Skip to main content

Advertisement

Log in

Divergence or Convergence in the U.S. and Brazil: Understanding Race Relations Through White Family Reactions to Black-White Interracial Couples

  • Published:
Qualitative Sociology Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Different approaches to race mixture in the U.S. and Brazil have led to the notion that they are polar opposites in terms of race relations. However, the end of de jure segregation in the U.S., the acknowledgement of racial inequality, and subsequent implementation of affirmative action in Brazil have called into question the extent to which these societies are vastly different. By examining race mixture as a lived reality, this study offers a novel approach to understanding racial boundaries in these two contexts. I analyze 87 interviews with individuals in black-white couples in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro to examine the cultural repertoires and discursive traditions they draw on to understand white families’ reactions to black spouses. I find that U.S. couples employ “color-blindness” to understand opposition to Blacks marrying into the family. Brazilian couples perceive overt racism and the use of humor from white family members. Nevertheless, couples with black males experienced more hostility in both sites. In addition, white male autonomy was related to the lower hostility that black female-white male couples experienced in both societies. By examining contemporary race mixture as a lived reality, this study complicates simplistic understandings of race relations as similar or different in these two societies. Furthermore, with the increase of multiracial families in both societies, it reveals the family as an important site for redrawing and policing racial boundaries.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. The term pardo refers to a grayish-brown color that is rarely used in common parlance and is mostly an official categorization. The indigenous and Asian categories together comprise about 2 % of the population (IBGE 2010).

  2. All names are pseudonyms.

  3. This was one of ten couple interviews that I conducted in addition to their individual interviews.

  4. Cariocas are people from Rio de Janeiro.

  5. Neguinho, a diminutive of negro, is often used as a term of endearment, including in families. However, depending on the way it is used, it can also be a racial epithet.

  6. She described her as a type of fictive kin, saying that her “sister” was a “not blood-related, but a sister of convenience since we were young.”

  7. He used the term miscegenada or “miscegenated.”

  8. “Our color” likely refers to the fact that both of us were unambiguous, dark-skinned negros. In the rest of his interview, Róbinson exhibited a strong sense of groupness pertaining to Blacks, both in Brazil and around the world.

  9. Críoulo is a derogatory term for Blacks. There is no direct translation, except for the n-word.

References

  • Bailey, S.R. 2009. Legacies of race: Identities, attitudes, and politics in Brazil. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barros, Z.d.S. 2003. Casais inter-raciais e suas representações acerca de raça. Master’s thesis. Salvador da Bahia: Universidade Federal da Bahia, Filosofia e Ciências Humanas.

  • Barth, F. 1998. Introduction. In Ethnic groups and boundaries: The social origin of culture difference, ed. F. Barth, 9–38. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Batson, C.D., Z. Qian, and D.T. Lichter. 2006. Interracial and intraracial patterns of mate selection among America’s diverse black populations. Journal of Marriage and Family 68: 658–672.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bobo, L., J.R. Kluegel, and R.A. Smith. 1997. Laissez-faire racism: The crystallization of a kinder, gentler, antiblack ideology. In Racial attitudes in the 1990s: Continuity and change, ed. S.A. Tuch and J.K. Martin, 15–42. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bobo, L.D., C.Z. Charles, M. Krysan, and A.D. Simmons. 2012. The real record on racial attitudes. In Social trends in American life: Findings from the general social survey since 1972, ed. P.V. Marsden, 38–82. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bonilla-Silva, E. 2006. Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burton, L.M., E.B. Silva, V. Ray, R. Buckelew, and E. Hordge-Freeman. 2010. Critical race theories, colorism, and the decade’s research on families of color. Journal of Marriage and Family 72: 440–459.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caldwell, K.L. 2007. Negras in Brazil: Re-envisioning black women, citizenship, and the politics of identity. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Childs, E.C. 2005a. Looking behind the stereotypes of the “angry black woman”: An exploration of black Women’s responses to interracial relationships. Gender & Society 19: 544.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Childs, E.C. 2005b. Navigating interracial borders: Black-white couples and their social worlds. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Collins, P.H. 2004. Black sexual politics. New York: Routledge.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Crenshaw, K. 1994. Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics and violence against women of color. In The public nature of private violence: The discovery of domestic abuse, ed. M. Fineman and R. Mykitiuk, 3–119. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1989. Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum:139–67.

  • da Silva, G.M. 2012. Folk conceptualizations of racism and antiracism in Brazil and South Africa. Ethnic and Racial Studies 35: 506–522.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • da Silva, G.M., and E.P. Reis. 2011. Perceptions of racial discrimination among black professionals in Rio de Janeiro. Latin American Research Review 46: 55–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dalmage, H.M. 2000. Tripping on the color line: Black-white multiracial families in a racially divided world. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Daniel, G.R. 2006. Race and multiraciality in Brazil and the United States: Converging paths? University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Davis, K. 1941. Intermarriage in caste societies. American Anthropologist 43: 388–395.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • de Azevedo, T. 1955. As elites de côr: Um estudo da ascensão social. São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional.

