Much of the research on race relations in the US and Brazil places the two societies in separate camps. For example, the US is usually understood as a nation with a strict racial hierarchy, where blacks and whites occupy opposite poles. On the contrary, Brazil is conceived of as more of a “racial democracy,” where racial boundaries are blurred and social inequalities are predominantly class-based.
In the most recent issue of Qualitative Sociology, however, Chinyere Osuji adds to the growing body of literature that aims to complicate these simple conceptions of race relations in both countries. Using comparative data from interviews with 87 individuals in black-white relationships, Osuji looks at the lived reality of interracial couples in Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles, exploring how they negotiate racial boundaries through family interactions. Focusing on couples’ interactions with their families, Osuji finds trends that are emblematic of the prominent racial discourses that exist in either society. In the US, for instance, she discovers that families tend to take a “color-blind” approach upon first hearing of an interracial relationship, and do not show more overt displeasure or discouragement until the relationship becomes serious. Brazilian families differ in that many show immediate and open racist opposition to interracial mixing. Even upon the families’ acceptance of the relationship, overt racism often persists through the use of “humor,” something that Osuji argues is representative of the “inclusionary discrimination” in Brazilian race relations.
But not everything is different. In both sites, families are most oppositional to black men in interracial couples. Moreover, white men are often less questioned by their families than white women about their decisions to date interracially. Most importantly, Osuji’s study illustrates how, in light of their supposed differences, families in the US and Brazil continue to police racial boundaries despite the societal prevalence of “color-blind” and “post-racial” rhetorics.