Excerpt from Emergent Quilombos: Black Life and Hip-Hop in Brazil by Bryce Henson

Read an excerpt from Emergent Quilombos

Known as Black Rome, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, is a predominantly Black city. The local art, food, and dance are closely linked to the population’s African roots. Yet many Black Brazilian residents are politically and economically disenfranchised. In his new book Emergent Quilombos: Black Life and Hip-Hop in Brazil, Bryce Henson details a culture of resistance and activism that has emerged in response, expressed through hip-hop and the social relations surrounding it.

Based on years of ethnographic research, Henson illuminates how Black hip-hop artists and their circles in contest structures of anti-Black racism by creating safe havens and alternative social, cultural, and political systems that serve Black people. Read an abbreviated excerpt from the introduction of the book below, and get your copy of Emergent Quilombos; it officially publishes this month!

Praise for Emergent Quilombos

Emergent Quilombos is a rich and provocative book that introduces the reader to the world of Bahian hip-hop and its cultural and political significance. In this moment in Brazilian history, Henson’s work is an incredible contribution to the literature on the politics of Blackness in Brazil.

Christen A. Smith, University of Texas at Austin, author of Afro-Paradise: Blackness, Violence, and Performance in Brazil

Bryce Henson has produced a historically grounded, theoretically sophisticated, and eminently readable account of Bahian hip-hop. With lyrical prose that reads like a love letter to the diaspora, Henson’s imagining of Bahian hip-hop as “emergent quilombo,” or maroon community, provides readers with soul-filling ways to reimagine Blackness outside of staid paradigms of inclusion and exclusion.

Ralina L. Joseph, University of Washington, author of Postracial Resistance: Black Women, Media, and the Uses of Strategic Ambiguity

Abbreviated excerpt from Emergent Quilombos


July 25, 2014: Thousands of Black youths descend on Salvador da Bahia’s historic center, Pelourinho, for a special night. As part of the Panorama Percussivo Mundial (Global Percussion Panorama, or PercPan), Racionais MC’s lead rapper, Mano Brown, is performing, for free no less, at the Praça de Cruz Caída (Fallen Cross Plaza). Even though Brown’s mother is from Bahia, opportunities to see Brazil’s most well-known MC are a special occasion in this Brazilian city nestled in the Northeast region. This is a chance to see a living legend, a Black man whose voice has conjured and amplified the struggles, experiences, hopes, and dreams of millions of Black youths in Brazil’s peripheral communities. Brazilians do not show up early for anything! But tonight, they do. No one wants to miss even a second of Brown performing. Everyone comes correct. All the youths dress up for the occasion, pulling out their best hip-hop gear to wear on the deck that overlooks cidade baixa (the lower city). In the sea of Black bodies of various brown hues, women wear short shorts, denim skirts, tights, tank tops that show of their midriffs, and high-top shoes or Chuck Taylors. They came to impress. Men are wearing NBA jerseys that droop to the mid-thigh, baggy T-shirts, and denim shorts. They know they look fly. The range of Black hairstyles is wide and beautiful: fades, dreadlocks, Afros, cornrows, twists, and curls. And let’s not forget the New Era baseball hats worn by women and men alike: New York Yankees, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, and Miami Heat. The people look good.

The air is a mix of sweet and savory. Cologne and perfume circulate within the convivial crowd. Gotta smell good. Whiffs of lager beer, cravinho, and Coca-Cola emanate from small plastic cups. Gotta feel good. Salt from bodily sweat and the seawater underneath the deck meld together. The sound of excitement is in heavy rotation. A chorus of periferia slang rings loud and poetic. Waves of Black youths are still arriving on buses from the Comércio or Praça da Sé stations nearby. They casually talk with their friends, acquaintances, coworkers, lovers, and romantic interests. Youths trade their best freestyle rhymes with their coperformers on the streets. There’s a special energy in the air. Everyone can feel it.

