Spring 2017 Lecture Series Presents: Brazilian Lessons on Lightness & Whiteness


Fri, 04/14/2017 - 13:00 to 14:00
In this talk, I bring together Brazil’s history and experience of miscegenation (race mixture), the complicated connections between race and socioeconomic class (such that money is said to “whiten”), and the separation made between cor (color) and raça (race) to argue for a distinction between “lightness” and “whiteness.” Drawing on everyday interactions collected across race and class lines, I show how people who live in Rio de Janeiro “read” the body for racial signs. The amount of whiteness a body displays is determined not only through observations of the phenotypical features associated with lightness, including skin color, hair texture, and facial features, but also through careful attention paid to cultural and linguistic practices, including the use (or avoidance) of nonstandard speech that is commonly described as slang (gíria). I suggest that analytically distinguishing phenotype from embodied practices and racial sensibilities allows us to better understand how whiteness retains its power, offers privilege, and upholds racial hierarchy, even as it remains embaixo do pano (under the tablecloth).
Jennifer Roth-Gordon is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and affiliated faculty in the Center for Latin American Studies and Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT). Her book, Race and the Brazilian Body: Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de Janeiro, has just been published by University of California Press (January 2017).

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