Drawing on more than one hundred interviews and observations within ten core families, this study of intimate relationships as sites of racial socialization reveals a new facet of race-based differential treatment and its origins—and the mechanisms that perpetuate these strata across generations.
Series: Louann Atkins Temple Women and Culture Endowment, Book Forty
The Color Of Love reveals the power of racial hierarchies to infiltrate our most intimate relationships. Delving far deeper than previous sociologists have into the black Brazilian experience, Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman examines the relationship between racialization and the emotional life of a family. Based on interviews and a sixteen-month ethnography of ten working-class Brazilian families, this provocative work sheds light on how families simultaneously resist and reproduce racial hierarchies. Examining race and gender, Hordge-Freeman illustrates the privileges of whiteness by revealing how those with “blacker” features often experience material and emotional hardships. From parental ties, to sibling interactions, to extended family and romantic relationships, the chapters chart new territory by revealing the connection between proximity to whiteness and the distribution of affection within families.
Hordge-Freeman also explores how black Brazilian families, particularly mothers, rely on diverse strategies that reproduce, negotiate, and resist racism. She frames efforts to modify racial features as sometimes reflecting internalized racism, and at other times as responding to material and emotional considerations. Contextualizing their strategies within broader narratives of the African diaspora, she examines how Salvador’s inhabitants perceive the history of the slave trade itself in a city that is referred to as the “blackest” in Brazil. She argues that racial hierarchies may orchestrate family relationships in ways that reflect and reproduce racial inequality, but black Brazilian families actively negotiate these hierarchies to assert their citizenship and humanity.
2016 American Sociology Association Sociology of Emotions Section Recent Contributions (Book) Award First Non-Fiction Wheatley Book Award, Honorable Mention, 2016 Harlem Book Fair2017 Society for Study of Symbolic Interaction (SSSI) Charles Horton Cooley Award for Recent Book
- Introduction. The Face of a Slave
- Part I. Socialization and Stigma
- Chapter 1. What's Love Got to Do with It? Racial Stigma and Embodied Capital
- Chapter 2. Black Bodies, White Casts: Racializing and Gendering Bodies
- Chapter 3. Home Is Where the Hurt Is: Affective Capital, Stigma, and Racialization
- Part II. Racial Socialization and Negotiations in Public Culture
- Chapter 4. Racial Fluency: Reading between and beyond the Color Lines
- Chapter 5. Mind Your Blackness: Embodied Capital and Spatial Mobility
- Chapter 6. Antiracism in Transgressive Families
- Conclusion. The Ties That Bind
- Appendix A: Research Methods and Positionality
- Appendix B: Major Interview Topics
The Face of a Slave
Aw, yes! In a family, people are happy to have children. They have the dark one first, . . . but when the white one comes everything changes! The white one is treated really well and the dark one is forgotten. The black one is punished because it is said to have the “face of a slave.”
Ana, a dark-skinned black woman, a college student at the Federal University of Bahia in Salvador, Brazil, leaned in toward me and whispered the above statement as we chatted in a small classroom about my proposed research. Provocative and persuasive, her comments echoed my sense that racial hierarchies infiltrate Afro-Brazilian families in ways that might affect how people feel about and treat their children. In this powerful and compelling assertion, she challenged the notion of the Brazilian “racial democracy,” the idea that in Brazil social relations reflect racial egalitarianism. She did so by highlighting how racial features—or, rather, the internalization of hierarchies that privilege whiteness—could be the basis on which love and affection is granted or denied in families.
I had always been intrigued by the ambiguity of the “tender and tense ties” of family and the possibility that the sacred institution could leave family members without sanctuary.1 Ana’s comments validated my interest in shifting the gaze on the politics of love and race in families from romantic or conjugal partnerships toward other close family relationships. Whereas the family has been conceptualized as an “intimate site of implementation” of dominant social hierarchies, rarely are nonsexual relationships considered important elements of these intimate sites.2 To me it seemed plausible, even inevitable, that the racial politics and phenotypic hierarchies that affect romantic relationships could influence love in parental, sibling, and extended family relationships as well. By revealing the emotional dimensions of race and emphasizing differential treatment, Ana’s comment was an inkling that I might be able to trace how language, emotion, and interactions in families contribute to racialization, the process by which racial meaning is attached to people’s bodies.
Our brief conversation took place in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, a city that for several decades has been praised for its strong African presence and recognized with prestigious monikers such as Black Rome.3 Bahia is located in the Northeast Region of Brazil, considered the most racially diverse region in the country. Instead of idealizing the racial mixture in Bahia, Ana’s comments substantiate researchers’ admonitions that “interracial unions and multiracial children are no panacea for enduring problems of stratification.”4 Understanding how one’s placement into racial categories is influenced by racial appearance (phenotype) and affects life chances takes on particular importance in light of the 2010 Brazilian Census, which reveals that whites are no longer the numerical majority in Brazil. According to that census, the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística estimates the population is 48 percent white, 43 percent brown/ mixed-race, 8 percent black, 1 percent yellow, and 0.5 percent indigenous.5 Those who might view these statistics as a turn in the racial tide have to reconcile these demographic shifts with sobering statistics that place blacks and browns at the bottom end of every major social indicator in Brazil, including literacy, completion of high school, employment, income, health, and wealth.6 Contrary to the hope expressed in many countries, such as the United States, that increasing racial mixture will eliminate racism, examples from Brazil suggest that mechanisms of racial domination, including racialization processes, shift rather than disappear with greater racial mixture.
Because of Brazil’s particular history, race is determined more on the basis of phenotype (physical appearance) than ancestry. High levels of racial mixture in Brazil mean that phenotype varies tremendously throughout the country and even within families. Therefore, although 95 percent of Brazilians are officially classified in one of five racial categories—indigenous (indígena), white (branco), black (preto), brown (pardo), or yellow (amarelo)—there are over one hundred terms that Brazilians may employ when asked to describe their color (cor), reflecting the range and significance of phenotypic variation in Brazilian society.7 For example, the term sarará describes a person with pale or light skin color, African facial features, and afro-textured hair that is very light in color. Galego describes a person whose racialized features suggest they are of European descent (Galícia): they have pale or very light skin, blond hair, and very light, often blue or green eyes. Cabo verde describes a person who has a dark skin color and African facial features, with the defining feature of naturally straight, dark hair and green eyes. Preto refers to a person whose hair texture, skin color, and facial features mark them as of unmixed African descent. Morena is the most ambiguous term in the race and phenotype lexicon, and it is frequently used. It can define almost any combination of facial features.8 Researchers have argued that these complex terms function as euphemisms representing “degrees of whiteness,” a construction used to perpetuate antiblack racism against individuals who physically and culturally approximate blackness.
It is complicated to analyze how both race and phenotype affect people’s lives, but it becomes clearer if we conceptualize these ideas as part of racialization processes, rather than think of them as simply labels. Racialization is the process by which meanings are assigned to physical and cultural traits, and it is “produced and reproduced through ideological, institutional, interactive, and linguistic practices that support a particular construction of Difference.”10 Racialization is important because the meanings that are created and assigned to different bodies sustain racialized social systems like that of Brazil, in which “economic, political, and social advantages are partially shaped by the placement of people in racial categories or races.”11 Thus Ana’s quote can be read not simply as an incident of intrafamilial discrimination, but also as a reflection of how racialization affects access to advantages—in this case emotional resources: support, love, and affection in one’s own home. The broader implication is that negros (those who are brown or black) do not contend only with considerable structural disadvantages. The racial disadvantages that they face in society may be reproduced in verbal interactions, affective exchanges, and differential treatment within their own families.