On the large stage, the lights go of, silence hits, and the DJ initiates the transition to the show. The music blares. The bass booms. Everyone knows what time it is. Brown is about to emerge on stage and finally perform. Collectively, eyes get bigger; anticipation rises; stomachs get tighter. Brown walks out wearing sunglasses, denim jeans, a gray blazer, a gray shirt, and a gray tie. He is clearly in charge of this operation. The excitement explodes. Like a sacred chant, thousands of people say “poooooooooorra” (holy shit!). Yells, chants, and screams raise the decibel meter higher and higher. All eyes are fixed on the stage. Everyone rushes over, getting close to the beloved MC who, for decades, has rapped about racial, social, and spatial exclusion—which is also the vantage point of his audience. Brown performs mostly his solo music on his not-yet-released album Boogie Naipe, a tribute to the bailes black (Black parties) of the 1970s and 1980s that combine soul, disco, and boogie. Anyone who goes to a concert also wants to hear an artist or group play their classic cuts. Brown knows this, rapping through his discography from Racionais MC’s 1997 album Sobrevivendo no Inferno (Surviving in hell) to the present. Nothing—and I mean nothing—is more deafening than when he performs “Negro Drama” (Black drama) from Racionais MC’s 2001 album Nada como um dias após o outro dia volumes 1 and 2 (Nothing like a day after the other day). You would think this is the Black Brazilian national anthem. And you know what? It just might be. Brown raps about life as a Black man in São Paulo’s periphery that includes crime, football, music, single Black mothers with their “vagabond” children, Tupac Shakur influences, the stench, the unfair life chances given to poor and working-class Black people, and racist institutions like schooling. He rhymes about the allure of whiskey and Red Bull drinks, Nike shoes, guns, and fancy cars in the all-too-familiar concrete jungle. At the end, Brown asserts his humanity as a Black man from the gueto (ghetto). Everyone in the crowd is rapping along, verse for verse, word for word, beat for beat. There’s no delay. No forgetting. No trying to remember. They know it by heart. They feel it in their soul. The song rests in their bellies. The lyrics flow effortlessly from their gut to their lips. He is them. And they are him. Black drama is a collective experience.

This scene highlights the importance of hip-hop in Salvador da Bahia, frequently referred to as Brazil’s most African city. Hip-hop cultures like rap music are vessels that amplify Black Bahians’ communal practices and resistance to their racialized oppression. For these Black youths, African-derived cultures are political, providing Black people with an ideological weapon of social critique, a basis for alternative systems, and a model of belonging that is both diasporic and antithetical to the nation-state’s normative regimes. Hip-hop challenges the Brazilian mythology that a mythical and timeless African past feeds seamlessly into a racially harmonious and mixed-race Brazilian present. Hip-hop in Bahia also opposes the idea that Salvador is a harbor of pure Africanisms and a racial paradise where Black people embrace their ethnic background without prejudice. Instead, marginalized Black urban youths breathe new life into African-derived cultures through modern forms, like hip-hop, to connect them to other Black populations in the African Diaspora that are similarly socially and politically disenfranchised in their respective national locations. They portray Salvador specifically and Brazil more generally as anything but a Black utopia. And these youths use hip-hop to construct Black life as a radical ensemble of alternative lifeways and political possibilities in the midst of deeply entrenched national structures of anti-Black racism, sexism, and class exploitation.

In this book I argue for a simple yet critical claim: the Bahian hiphop movement nourishes, maintains, and retools the quilombo (maroon community) blueprint to assert Black life and diasporic cultures in and against contemporary Brazil. Just as enslaved people formed historical quilombos under enslavement, Bahian hip-hop creates Black political and cultural spaces of refuge and communal creation to develop and protect the collective. In these radical practices of possibility, Black people have been able to cultivate Black life in the midst of political death (Moten, 2018; Weheliye, 2014). Throughout Brazilian history, Black people have re-created the quilombo model, occupying diferent spaces, configurations, names, and cultures. The quilombo baton has circulated through Candomblé territories, Black parties, samba schools, periphery communities of mostly poor and working-class Black people, and urban cultural centers. Today, Bahian hip-hop carries that baton.