    Google Scholar 

  • de Souza, R.R. 2009. As representações do homem negro e suas consequências. Revista Forúm Identidades 6: 97–115.

    Google Scholar 

  • Degler, C.N. 1986. Neither black nor white: Slavery and race relations in Brazil and the United States. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • do Amparo-Alves, J. 2009. Narratives of violence: The white imagination and the making of black masculinity in City of God. Sociedade e Cultura 12: 301–309.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ferber, A.L. 1998. White man falling: Race, gender, and white supremacy. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fernandez, N.T. 1996. The color of love. Latin American Perspectives 23: 99–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fernandez, N. 2010. Revolutionizing romance: Interracial couples in contemporary Cuba. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fleming, C., M. Lamont, and J. Welburn. 2011. African Americans respond to stigmatization: The meanings and salience of confronting, deflecting conflict, educating the ignorant and “managing the self”. Ethnic and Racial Studies 35: 400–417.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Freyre, Gilberto. 1963/1980. The mansions and the shanties: The making of modern Brazil. Translated by Harriet De Onís. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

  • Goldstein, D. 1999. “Interracial” sex and racial democracy in Brazil: Twin concepts? American Anthropologist 101: 563–578.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goldstein, D.M. 2003. Laughter out of place: Race, class, violence, and sexuality in a Rio shantytown. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gordon, M.M. 1964. Assimilation in american life: The role of race, religion, and national origins. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Guimarães, A.S.A. 2005a. Racismo e anti-racismo no Brasil. São Paulo: Fundação de Apoio à Universidade de São Paulo.

    Google Scholar 

  • Guimarães, A.S.A. 2005b. Racial democracy. In Imagining Brazil, ed. J. Souza and V. Sinder, 119–140. Lanham: Lexington Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gullickson, A. 2006. Education and black-white interracial marriage. Demography 43: 673–689.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hall, J.D. 1993. Revolt against chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the women’s campaign against lynching. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hanchard, M.G. 1993. Orpheus and power: The movimento negro of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil 1945–1988. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hasenbalg, C. 1979. Discriminação e desigualdades raciais no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Graal.

  • Hasenbalg, C., and N.d.V. Silva. 1992. Relações raciais no Brasil contemporâneo. Rio de Janeiro: Rio Fundo Editora.

  • Hordge-Freeman, E. 2013. What’s love got to do with it?: Racial features, stigma and socialization in Afro-Brazilian families. Ethnic and Racial Studies 36: 1507–1523.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Htun, M. 2004. From ‘racial democracy’ to affirmative action: Changing state policy on race in Brazil. Latin American Research Review 39: 60–89.

    Google Scholar 

  • Humes, Karen R., Nicholas A. Jones, and Roberto R. Ramirez. 2011. Overview of race and Hispanic origin: 2010. U.S. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-02.pdf. Accessed 25 September 2011.

  • Hunter, M.L. 2005. Race, gender, and the politics of skin tone. New York: Routledge Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ianni, O. 1960. Cor e mobilidade social em Florianópolis: Aspectos das relações entre negros e brancos numa comunidade do Brasil meridional. São Paulo, Brazil: Companhia Editora Nacional.

  • IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística). 2010. Síntese de Indicadores Sociais: Uma Análise das Condições de Vida da População Brasileira. http://www.ibge.gov.br/home/estatistica/populacao/condicaodevida/indicadoresminimos/sinteseindicsociais2010/SIS_2010.pdf. Accessed 23 March 2012.

  • Judice, C.Y. 2008. Interracial marriages between black women and white men. Amherst: Cambria Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kalmijn, M. 1993. Trends in black/white intermarriage. Social Forces 72: 119–146.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, M. 1992. Money, morals and manners: The culture of the French and American upper-middle class. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, M. 2000. The dignity of working men: Morality and the boundaries of race, class, and immigration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, M. 2001. Culture and identity. In Handbook of sociological theory, ed. J.H. Turner, 171–185. New York: Plenum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, M., and C.M. Fleming. 2005. Everyday antiracism. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 2: 29–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lamont, M., and N. Mizrachi. 2011. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things: Responses to stigmatization in comparative perspective. Ethnic and Racial Studies 35: 365–381.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lee, J., and F.D. Bean. 2010. The diversity paradox: Immigration and the color line in twenty-first century America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lieberson, S., and M. Waters. 1988. From many strands: ethnic and racial groups in contemporary America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Loury, G. 2002. The anatomy of racial equality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marx, A.W. 1998. Making race and nation: A comparison of South Africa, the United States, and Brazil. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moutinho, L. 2004. Razão, “cor” e desejo. Sao Paulo: UNESP.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nagel, J. 2003. Race, ethnicity, and sexuality: Intimate intersections, forbidden frontiers. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nogueira, O. 1985. Tanto preto quanto branco: Estudos de relações raciais: Estudo de relações raciais. São Paulo: T.A. Queiroz.

    Google Scholar 

  • Osuji, C. 2013a. Racial boundary-policing: Perceptions of black-white interracial couples in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro. DuBois Review: Social Science Research on Race 10: 179–203.

