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Negras in Brazil

Re-envisioning Black Women, Citizenship, and the Politics of Identity

Kia Lilly Caldwell

Publication Year: 2007

For most of the twentieth century, Brazil was widely regarded as a "racial democracy"-a country untainted by the scourge of racism and prejudice. In recent decades, however, this image has been severely critiqued, with a growing number of studies highlighting persistent and deep-seated patterns of racial discrimination and inequality. Yet, recent work on race and racism has rarely considered gender as part of its analysis.

          In Negras in Brazil, Kia Lilly Caldwell examines the life experiences of Afro-Brazilian women whose stories have until now been largely untold. This pathbreaking study analyzes the links between race and gender and broader processes of social, economic, and political exclusion. Drawing on ethnographic research with social movement organizations and thirty-five life history interviews, Caldwell explores the everyday struggles Afro-Brazilian women face in their efforts to achieve equal rights and full citizenship. She also shows how the black women's movement, which has emerged in recent decades, has sought to challenge racial and gender discrimination in Brazil. While proposing a broader view of citizenship that includes domains such as popular culture and the body, Negras in Brazil highlights the continuing relevance of identity politics for members of racially marginalized communities. Providing new insights into black women's social activism and a gendered perspective on Brazilian racial dynamics, this book will be of interest to students and scholars of Latin American Studies, African diaspora studies, women's studies, politics, and cultural anthropology.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This study would not have been possible without the assistance and support of numerous Brazilian colleagues and friends. I would like to express special thanks to Antonio Carlos Arruda, Elisabete Aparecido Pinto, Sueli Carneiro, and Edna Roland for helping me to establish...

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pp. xiii-xxiv

As the daughter of a bilingual elementary school teacher, I was long intrigued by the Spanish language and Latin American cultures during my childhood. Growing up in Philadelphia during...

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pp. 1-24

These comments by Maria Ilma Ricardo,2 a fifty-four-year-old Afro-Brazilian domestic worker and antiracist and feminist activist in Belo Horizonte, provide valuable insights into the socially devalued status of Afro-Brazilian women. By noting that black women...

PART ONE: Re-envisioning the Brazilian Nation

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1:“A Foot in the Kitchen”: Brazilian Discourses on Race, Hybridity, and National Identity

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pp. 27-49

The preceding quotes highlight two important features of Brazilian constructions of national identity: a concern with the African and Afro-Brazilian presence in the country and an emphasis on the role of interracial sexual relations and racial intermixture in the formation of the Brazilian population...

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2:Women in and out of Place: Engendering Brazil’s Racial Democracy

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pp. 50-78

This nineteenth-century Brazilian adage encapsulates dominant configurations of race, color, gender, and sexuality.1 It also demonstrates the gendered dimensions of a Brazilian pigmentocracy in which “social hierarchy is primarily based on skin color...

PART TWO: The Body and Subjectivity

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3:“Look at Her Hair”: The Body Politics of Black Womanhood

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pp. 81-106

This chapter examines Brazilian ideals of female beauty and explores their impact on Afro-Brazilian women’s processes of identity construction. Given Brazil’s long-standing image as a “racial democracy,” examining the racialized and gendered significance...

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4:Becoming a Mulher Negra

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pp. 107-130

My initial contact with members of the Brazilian black movement and black women’s movement in 1994 and 1995 prompted me to examine how processes of racial identity formation operate on the individual level. Although much of the scholarship...

PART THREE: Activism and Resistance

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5:“What Citizenship Is This?”: Narratives of Marginality and Struggle

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pp. 133-149

Maria Ilma Ricardo’s and Valdete da Silva Cordeiro’s life experiences and social activism exemplify the multiple levels on which poor black women struggle for full citizenship in Brazil. When I interviewed both women in the city of Belo Horizonte in 1997...

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6:The Black Women’s Movement: Politicizing and Reconstructing Collective Identities

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pp. 150-176

The preceding statements by Afro-Brazilian poet Miriam Alves underscore the relationship among social identities, self-representations, and material inequalities. As a writer, Alves uses words and images in her struggle against gender and racial oppression...

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Epilogue: Re-envisioning Racial Essentialism and Identity Politics

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pp. 177-182

Ethnographic exploration of Afro-Brazilian women’s processes of subject formation and forms of political practice highlights the disjuncture between recent scholarly conceptualizations of essentialism and my informants’ everyday experiences and practices...


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pp. 183-196


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pp. 197-218


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pp. 219-226

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p. 227-227

Kia Lilly Caldwell is an assistant professor in the department of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813541327
E-ISBN-10: 0813541328
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813539560

Page Count: 252
Illustrations: 9
Publication Year: 2007