“How was your summer; weren’t you, like, in Brazil, or something?”
Or something. For my Social Science Scholars project, I decided to go and study race in Brazil. Having lived there already, in addition to having spent the five years previous diligently studying Portuguese, researching in Brazil was, organically, the next step in my undergraduate studies. In my twenty-year old naivety, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. Looking back, I am slowly coming to understand how important this summer was, and will be, as it marked me for the rest of my life.
My initial plan was to go to João Pessoa, Paraíba, situated in Northeast of Brazil, and assist in research of quilombo maroon settlements. A quilombo is a community of individuals who are descendants of enslaved Africans that maintains religious and cultural traditions and practices from pre-abolition. Originally, I wanted to shadow several researchers who work on territoriality, race and identity, and compose a paper detailing the differences between race research in the U.S. and Brazil. It seemed apparent to me that race in the two contexts were categorically different, giving me ample space to discuss racial perceptions and how these constructed perceptions necessarily influence research on race. I spent nearly 6 months preparing and reading for this project, but when I got to Brazil, my plans quickly changed.
Just days after my arrival, I was already visiting quilombos and meeting quilombo leaders, spending hours per day reading, and re-working my research proposal. Although my supervisor, Dr. Solange Rocha, and my peer mentor, a PhD student, Iany Costa, were happy for me to assist them, they were keener on having me conduct my own ethnographic study. For three nights and four days, I slept in a quilombo, and conducted ethnographic research at the Ipiranga black community, and led a focus group of quilombola black women on racial identity, gender identity, and entrepreneurship, more specifically, economic self-sufficiency. I was curious to know about whether a pro-black political identity precluded or encouraged normative feminine gender behavior in relation to economic self-sufficiency. In essence, do quilombola black women, despite being the household matriarchs, express traditional or non-traditional beliefs or behaviors towards gender? I videotaped and interviewed the women for just over an hour, and stayed in the house of the quilombo leader, Ana. I am still transcribing and analyzing the interview data, after completing that, I will write a paper and talk about the results in a presentation to our class.
I was in Brazil for just over two months, and spent most of the time visiting different quilombos in the region. