La blancheur

These are notes on offprints I no longer need to keep in paper copies. One is Alex Flynn’s piece on color in Machado de Assis, and the other is on the UNESCO study of race relations in Brazil. My marginal note on the Machado article was: “they want un-naturalized indeterminacy.” What did I mean? The authors “argue that whiteness has become increasingly established in Brazilian public discourse as a naturalized category” (abstract). They see race as a process and not as a thing. (I still like the Omi/Winant concept of race as a relation.) Mixture was seen in the early 20th century as a path toward whitening and modernization. What “white” meant was less clear, but it did become a “sedimented and fixed category” in public discourse.

The article has an interesting discussion of reactions to a Machado story, “Pai contra mãe.” Interpreters of the story tend to see the characters as black and white, although there is no unambiguous evidence of their color in the text. Whiteness is a negotiated category in Machado’s world, something readers tend to forget. In this story a slave-catcher avoids abandoning his own child, earning money for his short-term support by capturing an escaped slave, causing her to miscarry. It is not clear that he is white in color, although readers assume this. (I would say he represents the white side of things, acts as agent of slavery, whiteness and so on.)

In any case: this article has a good review of a great deal of literature. Its primary thesis, though, is that racial categories are not fixed, and people doing the work of whiteness may not look white. I am interested in da Silva because she is not as caught up in repeating the fact that racial categories can be ambiguous and depend on place.

Meanwhile, on those UNESCO studies: the hope was, after the Holocaust, to show how not to be racist, but it turned out that Brazil actually was. “Research findings . . . revealed the tensions between the myth [of racial democracy] and the Brazilian style of racism, a tension that had already been discussed by black and white intellectuals and activists in Brazil.” (134)

Axé.

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