Highlight of varied situations of black people in the Americas
Book review of Blackness and Social Mobility in Brazil: Contemporary Transformations, by Professor Paulette Ramsay, Faculty of Humanities and Education, UWI, Mona.
Scholars have long underscored the marginalisation, racial and social exclusion of blacks across Latin America. However, few studies are sensitive to the nuances and variations among black populations. Now we have an important investigation into the black middle classes in Brazil – home to Latin America’s largest black population in the region.
Doreen Gordon’s Blackness and Social Mobility in Brazil: Contemporary Transformations sifts through myths of social equality, racial harmony, and democracy in a critical inquiry into the strategies Afro-Brazilians employ as they try to improve their lives. After years of fieldwork and learning Portuguese, Gordon gives a rich description of Afro-Brazilian families in the city of Salvador: their life choices, identities, familial connections, social networking, and careers.
She brings new perspectives to the emerging black middle classes since the 1980s democratic opening and significant economic and political changes. The UN Human Rights Council’s Call for Action against anti-black racism also helped change circumstances for Black Brazilians. Gordon traces traditional pathways of social mobility for dark-skinned Brazilians (marriage, friendship, patronage links with the Euro-Brazilian elite) to show how this occurs now. She also emphasises the continued importance of black political and cultural organisations.
Gordon explains how ethnography helped her explore nuances and contradictions of social interaction. She also describes the experiences of Afro-Brazilians identifying with a different class as they become upwardly mobile. The author insists that there is a black middle class despite denials that it exists and overturns the idea that money whitens.
The book makes a valuable contribution to the investigation of how gender, class, and race intersect to create particular social inequalities for blacks in the region.
Title: Blackness and Social Mobility in Brazil: Contemporary Transformations
Author: Doreen Gordon
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (March 2022)