The Color of Love examines families as critical sites of race-making, racial contestation, and racial negotiation. It explores racial socialization as the process through which racial meanings and boundaries are transmitted and one gains capital and practical strategies necessary to confront life and manage one’s positions in society. This book benefits from decades of research that have addressed the role of families in combating racial inequality and discrimination. Building on this rich literature, I aim to extend studies of racial socialization by emphasizing how AfroBrazilian families engage in practices that simultaneously resist and reproduce racial inequality.
By studying families in which there is significant within-family racial and phenotypic variation, I analyze how individuals within the same family are positioned differently and are socialized with practices, language, and emotions that correspond to their positions in a racialized society. Moreover, I show that families foster the different interests of family members and engage in strategies to assist them in negotiating their future and outcomes on the basis of their appearance. For example, Lilza, a light-skinned, blue-eyed woman who identifies as parda (mixed-race) is sanctioned for not using her good looks to marry a white man. I provide examples of family members who may financially support their blacklooking family members, yet avoid interacting with them in public in order to preserve their perceived higher social and class status. This book is thus a departure from research on race and family that almost exclusively highlights how families are protective while neglecting their more intricate, even contradictory functions.
I also fundamentally challenge the dominant tendency to study racial socialization across rather than within families. Traditionally researchers have studied racial socialization in families by comparing families to one another on the basis of cultural, class, and racial differences. For example, Brazilian researchers tend to study racial socialization mainly within the context of interracial relationships in comparison to monoracial relationships. They focus primarily on the psychological dimensions, or they frame the structure of black families in a binary manner: organized versus disorganized.13 In the United States, where racial socialization has been studied more extensively than in any other region, families of color are typically compared to white families. Traditional conceptualizations of racial socialization tend to begin with the assumptions that people have race, that they belong to a family unit of that race, and that they receive socialization that shields them from discrimination and counteracts racism. To be sure, between-family comparisons yield interesting findings, but these contributions are limited because they implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) frame the white family as the ideal, conceive of race as a taken-for-granted status category rather than the product of a racialization processes, or insufficiently theorize intrafamilial differences.14 In this study, when I asked family members to report on the race of other family members, their response was uniformly, “I don’t know. I have never asked them.” This suggests the importance of analyzing race as a process rather than a status.
Challenging the popular myth that love can “supersede group differences and render them trivial,” this book adds a new dimension to research on race and intimacy by analyzing how in both romantic and familial relationships love and affection can be distributed in accordance to one’s race and racial features.15 In the Brazilian context, there is strong investment in the idea of amor só de mãe (a mother’s love), which idealizes the unconditional love and affection that women are supposed to have for their children.16 Destabilizing this idea, I argue that in a racialized society all resources, even love and affection, are symbolic and are unequally distributed, most often (though not always) in ways that benefit family members who most closely approximate whiteness.
I introduce the term affective capital to illustrate how differential experiences of love and affection contribute to and reinforce the social relations that sustain a racialized social system. This term refers to the emotional and psychological resources that a person gains from being positively evaluated and supported, and from receiving frequent and meaningful displays of affection. These companionate expressions of love, which significantly shape people’s lives, involve “facial expressions, vocal tone, body language, touch, physiological sensations, subjective experience, cognitive appraisal, and behavioral action tendencies.”17 The notion of capital is critical because positive emotions of joy, pride, and love can serve as “enduring personal resources . . . that build psychological resilience, rather than just reflect it.”18 That is, positive emotions generated from affirming social interactions within and outside families can generate personal resources linked to greater creativity, resilience, and emotional well-being.
In a racialized system, affective resources are unequally distributed, with more of these resources often going to phenotypically whiter family members, providing the basis on which they pursue ambitious projects, complete formal education, and are able to avoid the self-esteem issues that can severely hamper family members who are racialized differently. Specifically, I offer examples of how the distribution of affective resources functions among Afro-Brazilians, such as Elise and Dilson, who describe becoming introverted, reluctant to approach people, and hesitant about participating in group activities because they have been ridiculed on the basis of their racial appearance.
There is an important intellectual tradition on which to draw for theoretical grounding on differential treatment of members of the same family. Feminist scholars have revealed how socialization in families functions to reproduce gender inequality. Gender disparities that are reproduced by families “limit opportunities and lead to an inequitable distribution of social resources; the groundwork for those limitations and inequalities begins in childhood.”20 In the same way that notions of gender shape perceptions and emotions even before a child’s birth, so might ideas about race, with particular consequences based on gender. Parents often conceive of their children’s life chances and even direct the trajectory of their lives on the basis of gender.21 The same might be said of racialization processes, which have unique consequences based on gender and class distinctions. Likewise, the “patriarchal bargain,” a term describing how women engage in negotiations to accommodate patriarchy, might also be relevant to the negotiation of racialization processes.22 Mindful of the critiques of framing racial negotiations as bargains, I argue that Afro-Brazilians do engage in racial bargains, compromises that are often made ambivalently, in which Afro-Brazilians may comply with racial hierarchies in exchange for perceived payoffs that may be political, economic, psychological, or even affective.
Much like gender, which is an “accomplishment embedded in everyday interaction,” race should be conceived as the product of a process.23 To capture how the intersectionality of race and gender affect people’s lives, I focus mainly on how racial bargains differentially affect women and men. Given their vulnerable location in the “matrix of domination,” I heavily emphasize the role of Afro-Brazilian women and mothers in this process because they experience more pressure to manage the racial and gendered presentations of themselves and others, and they are more harshly cobrada (held accountable) for policing those presentations.
Ana’s statement at the beginning of the introduction is a compelling and valuable entry point for rethinking a number of presumptions about how racial hierarchies shape racial socialization in families, but we must also problematize it because it portrays Afro-Brazilian families as monolithic and passive. From even my earliest interviews, it was clear that racial socialization cannot be essentialized as the blind reproduction of racial and phenotypic hierarchies and emotional abuse. Indeed, AfroBrazilian families exert agency and respond creatively to broader racial hierarchies while simultaneously reproducing racial ideologies. Sensitivity to their strategies of negotiation and racial resistance becomes increasingly important in light of initial discussions of my findings with colleagues, during which they expressed pity for Afro-Brazilians, whom they viewed as lacking true racial consciousness. Uncomfortable with these types of conclusions, I present and analyze data in order to portray AfroBrazilian families in a nuanced way, highlighting how they contend with structural constraints by relying on an array of practices, discursive strategies, humor, and even ideological innovations. I call the ability to enact this repertoire of negotiation strategies racial fluency, which is learned, cultivated, and continuously developed through the collaborative efforts of close family members and intimate others.
Racial Capital And Racial Fluency
French theorist Pierre Bourdieu uses the term cultural capital to describe the predispositions and sensibilities that one learns throughout life that tend to reproduce one’s class status.25 Of the three elements of cultural capital, I engage most with his idea of embodied capital, which suggests that the closer people can come to presenting themselves as possessing and embodying the predispositions and sensibilities of the dominant group (through tastes, accent, language, dress, and mannerisms), the more successful they will be in society.
In this book I use the notion of embodied capital to describe AfroBrazilians’ efforts to manage and negotiate white racial and cultural standards. In a racialized society, economic resources and social advantages are distributed on the basis of one’s racial position, which is influenced by physical and cultural traits. Because race in Brazil is based so heavily on appearance, negotiating these strategies often involves managing one’s physical body. I conceptualize embodied racial capital as the product of efforts that rely on manipulating the body. It encompasses three major areas: visibility management, navigation of public spaces, and managing evidence of one’s cultural affiliations and participation in racialized cultural activities.