Emergent Quilombos

Without a doubt, quilombos are a part of the Black radical tradition, places where Black people have sought liberation on their own terms (Robinson, 2021). The Black radical tradition does not seek to eradicate racism through inclusion into the very apparatus that oppresses them: the modern world, the nation-state, and a Eurocentric consciousness. Instead, it pursues alternatives. As the conceptual engine that drives this book, quilombos are local, living, emergent, and creative processes and practices (B. Nascimento, 2018f). By emergent, I mean that people wrest new meanings, values, practices, ideologies, positions, geographies, politics, aesthetics, and relationships from past experiences, aspirations, human configurations, achievements, societies, cosmologies, rituals, and expressions that the dominant sociocultural group neglects, stigmatizes, represses, or simply cannot fathom (R. Williams, 1978). Whether in 1605 or 2023, Black people create quilombos, manifesting spaces of rest, refuge, creation, and communion through a culture of reimagination, reinvention, and reconnection. Quilombos are neither simply a relic of the past nor a scholarly term of inquiry. They are always active practices, constructed from historical elements and retooled to intervene and disrupt a given conjuncture, whether that is against the anti-Black colony or now the anti-Black nation.

Black people have continued to dig into the crates of the past and pull out necessary and relevant social, cultural, and political elements to construct quilombos as radical Black spaces and systems. Quilombos are never static. They are malleable, fluid, and disruptive, building off the past, intervening in the present, and setting forth alternative directions for a liberatory future. In emergent quilombos, Black people continue to develop alternative social, cultural, and political systems that center their humanity, communities, and spaces. In Salvador, many of them are doing it with hip-hop, combining its four elements—rapping, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti murals—with social justice, forming what they conceive of as the Bahian hip-hop movement. The Bahian hip-hop movement is an emergent quilombo that puts into praxis a choreography of ideologies, cultural politics, and social practices that organizes the Black masses into a diferent set of relationships to themselves, to each other, to space, to aesthetics, to Black people around the globe, to politics, and even to the very idea of the human. Most importantly, the Bahian hip-hop movement produces an alternative Blackness that rests neither on resistance to anti-Black violence solely nor on nationally acceptable forms of Blackness that do not disturb the racialized and gendered human hierarchy.

The Bahian hip-hop movement produces this emerging quilombo through media and popular culture—that dirty and vulgar terrain of the common folk, the lower classes, the mass-produced, and the widely liked (Storey, 2015). Artists like the rap group Quilombo Vivo explicitly identify the Bahian hip-hop movement as a quilombo in the contemporary era. It shows that the Black radical tradition is not distant and elusive but rather near, present, and accessible, ready to be mobilized at a moment’s notice. For Black people around the diaspora, media and popular culture can be and often are intense sites of political mobilization, thought, and action (Iton, 2008). Black media and popular culture, hip-hop included, are no less innovative, political, and important than other Black cultural expressive forms that Black people around the diaspora have elevated to high culture.

Understanding the Bahian hip-hop movement as an emergent quilombo requires some brief historical context. First, there was the Imbangala group (also known as Jagas) in Angola and their institution called the kilombo, which literally translates to “war encampment” (B. Nascimento, 2021). As the first enslaved Africans arrived in Brazil in the first half of the sixteenth century (E. Carneiro, 1980), the kilombo almost instantaneously reemerged and transformed against Brazilian colonialism. Black people refused slavery as a social condition and a way of life (Moura, 1981), escaping the plantation and fleeing for the hillsides to secure their freedom and construct their own societies. In hard-to-reach places, Black people created quilombos, based on the kilombo model (B. Nascimento, 2021). They sought to strongly and boldly claim their emancipation, and with it their dignity (Mintz and Price, 1992). These fugitives mobilized the cosmological elements they brought with them from Africa, using them to construct a diferent social world and alternative systems outside of Brazilian colonialism and plantocratic society. Black people blended practices from various African national origins to rupture the very foundations of colonialism and its power structures of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, capitalistic exploitation, and heteropatriarchy. In quilombos, Black people politically emerged as a unified African people, rather than people from disparate nations, in their fight for freedom from enslavement (Robinson, 2021, p. 169). Transforming within and transformed by the social conditions of Brazilian colonialism and plantocratic society, the quilombo blossomed into a social, cultural, and political system that provided rest and a coordinated efort to undermine coloniality (Gomes and Reis, 2016). Certainly, quilombos were historically important social spaces and cultural creations. They were also extremely political. For example, quilombos like Palmares operated as a state, exercising political sovereignty and negotiating with Brazilian colonial administrations.

