the ways in which Afro-Brazilian 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 several women’s attempts to reinvest their bodies with...

    • 4 Becoming a Mulher Negra
      (pp. 107-130)

      My initial contact with members of the Brazilian black movement and black women’s movement in 1994 and 1995 prompted me to examine how processes of racial identity formation operate on the individual level. Although much of the scholarship on race in Brazil has tended to focus on the pervasiveness of the color continuum, and thus in many ways deny the salience of racial categories (Pierson 1942; Twine 1998), my interaction with Afro-Brazilians who identified as negro/negra suggested that more complicated processes of racial identification were at work in Brazil. My curiosity about practices of racial and gender identity formation on...

  9. PART THREE Activism and Resistance

    • 5 “What Citizenship Is This?”: Narratives of Marginality and Struggle
      (pp. 133-149)

      Maria Ilma Ricardo’s and Valdete da Silva Cordeiro’s life experiences and social activism exemplify the multiple levels on which poor black women struggle for full citizenship in Brazil. When I interviewed both women in the city of Belo Horizonte in 1997, they were in their fifties and had dedicated much of their lives to improving the status of poor women and children. At the time of our interview, Maria Ilma had worked in domestic service for over four decades and had been active in the local women’s movement, the black movement, and the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party, or PT)...

    • 6 The Black Womenʹs Movement: Politicizing and Reconstructing Collective Identities
      (pp. 150-176)

      The preceding statements by Afro-Brazilian poet Miriam Alves underscore the relationship among social identities, self-representations, and material inequalities. As a writer, Alves uses words and images in her struggle against gender and racial oppression. By refusing to occupy an objectified and subservient position within Brazilian society, Alves contests dominant discourses on gender and race and seeks to articulate new and liberatory forms of self-representation.

      Much like Alves, black Brazilian women from different social classes and political orientations have taken up the banner of self-representation through activism in the black women’s movement. Black women’s collective mobilization in recent decades has called...

  10. Epilogue: Re-envisioning Racial Essentialism and Identity Politics
    (pp. 177-182)

    Ethnographic exploration of Afro-Brazilian women’s processes of subject formation and forms of political practice highlights the disjuncture between recent scholarly conceptualizations of essentialism and my informants’ everyday experiences and practices. The preceding chapters challenge antiessentialist views of race and identity politics in at least two significant ways: first, by underscoring the psychological and political importance of valorizing self-identification as a mulher negra in a national context where whiteness and racial hybridity are privileged and blackness is denigrated and, secondly, by highlighting the social and political significance of black women’s collective mobilization around issues of identity and self-representation.

    Recent developments in...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 183-196)
    (pp. 197-218)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 219-226)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-228)