With regard to visibility management, I use embodied racial capital to explore how and why families engage in rituals designed to modify racial features, including hair texture and shape of the nose. With regard to navigating public spaces, I emphasize that family members provide guidance about how to negotiate the symbolic and spatial boundaries that designate where Afro-Brazilians can enter or what areas they should avoid. I also explore the types of behaviors that one learns to exhibit upon entering “white” spaces. Finally, the ability to manage one’s participation and use of items related to Afro-Brazilian cultural practices is another example of embodied capital. I illustrate how some Afro-Brazilians hide or accentuate their participation in black cultural activities, such as Candomblé or capoeira, in response to race-based stereotypes.
I also discuss the multifaceted elements of racial socialization that do not focus exclusively on managing the body. My conceptualization of strategies of “resistance and accommodation” observed in families is informed by diasporic researchers whose work reveals the contours of “everyday racism” and explores how people use their family networks to manage racism.28 One of the books from which I develop a theoretical concept central to this study is France Winddance Twine’s groundbreaking A White Side of Black Britain, in which she uses the concept of racial literacy to refer to “perceiving and responding to the racial climate and racial structures that individuals encounter daily.”29 Extending this idea even further, I introduce the concept of racial fluency, which is distinguished from racial literacy in four key ways.
First, racial fluency focuses on how effectively one responds to perceptions of racism. The focus on effectiveness allows the researcher to recognize the moments when racial fluency is incomplete or fails, even though racial literacy is present. Second, racial fluency does not anticipate an outcome that is antiracist, but rather seeks to uncover how racial strategies may intentionally reproduce racist ideologies. This distinction is important because some families do not interpret their socialization as connected at all to racism, while other families socialize their children to directly counter racism, and still other families purposely reinforce racist ideologies.
Third, racial fluency considers the affective realm as critical for transmitting, receiving, and constructing racialization processes. Racial fluency is a type of labor that is developed and refined through routinized actions, discourses, affective sentiments, and concrete strategies.30 Finally, racial fluency resists privileging unidirectional, parent-to-child socialization and instead emphasizes both the bidirectionality of socialization and the role of close relationships, defined broadly as both biological and nonbiological ties, in developing one’s understandings of race and racialization processes throughout one’s life.31 Parental-child and romantic relationships are crucial to developing racial fluency, but the interviews for this book also offer multivocality by including diverse perspectives from siblings, grandparents, extended family, and close family friends to explore how those who form part of the extended kinship network participate in socialization and race-making.32 With regard to racial fluency, I discuss two twin sisters who were separated at birth, with one selected to live with their black mother and the other chosen to live with their white father. Their interviews show how they negotiate race in two different and conflicting contexts in order to ultimately define their racial identity, respond to racism, and negotiate hierarchies of phenotype, particularly related to hair.
I am intentional about clarifying the analytical distinction between race and phenotype because while most social scientists begin with the understanding that race is a social construction, they have struggled to “reach a consensus about how the conceptualization of race as a social construction should guide practical measurement approaches to the study of families of color.”33 I build on the work of researchers who underscore the destabilizing effect that skin color can have on racial hierarchies to suggest that beyond skin color an array of physical and cultural traits shape racialization processes, and each can destabilize hierarchies of race.34 The term pigmentocracy, which is used to describe societies that are organized by skin color, overprivileges skin color and underestimates the role of other physical and cultural traits in driving racialization processes.
Given theoretical debates regarding the way racial systems in the United States and Brazil are converging, it can be useful to understand how physical and cultural traits (such as the increasingly salient factors of behaviors, language, religion, and nationality) contribute to the racialization processes that sustain racialized social systems.36 If, in fact, the United States is moving toward “Brazilianization” or “Latin Americanization,” this research may provide insight into what types of dynamics we might expect to develop in the future in the United States.
Making Race And Nation Through Family
Racial socialization in Afro-Brazilian families has to be contextualized within the national, regional, and local milieu that shapes it. The transAtlantic slave trade beginning in the sixteenth century was a pivotal historical experience that physically and psychologically marked the Africans who were uprooted and enslaved throughout the “New World.” Brazil was by far the largest slave society in the Americas, having imported 40 percent of all slaves brought to the Americas, more than any other country.By 1888, after several centuries of racial oppression, slavery in Brazil was abolished. In the national narrative, Princesa Isabel is recognized as having signed the documentation necessary to end slavery. Often ignored in this narrative is that abolition was a hard-fought victory, the culmination of years of organized resistance efforts, growing abolitionist activities, and global pressures.
Though abolition ended chattel slavery, it did not end racial domination. To the contrary, abolition led to the recalibration of the mechanisms of racial domination, and new racial relations became embedded in Brazil’s social relations, cultural traditions, and familial relationships. White elites’ preoccupation with slavery’s stain revolved around their racial anxieties and skepticism about the brown and black population, who they feared might “doom the country to perpetual underdevelopment.”39 These racial anxieties were influenced by the wave of pseudoscientific thinking that swept across the globe in the early 1900s, substantiating the gospel of racial purity and European superiority. Whereas previously the auction block had been the platform on which black bodies were exhibited and dehumanized, now scientific racism nurtured in the halls of the ivory tower provided an “irrefutable” rationale for the subjugation of the “Negroid” race.
These racist ideologies were connected to the eugenics movement and to what would ultimately become known as a racial hygiene project, whose goal was to eliminate racial challenges to modernity. Racial hygienists demanded that populations be ordered on the basis of physical characteristics, and they assigned meaning to certain cultural indicators as well as to previously insignificant physical traits, including hair texture and the size and shape of lips, nose, breasts, feet, and so on.41 These racial meanings were constructed for the sole purpose of providing evidence for the racial inferiority of Africans and the superiority of Europeans.
Essential to this movement was the notion of racial degeneracy, a condition that could be determined on the basis of “aesthetic criteria,” including “protruding jaws, beetling brows, dark skin colour.” The significance of aesthetics to racialization processes cannot be understated, as “racist accounts, widely accepted in the time of European colonization and beyond, present the African continent as the metaphor par excellence for physical ugliness and moral decay,” which were used to justify the subjugation of Africans.43 But in this new era of eugenics and racial hygiene, degeneracy was not only inscribed on the body but could be found by identifying certain character traits, such as laziness and hypersexuality. An analysis of these character traits was deployed alongside “sophisticated” methods of craniology, phrenology, and physiognomy to prove African inferiority.
Leading a nation only recently emerging from slavery, white Brazilian elites were eager to disabuse themselves of the nation’s ugly race problem, but they were concerned about how this could be achieved, given that its population was composed largely of people of African descent. Appeals to move the nation toward modernity reverberated among the white elites, many of whom “wished to be white but feared they were not” because of their own significant racial mixture.45 These elites, deploying discourses
connecting modernity to whiteness, attributed their nation’s underdevelopment to “African barbarism,” believing that its population of browns and blacks was “lacking the stimulus of having to maintain a civilized standard of living.”46 Nina Rodrigues, a prominent Bahian anthropologist, earned the dubious title of being one of the most well known proponents of pseudoscientific research. In a twist of racial irony, this popular scientist who spoke of the dangerous degeneration of black and brown Brazilians was himself mulato.47 Although he was not convinced that the Brazilian population could be saved, others who viewed Brazil’s presumable racial degeneration as a national ailment believed that the family could be mobilized to advance the “refinement of the race” and achieve “Aryanization.”
Strategically, embracing racial mixture or mestiçagem was considered the only viable option. It served as a “compromise between the racist doctrines in vogue around the twentieth century and the socio-racial reality of Brazil.”Touting Brazil’s racial democracy on one hand while actively promoting “whitening” (branqueamento) on the other, governmentsubsidized immigration from Europe was implemented. The efforts to attract white immigrants to Brazil were so substantial that over 4 million Europeans immigrated to Brazil over the span of only three decades. This was more than the number of slaves brought to Brazil over the course of three centuries. Although the government was unwilling to invest subsidies directly in the brown and black populations, the future of the country rested in the wombs of black woman—a group whose sexuality had been used before to support slavery.51 By the 1930s the nation hoped it could depend on black women’s wombs to help usher in a new brighter, whiter future. If appeals to a racial democracy were supposed to be indicative of a society that respected the citizenship and autonomy of its population and families, then legislated whitening policies and anticipation that blacks would become extinct pointed to an alternative hope of a “transgenerational and genocidal de-blackening process.”
