Voicing Race and Anti-Racism: Rethinking Black Consciousness among Black Activists in Salvador, Brazil
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe Brazilian government has recently enacted some of Latin America's most extensive affirmative action laws and policies, including racial quotas in all public universities and a law that requires schools throughout Brazil to teach Afro-Brazilian history and culture. In this context, a large-scale black consciousness movement has emerged, with a vast array of black organizations (otherwise known as "Black NGOs") using race as a productive political strategy to secure access to resources and rights for people of African descent. Through yearlong ethnographic investigations of three of these organizations in the city of Salvador (Bahia) from 2009-2010, this dissertation examines the effects of such changes on black activists' interpretations of blackness and their understanding of black consciousness. It looks to the complex ways in which black activists are creatively juxtaposing Brazil's long-held racial ideologies on the one hand with discourses and forms of knowledge about race that have been set forth by the new race-conscious legislations and policies on the other. Drawing from and contributing to the field of linguistic anthropology, I demonstrate that language is crucial to their goals of revealing patterns of institutional racism, critiquing commonsense notions of blackness in Brazil, and promoting anti-racism. I show how black activists teach one another elaborate ways of using language to scrutinize deeply entrenched ideas about race and blackness embedded in their own and others' speech as well as new ways of thinking and talking about race in Brazil. The dissertation carries throughout a concern with the status and formation of black consciousness in light of recent cultural and political changes. Drawing on my training in linguistic and cultural anthropology, I combine the analysis of data from participant observations, in-depth interviews, and countless conversations with black activists to examine what I call "affirmative language practices"--linguistic strategies that black activists use to foreground multiple points of views about race and blackness within Brazil's dominant frameworks of racial identification and categorization. I employ the notions of voice, dialogism, participant roles, and intertextuality (explored in the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, Erving Goffman, Jane Hill, and others) to provide evidence that black activists do not require or privilege black identity in the construction of "black consciousness." I argue that for these black activists, black consciousness may be characterized by the emergence of an ideological critique in and through language that allows Afro-Brazilians to articulate competing ideological positions about race and racism in Brazil.
Degree ProgramGraduate College