Over time, the quilombo became an ideal, a practice, and a system by which Black people re-created a sense of African community, belonging, and culture (J. J. Reis and Gomes, 2016). These restorations are never exact duplicates of the original (Mintz and Price, 1992), nor are they based just on heritage. They are built on the African-based symbolic, cosmological, psychic, ideological, and material pieces Black people have had at their disposal. Black people modified quilombos over time, often through contact with Africans from other nations or Indigenous groups, and in response to the social conditions constructed by colonialism and slavery in the Brazilian environment.

The transformation of the kilombo in Africa into the quilombo in Brazil exemplifies maroon malleability. Over time, Black people continue to modify the quilombo; diferent times, environments, and needs engender novel configurations that tend to their social, cultural, and political exigencies. No one has theorized more beautifully and poetically about quilombo liquidity than Black Brazilian feminist Beatriz Nascimento. Regardless of era, for her, quilombos are assemblies of Black people who are not accepted by society, whose Black cultures are stigmatized, and who are under attack by white society and its military forces (B. Nascimento, 2018b). Then and now, a quilombola (maroon inhabitant) is one who chooses liberation on their terms, yet is shunned, repressed, stigmatized, and even criminalized by those in the Brazilian community, Black and non-Black people alike. Quilombos are a practice of encampment and resistance against racialized poverty, the derision of Black aesthetics, urban segregation, and the erasure of Black history (C. Smith, 2016c). Quilombos are necessary because they are “alternative social systems organized by Black people—from the quilombos or the favelas” (B. Nascimento, 2005, p. 109). And every quilombo is a “transmigration, escape, and refuge” (C. Smith, 2016c, p. 81) from the sufocating weight of anti-Black racism, sexism, and class exploitation, whether caused by the unbearable conditions of slavery or ongoing state-sanctioned and socially enacted anti-Black violence. Quilombos are Black assemblies, cultural geographies, and political actions that emerge when Black people refuse the racialized exclusions of Brazil, fleeing to spaces where they can freely congregate, produce communal safe havens, and love and embrace a Blackness that Brazil can never and will never embrace.

Emerging quilombos like the Bahian hip-hop movement trace the political possibilities of Black social life and diasporic cultural formation after fugitivity. Quilombos are composed of fugitives fleeing slavery as a condition and a way of life. In Black studies, fugitivity is an important conceptual tool and mode of praxis to describe Black life amid political death (Gumbs, 2016b; Harney and Moten, 2013; Sojoyner, 2017). By fugitivity, I mean a set of unruly Black people’s criminalized politics and practices that refuse captivity, escape from spaces of confinement, and flee into the unknown abyss. For good reason, Fred Moten refers to fugitivity as “stolen life” (2018) because Black people have had to steal back their bodies to secure their liberation. Quilombos illustrate what occurs after refusal, escape, and flight. They give us the blueprint, literally a whole history, of how we create new worlds from the past for the present and the future.

A quilombo contains its own epistemologies, a belief system, or what some theorists call quilombismo, a source of energy articulated through dynamic collectivization and expressed through ways of life, cultural expression, and political thought (A. Nascimento, 1980). It is also a verb, aquilombar-se, an action that creates autonomous gatherings through Black customs and cultures that struggle against the multilayered and interlocking forces of violent Black subjugation (B. O. Souza, 2008). Quilombos are not just an ideology and a verb; they are also a state, a condition, and a practice: aquilombamento. As Joselicio Junior (2019) writes, “the aquilombamento was a concrete experience that demonstrated, in practice, that it was possible to construct another more humane, more just, and more environmentally viable society.” Quilombos are “anti-colonial” organizations that disrupt the hegemony of coloniality, enslavement, and the modern world (Silva de Oliveria et al., 2021; Bispo dos Santos, 2015, 2020). The quilombo is not just a historical fact; it is an ongoing march toward more capacious conceptions of humanity, freedom, and a just world.

As an emergent quilombo, the Bahian hip-hop movement continues to build on this legacy of Black political and cultural resistance. Black hip-hop artists, activists, and intellectuals now create their own quilombo in the Bahian hip-hop movement, building new institutions, cultures, geographies, and social relations based on carefully curated African origins and diasporic connections. Quilombos are mechanisms of reorganization assembled through social unity and egalitarianism that stand in opposition to the dominant racial order that has written out Black people’s role in pursuing freedom on their own terms and beyond simple abolition (B. Nascimento, 2018g, 2018b). The quilombo, then, is a political action of assembly, even if ephemeral: a collective created by Black people where they can take refuge, reunite, recharge, and relate in ways that are unfathomable in Brazil.

The Terrain of Blackness(es)

Besides quilombo, two other important terms appear throughout this book: Blackness and diaspora. To discuss Blackness, we must start with race. Race is a slippery term that is too often subsumed under other terms like culture, nation, class, biology, genetics, ethnicity, and other social categories of classification and ordering. Race is not an ethnic or biological category; it is a political category disguised as a biological category that is instrumental to creating human hierarchies (Roberts, 2012). Politically, race informs and shapes who is human, almost human, and nonhuman/subhuman (Weheliye, 2014). Race is central to human hierarchies that privilege whiteness and degrade Blackness (as well as Indigeneity). At the same time, race is never a given and static category. It is a social construction filled with specific and even contradictory meanings across a variety of representations and everyday scenarios. Even though it is socially constructed, race is material; it is a formation that sits between social structure and cultural representation (Omi and Winant, 2014). And race changes—both in meaning and as a political category—because it must adapt to diferent “racial projects” (Omi and Winant, 2014) that distribute social, economic, and political resources to various groups at diferent times and in varying spaces.

When people talk about race, they often mean Black people and Blackness. Yet they frequently convey it in uncertain terms. Blackness is polysemic: people assign it multiple and contradictory meanings. In Brazil, as elsewhere around the globe, Blackness is plural, fissuring those who belong and those who do not. Regardless of location, people contest what Blackness means, where it stands, and to whom it belongs. Instead of one Blackness, there are multiple Blacknesses that symbolize, represent, and are enacted differently according to context and people. Among Black people, Blackness has its own “non-synchrony” (McCarthy, 1998); Black racial difference carries varying meanings that groups wield to express divergent and competing interests, needs, and desires, cutting across class, gender, sexuality, and geography.

As an emergent quilombo, the Bahian hip-hop movement exposes the multiple Blacknesses in Brazil. It is an alternative to the prevailing three types of Blackness that occupy the Brazilian imaginary: abject Blackness, folkloric Blackness, and mixed Blackness. These Blacknesses are in some ways unique to Brazil; they are also quite like Blackness(es) around the diaspora and on the continent. Abject Blackness is social death, derision, repression, incommunicability, accumulation, and fungibility (O. Patterson, 1982; Wilderson, 2003, 2010).1 It dates back to the earliest days of enslavement, justifying the commodification and dehumanization of Black people as chattel property. This abject Blackness continues today through “anti-Black solidarity” between whites, non-Black people of color, and even some Black people (Sexton, 2008, 2010; Wilderson, 2010). Anti-Black solidarity is also gendered, displacing Black people from hegemonic constructions of “masculine” and “feminine,” whether on the plantation (Burdick, 1998; Davis, 1998; O. Pinho, 2008) or in modern society (Bailey, 2021; Bey, 2019; Gonzalez, 2021; Spillers, 1987). While no doubt atrocious in its production and consequences, abject Blackness is useful for understanding how a Eurocentric white conceptual map negates Blackness over and over again, while overrepresenting Western, white, propertied “Man” as the human (Weheliye, 2014; Wynter, 2003), as if no other possibilities already exist. Abject Blackness establishes the boundaries of modern belonging at the same time it is constantly constructing who is nonhuman. Often, but not always, some Black people have sought to escape the social stigma under the sign of abject Blackness, fleeing toward colonial/modern ideologies, consciousness, and structures, seeking to be seen as individually exceptional, an exception to the rule of abject Blackness. Yet we do not want to reduce Blackness simply to the abject, a condition of despair, misery, poverty, stigma, and injury, or what Fanon calls the “veritable hell” in the “zone of nonbeing” (2008, p. xii).