Among the most popular representations of Brazilian family life are those constructed by Gilberto Freyre, which replaced the nightmarish brutality of slavery with a fairy tale of racial harmony and unity. With its sprinkling of half-truths and its vivid imagery, Freyre’s work The Masters and the Slaves is a heavily romanticized portrayal of the Brazilian family, singular for its ability to render a compelling version of racial democracy that captivated an international and domestic audience.53 Promoting a racial project that had been circulating among elites for some time, he suggested that mestiçagem was not degenerate, but redemptive.His preoccupation with interracial sexuality featured prominently in the construction of the image of a utopic Brazilian nation—a land of “sexual intoxication” where there was an abundance of nude indigenous women and promiscuous African women with “protruding buttocks.”
One of the most striking features of Freyre’s portrayal of race in Brazil was his descriptions of phenotypically diverse children interacting playfully and indiscriminately under the protection of a white master. Freyre downplayed the violent and exploitative history that often shaped interracial sexual relationships and relied on idealized family portrayals to convey “harmonious” race relations and inspire the global fixation on Brazil’s “moreno meta race.”
The historical revisionism of Freyre and his contemporaries considerably underestimated the ways that race relations and social norms in slavery “forced patterns of thought and action on slaves and former slaves,” some of which have endured and others of which have shifted.57 For example, the analysis of rates of manumission in Brazil offers overwhelming evidence that mixed-race slaves (pardos/mulatos), especially children, enjoyed advantages over African-born and unmixed slaves. Researchers attribute this differential treatment and comparative privilege of mixed-race slaves to “feelings of paternalism and affection,” since the mixed-race children were often the children of their mother’s master.58 Yet even with these affective bonds, pardos and mulatos were often not freed, immediately or at all, and they were rarely, if ever, treated as equal to their white siblings. They were, however, often framed as superior to their mother’s unmixed children.59 Given these dynamics, enslaved women relied on their sexuality, often their only source of capital, to parlay freedom for themselves and social mobility for their children.
Mixed-race slaves were considered privileged to work in the casa grande, or big house, rather than doing the backbreaking work in the fields. They were more likely to learn and incorporate white elite mannerisms, language, and customs. Some pardos who benefited from an inheritance or the good will of their white fathers went on to own their own slaves and handed out punishments with a brutality that rivaled that of white men. In contrast, some free blacks, pardos, and mulatos formed mutual aid organizations, helped fugitive slaves, and even supported slave revolts.
Given that white masters were wealthy and that mixed-race slaves were treated better, were much more likely to be educated, and were less frequently and less harshly punished, the possession of whiter physical and cultural traits began to be associated with high status and privilege. So significant were the privileges that pardos and mulatos enjoyed that many slaves in the Americas would come to abhor what they perceived as the racial features and cultural traits that had condemned them to their racial position. Many were more insistent on trying to eliminate their racial features than on dismantling the racialized social system itself. Discussions of these seemingly contradictory elements of slave life reflect the “pervasiveness and perniciousness of the slave regime and its effects on everyone touched by it.”61 The new racial relations that developed post-abolition rely on some of the same hierarchies and compel Afro-Brazilians to engage in familiar racial bargains. Most notably, new modes of domination have emerged that rely in part on families to “mirror the hierarchy” of the dominant society.
Diasporic Studies Of The Black Family
Building on a diverse and diasporic collection of research, this book is an opportunity for scholars in Brazil and the United States and across the African diaspora to think more critically about racialization and racial socialization practices in their respective countries. Triangulating my data with other research that systematically analyzes race, phenotype, and black families magnifies the centrality of racial negotiations for African descendants around the globe.63 By making these connections, I do not discount the regional and national specificities; rather, I illustrate how European colonialism has engendered hegemonic ideas about whiteness that drive similar, though not identical, practices, processes, and emotional experiences in all of these regions.64 This engagement with the diasporic literature moves this book from being a small ripple of research on Brazil into the potential to initiate more sustained dialogues with diasporic communities about how racialized social systems are maintained and negotiated.
Making these types of diasporic connections seems inevitable given that the genealogy of race and family studies in the United States and Brazil dates back to diasporic intellectual debates about “African survivals” in Afro-Bahian families that were initiated between Franklin Frazier and Melville Herskovits.65 Despite these intellectual roots, diasporic connections have not been explicitly made. The breadth of racial socialization research conducted in the United States is instructive in moving theoretical and conceptual questions about race and family practices forward, as U.S. researchers have been at the forefront of examining racial socialization. Many U.S. scholars who study black families focus on the “power of motherhood,” the benefits conveyed by extended kinship ties for poor black families, and the role of socialization in conveying affirming messages of cultural heritage, pride, and racial equality.66 This emphasis on black motherhood and women in the United States corresponds to research outlining the power of black women as mothers, community leaders, and activists striving against racism in Brazil.
However, I use research from the United States cautiously and critically, by acknowledging that there are important limitations. For example, the role of black women as mothers in both Brazil and the United States is much more complicated and contradictory than researchers have normally suggested as it relates to how they both resist and accommodate racism. Moreover, theories of racial socialization from the United States cannot simply be superimposed onto Brazilian families. In fact, U.S. models of racial socialization in families should not be superimposed even onto families in the United States. Bringing together critical race theory and feminist traditions, this research responds to recommendations that family researchers and race scholars engage with one another in order capture how gendered racialization processes, including negotiations of colorism (the awarding of advantages or immunities on the basis of skin color and racial appearance), shape family dynamics in the United States.68 The Color of Love represents an effort to apply these recommendations in a setting that provides ample opportunity to grapple with the intricacies of how racial socialization in families simultaneously manages, contests, and reinforces racialization. Though the study of racial socialization is still an emergent field in Brazil, Edward Telles’s monumental work Race in Another America provides compelling quantitative data about differential outcomes of family members in multiracial and phenotypically diverse families; it foretells the importance of this qualitative project for the Brazilian context.
The Black Sheep Of The National Family—salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Nationally renowned for being the cradle of Brazilian culture and the jewel of Afro-diasporic culture, Salvador, Bahia, is a fascinating and enigmatic city. According to the 2010 Census, the city of Salvador is 51.7 percent pardo (brown or mixed-race), 28 percent preto (black), and 18.9 percent branco (white). The term negro has increasingly been used by black activists in Brazil as a political term to capture the idea that those who are pardo or preto are all African-descendants and should be identified as negros. These demographics are what give Salvador the distinction of being called the “blackest city in Brazil,” as more than 80 percent of its population is Afro-Brazilian (brown or black). Salvador’s impressive monikers, such as Black Rome, signify the city’s cultural and religious importance in Afro-Brazilian culture and, most important, its symbolism in Afrodiasporic culture.
Salvador enjoys this cultural status because African descendants in Brazil have retained strong connections to West African culture through cuisine, religion, and language in a way that is rivaled by no other diasporic community in the Americas. In particular, the strong presence of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, which worships Orixás, or African deities, and has ceremonies conducted in the Yoruba language, exemplifies the depth of these connections. These links are attributed in part to Brazil’s late abolition of slavery and the bidirectional circulation of people and ideas between Brazil to Africa. So strong are these linkages that Salvador is considered a diasporic homeland for African descendants, many of whom for decades have traveled to Salvador to connect to their African roots.
