- 22,00 kr
In a felicitous turn of phrase, Barbara Babcock once asserted that "what is socially marginal is often symbolically central" (1978, 38). There is no better way to describe the figure of the mulata (a light-skinned black woman) in Rio de Janeiro. As evidenced in popular culture, artistic productions, tourist brochures and TV programs, the mulata is an idealized icon in the contemporary Brazilian imagination. A polysemic category, "mulata" in the Brazilian context can refer to "a woman of mixed racial descent," but it also connotes the voluptuosity and sensuality characteristic of women who dance the samba onstage. I use the local term mulata in order to make reference to these multiple meanings. The fascination with this local figure is inscribed within the discourse of mesticagem, a dominant narrative emphasizing the process of cultural and biological fusion of the "races," white and black in particular, as symbol of Brazilianness. I take racial and colour categories such as "white," "black," "mulatto," and "mestico" to be ideological products with material effects vis-a-vis the structuring of power relations across society. These categories acquire different symbolic value within the context of Brazilian "pigmentocracy," where instead of a colour line, shadism permeates race relations: The lighter the skin, the greater the social value. To a point, that is. In this article I argue that the most valued bodies in Rio de Janeiro are those of white Brazilians that are able to embody the qualities of mulattoes. In particular, I focus on the characteristics associated with mulatto women in the context of carnival, and look at how in recent years white women have progressively come to occupy the spotlight in this setting. The article explores the Brazilian fascination with the mulata in terms of stereotypes that organize images of social difference and convey specific longings and desire. It situates the emergence of this fascination within the context of colonial gender and race relations and later, the development of a national ideology focused on the value of whitening through "mixing." I examine the discourse on mesticagem in the work of anthropologist Gilberto Freyre, the most influential thinker in the history of Brazil (Schwartzman 2000). Exploring Freyre's glorification of the mulata, I look at how women's bodies have become surfaces upon which masculinist and nationalist desires are deployed. I then move on to argue that morenidade (brownness), while commonly thought of as interchangeable with mulatice (mulatto-ness) as a central value and self-concept in Brazilian society, is in fact the preferred social type. I explore how morenidade is one aspect of the idealized "perfect body" in Rio's society, and look at how local people invest their physiques with numerous techniques in order to obtain such an ideal for themselves. Woven through the article is an exploration of how these issues are expressed in the narratives of my research participants. (1) In resonance with Malysse (2002), I conclude that Rio's culture has become obsessed with the image bodies project as expressions of personhood, and bring to bear my reflections on morenidade upon the Carioca (from Rio) perfect body.