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But You (Don’t) Look Like an African American: African Diaspora Looking Relations between Brazil and the United States

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Race and the Politics of Knowledge Production
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Abstract

In November 2007 in São Paulo, Brazil, I attended a lecture by Fred Hampton Jr., the son of slain Black Panther Fred Hampton Sr. Hampton’s lecture was one of the many events about black culture, history, and politics that took place in São Paulo during November, or the month of black consciousness. I attended the lecture with Manoel and Christina, two Afro-Brazilians around my age who worked and studied in São Paulo. Christina’s mother also attended the event, but she arrived at the venue, a local community center, before we did. She had saved seats for us in the crowded space to ensure that we could all sit down to hear the lecture. I sat between Christina and her mother. After engaging in a series of small talk, Christina told her mother that I was from the United States and that I had come to Brazil to examine racial politics. On receiving this information, Christina’s mother touched my arm, pointing to my skin color, and said: “I wouldn’t think you were from the United States, you aren’t that dark (voce não é tão pretinha).” In referring to the relative lightness of my skin, Christina’s mother reflected the common belief in Brazil that Brazilians are of mixed race and African Americans,1 or US Americans in general, are racially singular. To her, the idea that African Americans are racially pure or singular would manifest itself in a phenotype of dark skin and coarse hair. Yet I, as an African American with light brown skin and curly hair seemed to fall in line more closely with her ideas of how Brazilians looked.

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Gladys L. Mitchell-Walthour Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman

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© 2016 Reighan Gillam

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Gillam, R. (2016). But You (Don’t) Look Like an African American: African Diaspora Looking Relations between Brazil and the United States. In: Mitchell-Walthour, G.L., Hordge-Freeman, E. (eds) Race and the Politics of Knowledge Production. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137553942_8

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