In light of this history, the high levels of racial mixture, and a rich African heritage, it might seem incomprehensible that one of my respondents would say with a somber expression, “It is harder to be black in Bahia than in any other place in Brazil” (“É mais difícil ser negro na Bahia do que em qualquer outro lugar no Brasil”). In no other place are the contradictions of a racialized system so pronounced than in this city that is populated in large part by negros, portrayed as authentically African, but run by a small white elite.
Historically Salvador’s rise to preeminence in Brazil is rooted in its role as a center of the slave trade and commerce. Beginning in the sixteenth century, it was at the ports of Salvador that between three to five million Africans were brought in chains to Brazil. The immense profits that resulted from the trade catapulted Salvador to national importance, and as a reflection of its role as the economic engine of Brazil, it was designated Brazil’s first capital. The city of Salvador’s centrality to the state of Bahia was so great that for centuries after the national capital was moved to Rio de Janeiro, and later Brasília, Brazilians used the term Salvador interchangeably with the term Bahia. The entrance of scores of enslaved Africans to Bahia to work on enormous slave plantations, or fazendas, in the area shaped every element of Northeast culture and led to it being the most racially diverse region in the country. To be sure, Brazil’s slaveocracy affected the entire country, but its legacy left its most pronounced impact on the racial demographics in the Northeast.
The state of Bahia’s contemporary decision to package Salvador as the “Black City: The Most African City of Brazil” marks a critical reversal of white elites’ earlier antagonism toward and repression of African culture in Bahia.71 With the creation of the organization Bahiatursa, the state of Bahia formalized its decision to invest in marketing Salvador as a charming city that is the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture, but it has been only selectively embracing and repackaging examples of African influences as part of this re-Africanization.72 Instead of raiding and antagonizing practitioners of Candomblé as they had before, Bahia’s leaders are now employing Candomblé symbols in their advertising efforts: plastering them to sides of buildings; using them in decorative motifs for expensive restaurants; incorporating them into logos for shopping centers, bus routes, and landmarks; and featuring them prominently in tourist catalogs.73 Likewise, the martial art form of capoeira, which was created by enslaved Africans in Brazil, moved from being framed as a dangerous “sport of ruffians” to being considered the nation’s “beautiful sport.”74 Capoeira and a musical instrument associated with it, the berimbau, serve as unofficial symbols of the Northeast Region that are represented by black men whose sculpted bodies are shown contorted in flexible poses in order to feed an image of Bahian culture that is raced and highly sexualized.75 Likewise, popular festivals and groups including Carnaval, Lavagem of Bom Fim (Washing of Bom Fim Church), and the Irmandade de Boa Morte (Sisterhood of the Good Death) are now embraced, though they were once criticized or prohibited because of their connections to Africa.
Along the streets, particularly in the tourist regions, smiling darkskinned Brazilian women with gleaming teeth and wearing wide hoop skirts elicit nostalgia for colonial times. Their smiling faces are featured on postcards, souvenirs, paintings, T-shirts, and magnets. Tourists visit Pelourinho, named after the whipping post where slaves were punished, and walk over the cobblestones known as Negroheads as part of their cultural excursion.76 The perversity of a booming tourist industry based on Afro-Brazilian culture in a city where Afro-Brazilians remain on the margins has been addressed thoroughly by Brazilian researchers.
This cultural milieu is essential to understanding the regional and local context that shapes Afro-Brazilians’ lives in Salvador. Being baiano (from the state of Bahia) is a core element of how Afro-Brazilians in this study understand themselves. This regional identity is itself highly racialized, as the state of Bahia and Northeast Region of Brazil are objects of racialized caricatures and brincadeiras (jokes) that are used throughout Brazil. During my visit to Rio de Janeiro, located farther south, people discouraged me from visiting Salvador, warning that “there are thieves everywhere” and that “Baianas are dirty.” More subtle Brazilians never directly spoke of Bahia, but they referenced the state in jest, stating that they had committed a baianada when they did something wrong, stupid, or absentminded. Still other cariocas (Brazilians from Rio de Janeiro) encouraged me to explore Salvador, stating that I would feel right at home and would be able to party often “because in Salvador there is always a party every night” (a coded reference to the stereotype that baianos are lazy and do not work). These same cariocas warned that though I would have a good time, “não deve mexer na macumba” (do not mess with African religion), a barely veiled (offensive) reference to Candomblé.
Exaggerated constructions of Salvador as completely distinct from and inferior to other cities rely largely on stereotypes of baianidade that tend to emphasize “cordiality, tolerance, indulgence, laziness, optimism, humour and characteristic cultural praxes (Candomblé, capoeira, extroverted street dancing, fashion, etc.) of Bahian society.”78 Other cities, especially São Paulo, have constructed “white” regional identities that differentiate themselves in clear racial terms from Bahia.79 In this way, Bahia’s darker population serves as a constant and visible reminder of the history that many in the country would prefer to forget, except when there is money to be made. Within the metaphorical Brazilian family, Bahia is the black sheep of the family, receiving less government investment, subject to racialized insults, and striving to construct an identity that is affirming.
Afro-Brazilian families that live in Salvador confront considerable structural disadvantages alongside their conditional cultural inclusiveness. In order to appreciate the significant structural constraints that shape the practices, language, and emotional exchanges that emerge in Afro-Brazilian families, this broader social structure must be considered. Income disparities are high, police brutality against negros is so extreme that its effects have been compared to genocide, high levels of violence plague the city, and substandard and underfunded public schools make it difficult for Afro-Brazilians to attain social mobility.80 Continued resistance to explicitly race-based affirmative action policies designed to address some of these inequalities reflect the ongoing struggle for racial equality.81 Adding to these barriers are infrequent representations of Afro-Brazilians in television and film (outside of stereotypical characters), beauty ideals that devalue blackness, and day-to-day micro-aggressions, including “elevator apartheid,” which separates the largely black servants from the largely white residents in middle-class apartment buildings.
These interpersonal practices mirror the types of spatial dynamics that differentiate physical areas in Salvador as white or black, poor or wealthy, marginal or high-class.
These are the formidable challenges that Afro-Brazilians face when constructing their families and socializing their family members. Salvador is an ideal site for this research because of, not despite, the contradictions of its characteristics. In a way that is true of only a few locations, Salvador’s history and current social relations make it at once local and global, reflecting the multidimensionality of diasporic communities.
This research is based on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, between 2009 and 2011, six weeks of follow-up interviews in June and July 2013, and four weeks of followup interviews in July 2014. During this time, I conducted 116 in-depth interviews with Afro-Brazilians (blacks and browns) from ten poor and working-class families in an urban neighborhood with a pseudonym of Lua Cheia. The ethnography and interviews center on ten core families, and I also included interviews and ethnographic observations with an additional five families who were the extended family of the core families and lived in other areas of Salvador. I spent nearly a year with the ten core families, attending family celebrations and religious and cultural events, observing day-to-day family activities, and listening to neighborhood conversations. I pursued interviews with extended families only when an invitation was extended. Because the extended families lived in different neighborhoods of Salvador, these interviews provided me the opportunity to observe how neighborhood-specific interactions influence core families.
Interviews were often both formal and informal. The average formal interview time ranged between sixty and ninety minutes. Informal interviews ranged from twenty minutes to six hours.85 In addition, I conducted informal interviews with Brazilian activists, other residents of Salvador, and various laypeople (beauticians, taxi drivers, teachers, professors, students, and artists). I also incorporate observations from an afro-aesthetics course and seminar offered in a local Afro-Brazilian community. All interviews were conducted in Brazilian Portuguese, digitally recorded, transcribed, and then translated for analysis. I analyzed the data manually using close readings and organizing and coding data throughout the data collection process as detailed in Appendix A.
My relationship with community contact Luana began as a casual, friendly acquaintance when I observed her cleaning an apartment in the building where I lived. After numerous conversations, she invited me to meet members of her family and introduced me to other families in Lua Cheia, an area of the Lower City of Salvador inhabited mostly by large Afro-Brazilian families of low socioeconomic status. Luana helped me to identify the poor and working-class community in the Lower City and served as a central point of introductions between the core families and myself.
Core families lived in close proximity to one another and often interacted daily as part of broader neighborhood dynamics. This means that I was often observing two or more families as they interacted with each other. When there were holidays or celebrations, I would spend several days in the community, sleeping over in Luana’s home. I taped formal interviews and informal conversations, and I notated observations in a field notebook during and directly after important events occurred. When possible, I also visited people’s places of employment and observed informants interacting with co-workers and customers. Although data from their employment is not discussed here, it provided me with a context in which to understand the lives of the family members. In order to develop a sense of how temporal changes shape families, I observed families approximately one to three times a week for nine consecutive months, returned for follow-up interviews with several families three years later, and visited once more with a few families a year after that.
I initially envisioned conducting observations in a “naturalistic” setting, as an observer occupying a peripheral space.87 This strategy was untenable in Brazil, where hospitality is prioritized and where people comfortably slip past the blurry boundaries between family, friends, and researchers. Negotiating these social contexts to study racial socialization in families required my own resocialization into the rules and norms that guide these spaces.88 As a condition of my presence in their homes, families wanted to engage me and wanted me to be involved in some family activities. In fact, my participation and involvement with the families served as the basis on which they trusted me with interviews and observations about private areas of their lives.
Lua Cheia Neighborhood
Lua Cheia is a pseudonym for the small neighborhood in the Lower City of Salvador that is the core site of my fieldwork. The Lower City comprises a fairly large region of the city, and the neighborhood of Lua Cheia is located along the beach in the relative vicinity of Ribeira. The location’s designation as part of the Lower City of Salvador is as much a class and racial reference as it is a physical description, to the extent that researchers argue that the rich and poor function in “differentiated and juxtaposed cities.”The racialization of space is evident in the fact that the poorer, darker population tends to live in the lower part of the city and the wealthier, whiter population enjoys life in the Upper City.
The demarcation of racial space is evident not only in the description of the Lower and Upper City, but in the changing physical appearance of the area as one moves from one space to the other. Descending from the Upper City to the Lower City down the major street Avenida Contorno, one travels a route that reflects the seemingly effortless idyllic physical landscape of Salvador, with beautifully preserved and gentrified historical areas that are reminders of the city’s importance as Brazil’s first national capital. Traveling from the Upper City down the Avenida Contorno, on the left is the Bahia de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints) and the Bahia Marina, where hundreds of small vessels and cruise ships are docked. The tall, wirelike poles that extend from the boats are often one of the first details visible from the bay, which is framed by a few expensive restaurants offering picturesque views. Hidden directly below this main road is a black community, Gamboa de Baixo, which has been fighting vigorously to reject the urban renewal that threatens to destroy the community.
Near Salvador’s oldest Catholic church is a major tourist attraction, the Mercado Modelo (Model Market) and a huge sculpture popularly and colloquially known as the “bunda da mulata” (the mulata’s butt). Expansive cruise ships and small vessels now populate the docks on the bay behind the Mercado Modelo; this is where slave ships used to dock during the colonial period—a history that is simultaneously buried and commodified in that market. On the first and second floors of the Mercado Modelo tourist souvenir market, vendors targeting tourists sell a variety of items that commodify Salvador’s African heritage, including items related to Candomblé and capoeira, black dolls, African masks, African sculpture, and jewelry. Pitch black, grinning dolls, many with large red lips, dead eyes, and hair that stands straight up, are sold by aggressive vendors. Nowadays, it is the image of the African body and the feeling of Africa that are bartered and traded in the market. This is the city of Salvador, and this is the path to Lua Cheia.
In Lua Cheia family and friends interact with each other regularly. The lines separating family and friends are intentionally blurred, and neighbors are more like extended family. In the neighborhood, as in the larger city, residents can often be heard referring to one another as meu filho or minha filha (my son or my daughter), a hackneyed colloquialism that is used regardless of biological ties. The phrase minha nega, derived from the word negra (black), is commonly used as a deracialized term meaning honey, sweetie, or dear. The term negão or negona is often used to refer to a very large or striking dark-skinned man or woman.
Because the homes in Lua Cheia are very small, large families with children spend a significant amount of time outside. The area directly in front of their homes is usually congested with mothers and children, while the esquina (corner), located farther away, is a space where mostly males congregate. As is the case throughout Latin America, the bifurcation of social space is an extension of the gendered quality of social domains in which men are “of the street” and wives are “of the house.”92 This spatial separation justifies and fosters the women’s responsibility for familial affairs, including the children and housework. Men, on the other hand, enjoy the freedom and independence that comes along with access to broader spaces. Within the confines of the neighborhood, whether at home or on the street, residents express a strong sense of security. Residents proudly brag, “We don’t have thieves here; if there are thieves they come from the outside.” The framing of an ambiguous “outside” reflects the strong affective ties that community members have with their space and each other.
In Lua Cheia, the gender politics of the neighborhood are such that everything related to the domestic sphere tends to be women’s domain: cooking, child rearing, cleaning, and schooling. Although a number of the women in the neighborhood are partnered, their husbands who live with them are often physically present, but emotionally detached. Husbands come in and out of the homes without saying much, without making much eye contact, and without interacting with their children or wives. On the weekends, after a few beers (cervejas) everyone is more sociable, and emotional relationships become more apparent.
The core families live in homes that are sandwiched between several neighbors to the left and right. Experts at adapting, large families of over seven people are able to arrange their space in a way that allows for free movement. The outside of the homes directly in front of the door becomes an important space for families with children because there is limited space inside the home to play. Everyone in the neighborhood has a small home of approximately three hundred square feet with two small bedrooms and a kitchen that is attached to a small common area. This area has enough space for a table or a sofa, but not both. Though the bonds of these families begin as neighborly, living in such close proximity fosters relationships that border on extended family and kinship. How these bonds manifest themselves in socialization practices became clear very early in my visits with families.
Second Sight or Double Vision?: Diasporic Positionalities
Renowned American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois writes about blacks’ divided identities in the United States and describes how their “two warring souls” can be a source of tremendous insight, which he labels “secondsight.”94 I had hoped to use my racial positionality in a way that would allow me to fully develop this second-sight, but I would soon discover that my subjective experiences did not represent two warring souls, but rather multiple warring identifications that functioned like an off-kiltered seesaw, shaky and unpredictable. As a researcher, I situate myself as part of the contemporary wave of blacks from the United States who conduct work on race in Brazil. Insights from earlier researchers have played an important role in preparing me for the way I would be “straddling racial categories and disrupting national boundaries, in addition to occupying a ‘web of interlocking social categories’” at the same time.
As I prepared for fieldwork, I relied on these insights to understand how my insider and outsider status might both advantage and disadvantage me, how my nested identities would shape my access to information, and how to mute my U.S. lens in order to be able to make new insights and contributions.96 Yet I was still unprepared for what these nested identities would mean for me practically and the extent to which my race, gender, and Americanness would so thoroughly shape my experiences in Salvador. True to what I had read, I was never simply black, never just a woman, never just a researcher or just American—I never occupied any single identification uniquely. As an African-American woman with dark brown skin, afro-textured hair, and physical features that mark me as preta, I discovered that my appearance greatly shaped my experiences in the field. Moreover, how my body and other signifiers were given meaning and interpreted was as much a testament of my colliding identifications as it was confirmation of the centrality of race, gender, and “body politics” in Salvador.
