Thursday, October 15, 2009

Race to the Finish: Conceptions of "Blackness" and Interracial Marriage in the United States and Brazil

By now, most Americans have heard the news of Louisiana judge Keith Bardwell's refusal to grant a marriage license to an interracial couple. Dismaying as this is, the interesting part lies in his rationale:

He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society, he said.

"There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage," Bardwell said. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."

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Of course, the most famous mixed-race American happens to be the current president of the United States:"Perhaps he's worried the kids will grow up and be president," said Bill Quigley, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice, referring to President Barack Obama, the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas.

Still, children of mixed African and European ancestry - and even interracial courtship - remain a rare, and often taboo, subject in the United States. Even for the open-minded, racial preferences and self-segregation still manifest themselves on the internet in the world of online dating as well as other social networking websites.

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However, even in countries such as Brazil, where "Pardo" (brown or mixed-race) is an officially-recognized racial category, the issue of defining race and "blackness" is still a contentious debate:

"And if the United States is a country where black people with light skin used to sometimes “pass,” i.e., pretend to be white, well, in this country “passing is a national institution.”

But perhaps the United States is leaning in this direction, as well.

1 comment:

Michael said...

It is not just that Brazil has recognized 'mixed' as a category. The entire trajectories of the idea of race have been different between the two countries. Whereas in the US, during the 19th century race began to be codified as a binary of white versus anyone with a trace of 'african blood'. This was never the case in Brazil. While there was a rhetoric on the superiority of white, interracial marriage and miscegenation was encouraged as a way of 'whitening' and creating differentiation within the population. Because of this (or perhaps causing that), the Brazilian state did not formally institutionalize race as a category until much later.

It seems quite unlikely that the conceptualization of race as not a binary (it is absurd to think of 'mixed' offspring as somehow controversial when in fact most 'blacks' in the US have European ancestors) will change soon in the US. Interestingly, in Brazil, there has been more move towards making claims to a racial dichotomy, frequently on the part of nonwhites who deal with informal, as opposed to formally institutionalized, racism.

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