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Afrii Diaspora Dialogue
  • Race Classification in Brazil

    Race Classification in Brazil

    The painting depicts a black grandmother, mulatta mother, white father and their quadroon child, hence three generations of hypergamy through racial whitening.

    Whiteness in Brazil is often defined at the intersection between race and class. In Brazil, one’s racial classification is not only dependent on skin color but is also influenced by the perception of self and the perception from others. Compared to the United States, race in Brazil is not often defined based on the biological make-up of a person. As described by Omni and Winant, racial formation is “the process by which social, economic and political forces determine the content and importance of racial categories, and by which they are in turn shaped by racial meanings”. This suggests that race is defined by social forces and the individual. In Brazil it has been said that race exists on a spectrum and can change based on a number of factors such as social class and educational attainment.

    Class and education have an influence on the perceived whiteness of an individual. The Brazilian class system is heavily influenced from the history of slavery and colonization. This puts people who identify as white at the top of class system and those who identify as black at the bottom of the class system. Upward mobility is possible in Brazil, but very rare. An aspect that influences the upward mobility of individuals is education. According to Telles, greater education leads to greater whitening. This suggests that one who achieves higher education can be perceived as whiter. Nonetheless, North American anthropologist John F. Collins has suggested that ideologies of whitening have declined markedly, at least in the northeastern state of Bahia. According to Collins, one novel aspect of this shift is not simply a supposedly novel, recent, emphasis on blackness over whitening among many Bahians, but the invocation and generalization by the end of the 20th Century of specific forms of explicitly genealogical imagination that support racial or ethnic identity.

    A study was done by Chinyere K Osuji on racial boundary policing of Black-White couples in Brazil. Her study shows how race and class are intertwined in order to produce inequality among Brazilians in interracial marriages. Though the idea that interracial marriages in Brazil are used for racial whitening has disappeared since the early 1900’s, many interracial couples still feel as though their partnerships are being stigmatized by outsiders. Ethno-racial boundaries continue to divide people of different racial phenotypes as a way of creating distinctions and keeping order in multi-racial societies such as Brazil. Black women are often hypersexualized, and black men are looked down upon for having married a white woman. Whiter Brazilians engage in oppressive othering by speaking or looking at others in ways that make them feel inferior.




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