Within my first month I could travel around Salvador and be indistinguishable from natives of the city. I had learned all the major bus routes and schedules (as much as their unpredictability would allow). But the camouflage I enjoyed required linguistic fluency and bodily fluency, the ability to physically incorporate o jeito brasileiro (Brazilian style) in my self-presentation. Once this was mastered, I felt perfectly imperceptible on the streets, and without tremendous effort I appeared baiana. However, the invisibility of my North Americanness came with an exchange: I was assumed to be a black Brazilian. In this way, my appearance was a double-edged sword, both embodied capital and embodied liability. My cloak of invisibility had a vulnerability: I was sometimes ignored when I walked into stores, spoken to crassly, and disregarded or skipped as I waited in line. Sometimes I was not allowed to enter my apartment building by the doorman, who was “protecting” residents. Yet, these were minor incidents that paled in comparison to many others that I experienced, including the horror of having the military police aim a long rifle at the side of my head and order me out of a car because they suspected I was a prostitute with drugs. In that case, once the officers discovered I was American, they bowed, shook my hand, and said, “Our apologies. When you go back to the U.S. we want you to be able to go back and tell them that the military police treated you with dignity and respect.”
It was the ineffable way that people looked at me when they discovered that my blackness was an American (read: better) blackness that reminded me that I was still privileged and most certainly not at home. Despite my solidarity and shared experiences with Afro-Brazilians, my national privilege was a point of difference that I could and did deploy in order to escape the mistreatment that many Afro-Brazilians face without recourse. I could also use this privilege to speak up in numerous situations without having to fear retaliation. Notions of U.S. superiority and status were also instrumental in my access to the community, and this left me feeling ambivalent. Afro-Brazilian families were interested in speaking to me because of my “charming American accent” and also because they had a number of questions about life in the United States, Barack Obama, and popular culture. Often I was objectified and introduced as “minha amiga, uma Americana” (my friend, an American) with my actual name only mentioned later. This introduction provided status to the person who introduced me, but was also meant to let others know to use different rules of engagement, since by virtue of being American I was viewed as a negra fina (a refined black woman).
Any initial preoccupations that families may have had about me seemed to erode after my husband came to visit several months into my research. The community was excited to meet him and perplexed that he could not speak Portuguese. After he left, my reception in the neighborhood changed unexpectedly. The children and adults welcomed me with
such an unparalleled excitement that it startled me. Children who had not ever wanted to speak with me ran up to me and hugged me, and the difference with the women was also immediately perceptible. Now that they had met the man to whom I was married, they viewed me as safer, more trustworthy, and less threatening.
Children were the most enthralled by and vocal about what they felt were contradictions between my race and my nationality: “But, you look just like us!” one wide-eyed young black girl could not stop repeating. The children often tried to prove that they were cosmopolitan by singing songs by Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Chris Brown.98 Overall, informants responded in ways that extended U.S. privileges and status to me. Informants accepted me relatively easily and used my racial appearance as a comparison point—by stating that someone is “morena, your color,” for example, or by explaining that a person is “black like us” or asserting that someone has “bad hair like yours/ours.” In addition to racialized features like color and hair, other parts of my body were made topics of conversation—embarrassing for me, but considered normal by my interviewees. My body was at times a point of positive reference, and at many other times a point of critique. I discuss the dilemmas of my positionality in further detail in Appendix A.
The depth of my ethnographic immersion meant that I witnessed and heard about traumatic experiences of abuse and exploitation. Remaining in researcher mode in order to learn from each experience was beneficial but personally challenging. It often meant that I could not jeopardize my research by responding to blatantly racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive comments or intervene if family members were insulting a child or family member. This weighed heavily on me because of the relationships that I had developed with participants. In the same way that Brazilian social interactions are characterized by ambiguity of work and family boundaries, I also struggled with resolving the difficulties that the ambiguity of these boundaries imposed.
Interviews and family observations, paired with my own personal experiences of racism and sexism in Salvador, left me feeling deeply troubled and profoundly anxious about my research. Families welcomed our conversations, and after completing interviews that involved traumatic narratives, they would often thank me for providing them with a cathartic experience. My listening helped those who had never previously spoken about their traumas and abuse, but when the interviews ended, their narratives stayed with me, and with each traumatic interview my anxieties accumulated.99 For months after returning from the field, I avoided my advisors, shelved my field notes and memos, lost sleep, and above all, refused to replay the interviews. I struggled with having to relive my own traumatic experiences in Salvador, which included not only eliciting painful memories but also observing violent practices in some homes. Along with the anxiety came the guilt that it was the respondents who had entrusted their narratives to me, and yet it was I who needed distance and time to recuperate.
There have been considerable debates about the use of racial and color terms in Brazil.100 As Telles explains, there are three acceptable systems of racial classification: official classification, informal classification, and the system of classification used by the black movement in Brazil.101 Official census data organize Brazilians into five major categories: white (branco), brown (pardo), black (preto), yellow (amarelo), and indigenous (indígena). Throughout my time in Brazil, an informal classification system was heavily used wherein people were described according to côr, which translates as “color” but connotes a person’s racialized physical appearance as a whole. I take these informal classifications and identifications seriously and argue that race and phenotype are analytically distinct and should be analyzed accordingly. At the same time, I use the terms Afro-Brazilian and black (negro). The latter is endorsed by the black movement as a political racial category for people whose families are composed mainly of those who identify as brown (pardo) and black (preto). In interviews, speakers often used the terms preto or negro. Both terms mean “black,” but preto tends to be used to describe color, and negro is often used as a political category in which browns and blacks are both included. When intraracial distinctions specifically within the Afro-Brazilian/negro category are important, I make those distinctions known. Otherwise, negro, black, and Afro-Brazilian are used interchangeably.
The core Afro-Brazilian families in this study live in neighborhoods that are predominately poor and overwhelmingly brown or black according to the census. I did not categorize families on the basis of my own perceptions of racial identification, but allowed family members to describe their own racial and color categorizations. Despite what census data reveal about race, some family members that I might assume to be negro describe themselves as white. Others whom I expect, on the basis of physical appearance, to define themselves as white are adamant about asserting their blackness. In all of the families, the majority of family members with whom I interacted identified as non-white and often black (negro). As it relates to translations, I have included the Portuguese only where I believe the original version offers subtleties that cannot be fully captured by English translation.
Organization Of The Book
This book explores the creative and contradictory ways that AfroBrazilian families negotiate racial hierarchies and engage in racial socialization, both resisting and reproducing dominant racial ideologies, often simultaneously. In part I, I discuss the private sphere, focusing on how socialization and stigma affects close family relationships. In part II, I discuss the implications of socialization for the public sphere. I end this section by focusing on three cases of racially transgressive families.
In chapter 1, “What’s Love Got to Do with It? Racial Stigma and Embodied Capital,” I explore how evaluations of one’s racial appearance affect the distribution of love, affection, and emotional experiences in families. I explore critical life transitions, including pregnancy, the birth of a child, dating, and marriage as moments that punctuate the racial negotiations that occur more covertly in daily life. I draw on interviews with and observations of biological and nonbiological family members to illustrate how an array of racial features (nose, hair texture, eye color, and so on) influence interactions and affective exchanges in families. Focusing both on socialization processes and the main actors involved in socialization, I discuss how gendered racism means that black mothers are cobrada (held accountable) for producing racially desirable babies and managing appropriate racial displays of themselves and all family members. In this chapter I use the notion of cyclical interactionism to conceptualize the mutually constituting relationship between racialization and racial socialization. I end by linking phenomena observed in Brazil to related secondary data collected from countries throughout the diaspora.