    Google Scholar 

  • Osuji, C. 2013b. Confronting whitening in an era of black-consciousness: Racial ideology and black-white marriages in Brazil. Ethnic and Racial Studies 36: 1490–1506.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Patterson, O. 1997. The ordeal of integration: Progress and resentment in America’s racial crisis. New York: Basic Civitas Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Paixão, M., and L.M. Carvano. 2008. Relatório anual das desigualdades raciais no Brasil, 2007-2008. Rio de Janeiro: Garamond Universitária.

  • Petruccelli, J.L. 2001. Seletividade por cor e escolhas conjugais no Brasil dos 90. Estudos Afro-Asiaticos 23: 29–54.

    Google Scholar 

  • Porterfield, E. 1978. Black and white mixed marriages. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Qian, Z., and D.T. Lichter. 2001. Measuring marital assimilation: Intermarriage among natives and immigrants. Social Science Research 30: 289–312.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Qian, Z., and D.T. Lichter. 2011. Changing patterns of interracial marriage in a multiracial society. Journal of Marriage and Family 73: 1065–1084.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1940. On roking Relationships. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 13: 195–210.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ribeiro, C.A.C., and N.d.V. Silva. 2009. Cor, educação e casamento: Tendências da seletividade marital no Brasil, 1960 a 2000. DADOS: Revista de Ciências Sociais 52: 7–51.

  • Root, M.P.P. 2001. Love’s revolution: Interracial marriage. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenblatt, P.C., T.A. Karis, and R. Powell. 1995. Multiracial couples: Black & white voices, understanding families. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenfeld, M.J. 2008. Racial, educational and religious endogamy in the United States: A comparative historical perspective. Social Forces 87: 1–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sansone, L. 2003. Blackness without ethnicity: Constructing race in Brazil. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Sawyer, M. 2006. Racial politics in post-revolutionary Cuba. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schwartzman, L.F. 2007. Does money whiten? Intergenerational changes in racial classification in Brazil. American Sociological Review 72: 940.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sheriff, R.E. 2001. Dreaming equality: Color, race, and racism in urban Brazil. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Silva, N.d.V. 1987. Distância social e casamento inter-racial no Brasil. Estudos Afro-Asiaticos 14: 54–84.

  • Skidmore, T.E. 1993. Bi-Racial U.S.A. vs. multi-racial Brazil: Is the contrast still valid? Journal of Latin American Studies 25: 373–386.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sue, C.A. 2013. Land of the cosmic race: Race mixture, racism, and blackness in Mexico. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Sue, C.A., and T. Golash-Boza. 2013. “It was only a joke”: How racial humour fuels colour-blind ideologies in Mexico and Peru. Ethnic and Racial Studies 36: 1582–1598.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Swidler, A. 1986. Culture in action: Symbols and strategies. American Sociological Review 51: 273–286.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Telles, E.E. 2002. Racial ambiguity among the Brazilian population. Ethnic and Racial Studies 25: 415–441.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Telles, E.E. 2004. Race in another America: The significance of skin color in Brazil. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Telles, E.E., and C. Sue. 2009. Race Mixture: Boundary Crossing in Comparative Perspective. Annual Review of Sociology 35: 129–146.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tilly, C. 2004. Social boundary mechanisms. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34: 211–236.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tucker, M.B., and C. Mitchell-Kernan. 1990. New trends in Black American interracial marriage: The social structural context. Journal of Marriage and the Family 52: 209–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Twine, F.W. 1998. Racism in a racial democracy: The maintenance of white supremacy in Brazil. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. Interracial and interethnic coupled households appendix tables. Households and Families: 2010 Census Brief. http://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2010/briefs/tables/appendix.pdf. Accessed 7 July 2011.

  • Vigoya, M.V. 2008. Más que una cuestión de piel. Determinantes sociales y orientaciones subjetivas en los encuentros y desencuentros heterosexuales interraciales en Bogotá. In Raza, etnicidad y sexualidades: Ciudadanía y multiculturalismo en América Latina, ed. P. Wade, F. Urrea, and M. Viveros, 247–279. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Facultad de Ciencias Humanas, Centro de Estudios Sociales (CES).

    Google Scholar 

  • Wimmer, A. 2013. Ethnic boundary making: Institutions, power, networks. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Wuthnow, R.J. 2011. Taking talk seriously: Religious discourse as social practice. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 50: 1–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The author is grateful to Crystal Fleming, Onoso Imoagene, and Sylvia Zamora for their generous suggestions for this article. The author would also like to thank Edward Telles, Stefan Timmermans, Mignon Moore, and M. Belinda Tucker for their feedback on earlier drafts. Support for data collection was provided by the National Science Foundation, the UCLA Latin American Institute, the UCLA Bunche Center for African American Studies, and the University of Pennsylvania Center for Africana Studies. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2012 annual meetings of the Eastern Sociological Society and at the 2011 sessions of the Council on Contemporary American Families. I thank the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chinyere Osuji.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Osuji, C. Divergence or Convergence in the U.S. and Brazil: Understanding Race Relations Through White Family Reactions to Black-White Interracial Couples. Qual Sociol 37, 93–115 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-013-9268-2

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-013-9268-2

Keywords

Navigation