For well over a century, numerous nations in the Americas with atrocious histories of slavery have sought to portray themselves as multicultural communities that are now tolerant and inclusive. They wish to demonstrate that they have moved on from their production and maintenance of abject Blackness and its manifestations through racial prejudice, violence, and exploitation.2 This began with various treaties to end the transatlantic slave trade and moved to abolition and later to celebrating multicultural inclusion. Nations have tried to show this progress by including some ethnic diference that diverges from the dominant group(s). However, the acceptance of ethnic diference is permissible only if it promotes acculturation to a Eurocentric consciousness. Accepting ethnic diference is not the same as accepting racial diference.3 In Brazil, a national narrative, known as the racial democracy mythology, includes Black ethnic symbols and romanticizes colonial-modern mestiçagem, or racial mixing.4 It contends that everyone in Brazil is racially mixed, is somewhat ethnically African, and holds no cultural prejudice; thus there is no racism in Brazil. This mythology privileges what I refer to as mixed Blackness throughout the book. Mixed Blackness is the ideology that Blackness can be included in the Brazilian nation so long as it is biologically diluted and culturally hybrid. However, Blackness, especially a social and political Blackness, cannot be its own entity and exist within the nation, as that would suggest there is a racialized experience and reality outside of the Brazilian consciousness.

Biologically, mixed Blackness centers on the mulata, the interracial product of the white slave owner and the nonconsenting enslaved African woman. Hegemonic groups, institutions, and public discourse ofer her up as proof of Brazil as a racial democracy. The mulata is praised for combining the desirable attributes of African women (hypersexuality, voluptuous bodies, and passionate nature) with features such as curly hair, lighter skin tone, slimmer waists, narrow noses, and smaller lips that position her closer to white womanhood and away from the supposed ugliness of abject Blackness. Today, she is packaged as a national product, ready to be culturally and sexually consumed by Brazilians and those abroad. Culturally, mixed Blackness elevates certain Afro-Brazilian cultures to national symbols available for the use, production, and consumption of all Brazilians, most notably samba, capoeira, and feijoada. Yet mixed Blackness reduces Black cultural contributions to Brazilian civilization to folkloric elements and cultural expressions. These contributions are valuable only because the white senhor, whether he be the Portuguese colonizer or the Brazilian creole, selected and modified them to be part of the national fabric.

In Brazil, Black people fought to signify Blackness as something other than abject while refusing the notion that Blackness is valuable only when it is hybridized. This was especially true in 1970s Brazil, notably in Salvador da Bahia and the surrounding Reconcâvo region, resulting in what I deem a folkloric Blackness, or a Blackness associated with an African cultural purity that is timeless and homogenous. For centuries, the state heavily repressed, outlawed, and even violently policed African cultural practices like Candomblé (an Afro-Brazilian religion). People, places, and things associated with Africa were officially and generally viewed as ugly, inferior, and morally depraved. In the 1970s, during the “reafricanization” (Paschel, 2009; O. Pinho, 2005), Black Brazilians touted African styles, aesthetics, cultures, and belief systems as beautiful and positive. Black people created Afroblocs (Black organizations and cultural spaces that uplift the Black community) like Ilê Aiyê and Olodum. These were critical and valuable forms of resistance that upended how Blackness was understood, enacted, and positioned in Brazil. However, forms of resistance are susceptible to incorporation (Hall, 1981). Since the 1970s, the state, nonprofit organizations, the tourism industry, and cultural agencies have neutralized reafricanization cultures, hollowing out their political impetus and emphasis on systemic racism. The cultures remain, but the political exigency behind them—exerting pressure on the nation-state for its gendered anti-Blackness—has diminished. Today, this African cultural purity easily slips into ideas of Blackness as a set of essences, tendencies, and appearances (P. Pinho, 2010). Folkloric Blackness homogenizes Black people as Africans with a timeless and static culture, with a presocial identity and culture. Black people must return to their roots and recuperate their lost selves. It is as if Africa, with all fiftyfour of its nation-states, has stood still in the winds of time for the last five hundred years.

The mixed Blackness camp and the folkloric Blackness camp have come to an agreement of sorts: folkloric Blackness can be included as ethnically diferent from Brazilian identity and culture as long as the elements of its African culture, ancestry, and heritage funnel into mixed Blackness. Abject Blackness remains tethered to the popular cultures and social practices of the Black masses that deviate from both mixed and folkloric Blackness. This also reifies Brazil as a great racial democracy, a mixed-race nation without racism that now also includes ethnically diferentiated peoples. Bahia is notorious for celebrating, even though it is contradictory, African cultural purity, interracial mixture, and intercultural syncretism (Paschel, 2009). It serves as a model of harmonious race relations that supplies Brazil with an ideological cover against accusations of racism. Moreover, people, agencies, and institutions use folkloric and mixed Blackness to hide ethnic and class conflicts (Armstrong, 2001). For them, racism is a matter of individual prejudice rather than a structural vulnerability that produces the premature death of differentiated peoples without political uproar (Ferreira da Silva, 2001; Gilmore, 2007).

Emergent quilombos like the Bahian hip-hop movement generate another option beyond abject Blackness, mixed Blackness, and folkloric Blackness: a diasporic Blackness that establishes a Black refuge and opposes the nation as an “imagined community” (Anderson, 2006) as well as anti-Black racism, sexism, and class exploitation. The Bahian hip-hop movement is diasporic in that it weaves together US Black popular culture, African ancestrality, négritude, and other Black forms of cultural and political resistance from around the globe. A diasporic Blackness challenges the limited forms of Blackness, in this case folkloric and mixed Blacknesses, that the nation will permit only because they fortify romantic national narratives and do not upset Black people’s structural positions across various economies. A diasporic Blackness is not just a condition grounded in racial and gender hierarchies but also a set of processes within a matrix of movement, migration, political struggle, cultural production, and intellectual thought (T. R. Patterson and Kelley, 2000, p. 20). It is in movement, always in flight, and always reconfiguring. In diasporas, scattered people forge relations with the homeland, the hostland, and other diasporic groups that are built upon memories of exile and longing for (re)connection (K. Butler, 2001).

The Bahian hip-hop movement, as an emergent quilombo, uses the diaspora to queer the nation’s bourgeois logics of gender and sexuality that produce the family as the atomized unit of the nation-state (Gopinath, 2005). My use of queer does not mean simply a set of sexual identifications, desires, and practices, but rather a praxis that upends specific structures of heteronormativity that are tied to racialized morality (Ferguson, 2014; Somerville, 2014). Queer actions do not have to be undertaken by nonheterosexual people; heterosexual people can also queer regimes of normativity (Cohen, 1997). Emergent quilombos bring forth a queer diasporic Blackness that disrupts the machinations of violence within the normative order; they aford Black people connections, spaces, and refuge to love one another in ways that were supposed to have been eradicated and resist coloniality’s insatiable thirst for Black social death (Tinsley, 2008).

Diasporic Blackness pursues three objectives that interrupt the Brazilian terrain of Blackness. First, diasporic Blackness challenges the nation as the primary site of identity, subjectivity, and belonging. The nation is an “imagined community” (B. Anderson, 2006) that ideologically and culturally unites disparate people into a political bloc as citizens with particular rights and values as humans. Yet citizenship is granted for locally somatic white men who establish and maintain the social contract of society and government (Mills, 1997). Those who are able to socially, culturally, and politically belong to the nation, claiming full citizenship, do so by demonstrating their supposed racial and cultural superiority over abject Blackness. Diasporic Blackness points to other imagined communities beyond the nation and white citizenship. Second, it refuses mixed and folkloric Blacknesses because each furnishes ideological covers for the Brazilian nation-state’s antiBlack ideologies, representations, and systems that structurally push Black people to the figurative and literal margins of society. Mixed and folkloric Blacknesses reduce race to culture, heritage, and biology, negating it as a political category and perceiving racism as a matter of individual prejudice rather than a structure of sufering. Finally, diasporic Blackness chooses, embraces, and loves the excluded forms of Blackness that are reduced to an abject zone. It does not reify abject Blackness. Instead, diasporic Blackness sees abject Blackness as a radical site of possibility and transformation by attempting to claim other meanings for those marked as nonnormative, noncitizen, and nonhuman without redeeming them through the nation. Within emerging quilombos, a diasporic Blackness forges solidarity with other Black populations who are similarly marginalized and looking for other ways of being and belonging that do not rely upon the anti-Black nation-state and the limited scripts of Blackness it will permit.

Bryce Henson is an assistant professor of media, culture, and identity in the Department of Communication and Journalism and associate faculty in the Africana Studies Program at Texas A&M University.