In chapter 2, “Black Bodies, White Casts: Racializing and Gendering Bodies,” I illustrate the intrusive and dehumanizing ways that the entire black body has been stigmatized. I argue that Afro-Brazilian families respond to racial stigma in numerous ways, including by engaging in practices that begin in infancy and extend throughout one’s life to increase one’s embodied racial capital. These detailed rituals, which are elements of what I call the racial bargain, represent Afro-Brazilian families’ attempts to exert agency in the face of racial stigmatization. Recognizing the centrality of beauty for women’s embodied racial capital, I further examine the gendered aspect of racial bargains by exploring how
Afro-Brazilian women manage and negotiate racist aesthetic hierarchies based on whiteness in order to attain beauty and construct their selfpresentation. I end the chapter by discussing the emergence of the afroaesthetic movement and the development of the Instituto Beleza Natural (Natural Beauty Institute) in Salvador, a salon that serves Afro-Brazilian women. I address how these two developments affect families’ negotiation of embodied racial capital, and I make connections throughout the chapter with diasporic families.
In chapter 3, “Home Is Where the Hurt Is: Affective Capital, Stigma, and Racialization,” I link the practices of racial socialization and differential treatment based on racial appearance to well-being and social psychological outcomes. The chapter operationalizes well-being subjectively, so that it encompasses experiences of and exposure to violence (physical, emotional, and symbolic), impact on self-esteem and sense of belonging, and reports of depression and suicidal ideation. Moreover, negative racebased experiences are framed as important not only to reveal the complexity of interactions in families, but to illustrate that the negative effects produced by differential treatment compound racial inequality by decreasing a person’s affective capital. Low levels of affective capital lead some Afro-Brazilian respondents to engage in behaviors and make decisions that limit their life chances and reproduce their racial position. By addressing how differential treatment within families can reproduce racial inequality, this chapter deviates from research that focuses exclusively on the protective consequences of racial socialization in families. Addressing gaps in current research, I highlight the traumas of both Afro-Brazilian men and women, while also illustrating how white-looking or privileged family members may intervene to compound or compensate for the mistreatment of other family members.
In the first chapter of part II of the book, “Racial Fluency: Reading between and beyond the Color Lines” (chapter 4), I focus on how family members learn to navigate racial and color classifications. Exploring how racial fluency is developed and executed in social and public situations, I show that racial socialization in families is less concerned with developing a concrete racial identity than aimed at teaching people how to navigate and invoke racial ambiguity. The chapter analyzes how family members engage in socialization practices that have implications for proper racial etiquette, as well as socialization into the uses of complimentary racial terms depending on the context. In this chapter, I explore the process through which Afro-Brazilians arrive at their responses about their racial and color categorizations. The inconsistencies, confusions, and interventions that they experience reveal that ambiguity is the rule rather than the exception. The second half of the chapter explores how novelas and popular myths serve as important sources of knowledge about race and AfroBrazilian history, supplementing racial socialization by family members.
In chapter 5, “Mind Your Blackness: Embodied Capital and Spatial Mobility,” I explore how embodied racial capital is used to help AfroBrazilians navigate racialized public spaces. Racial socialization is both explicit and implicit, with some families relying on strategies that emphasize avoidance of white areas, while others critically question white spaces and encourage their family to transgress racialized spaces. I show that even among the more permissive families, family members are socialized to engage in self-vigilance in order to abide by notions of racial respectability. I also incorporate examples from both working-class and middleclass Afro-Brazilian interviewees in order to illustrate how these class differences affect the racial strategies that are used. In this chapter, public spaces are defined as educational and cultural spaces, so I also examine how family members are socialized to navigate the discursive and physical terrain of education and cultural inclusion.
In chapter 6, “Antiracism in Transgressive Families,” I highlight several exemplary cases that illustrate how some Afro-Brazilian families engage in antiracism and sustained resistance to racial hierarchies. Although all families in this study exhibit elements of resistance, these particular families are distinguished for how they creatively develop racial fluency and engage in antiracism through the explicitness of their language, use of affective exchanges, humor, and political mobilization. They also socialize family members to use embodied capital to challenge dominant norms in unexpected ways. The strategies that these families employ are framed as inventive and counterhegemonic, though I illustrate that practices of sustained resistance exist alongside sporadic racial accommodation and internalized racism. This chapter ends by identifying how political and cultural institutions help support sustained efforts at antiracism in Salvador.
The title of the concluding section, “The Ties that Bind,” is a reference to both the “tense and tender” ties within families and the diasporic bonds that connect black diasporic families with one another. I weave together key research findings to highlight how racial socialization in AfroBrazilian families functions in complex and contradictory ways to resist and reproduce the dominant racial order. I argue that embodied racial capital, affective capital, and engagement in gendered racial bargains should be understood as part of a repertoire of similar racial strategies and practices implemented by families of color throughout the world who confront white supremacy. Moving beyond the African Diaspora, I discuss white supremacy as a global phenomenon affecting diverse families.
When bell hooks argues that “everyone must break through the wall of denial that would have us believe hatred of blackness emerges from troubled individual psyches and acknowledge that it is systematically taught through processes of socialization in a white supremacist society,” she is referring to the complicity of every major social institution in the reproduction of racial inequality.102 Because the internalization of racism is systematically learned and families are one of the major sites of learning, this book identifies how white supremacy structures close family relationships in Brazil. Advancing an approach that is multidimensional and cognizant of local, regional, national, and international dynamics, the book explores family as one of many institutions, and yet singular for its ability to simultaneously sustain and resist systems of racial domination.
“The Color of Love is an insightful treatment of the social psychology of race and the family, ostensibly in Brazil but with observations that have more general applicability.”
“Certainly a page turner, Hordge-Freeman makes various scholarly contributions, the biggest being her exploration of how phenotype-based affection can reproduce racial inequality in racialized societies, which hardly any studies of race in the United States and Brazil have done. . . . This book should be read by anyone with an interest in the African Diaspora, race and racism in Brazil, and family socialization practices.”
Humanity & Society
“...an important contribution to the growing academic literature on race and color in Brazil. The Color of Love, firmly rooted in the discipline of sociology, is interdisciplinary in the best possible way.”
American Journal of Sociology
“The Color of Love provides a necessary narrative that must be included in family research dis-course...I urge family researchers to read [it] to help them in understanding the family unit as a complex societal agent that is capable of resisting and reproducing dominant ideologies and also love.”
Journal of Family Theory and Review
“[Hodge-Freeman's] work with an understudied group allows her to add a significant contribution to the field of race. . . . The Color of Love is an excellent ethnographic project.”
“This book makes a great contribution to understanding racial relations in Brazil by considering family and close neighbor relationships, the socialization process, and negotiations of gendered and racialized bodies, from a perspective that dialogues with theories of social stratification, feminist theory while triangulating race, class, and gender.”
Revista Brasileira de Estudos de População
“This book undoubtedly offers both theoretical and empirical gems to the sociology of race and inequality as well as to the study of the African diaspora in Latin America and beyond.”
“The ethnographic data on families show that ideas about racial hierarchy operate across a wide range of phenotypes and self-identifications. Hordge-Freeman shows this exceptionally well for Brazil . . . Hordge-Freeman's excellent ethnography interrogates families and bodies as sites of race-making in Brazil.”
Latin American Research Review
“A page-turner. The humanity that leaps out of the pages makes this book deeply touching and appealing. This is a project that takes emotion seriously and looks at affection as a realm that needs to be studied if we want to understand racialization.”
Patricia de Santana Pinho, Associate Professor of Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. Latino Studies, University of Albany, SUNY, and author of Mama Africa: Reinventing Blackness in Bahia
“A significant empirical and theoretical contribution to the social sciences and interdisciplinary literature on race, racism, and intimacy.”
France Winddance Twine, Scholar-in-Residence at the Beatrice Bain Research Group at University of California at Berkeley, Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and author of A White Side of Black Britain: Interracial Intimacy and Racial Literacy