Whitening and racial ambiguity: racialization and ethnoracial citizenship in contemporary Brazil

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11 Scopus citations


Recent policies to redress racial inequality in Brazil, including affirmative action and the protection of Afro-Brazilian land rights, have generated fierce debates about the character of race and racism in Brazilian society. In this article, I critically examine an assumption structuring these debates: that Brazil is characterized by a special tolerance for ethnoracial ambiguity that is threatened by these initiatives. Drawing on ethnographic research on conflicts between Afro-Brazilian communities and Brazil’s spaceport, I argue that an everyday imperative to social whitening shows how this ethnoracial ambiguity has been skewed toward one racial pole. Affirmative action policies do not eliminate ethnoracial ambiguity, but have helped to change the force of the everyday whitening that structures it. In this critique, I aim to clarify the nature of ethnoracial changes in Brazil, as the ideology of ‘racial democracy’ has lost the hegemony it held during much of Brazil’s twentieth century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-130
Number of pages17
JournalAfrican and Black Diaspora
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 4 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Brazil
  • citizenship
  • quilombos
  • race


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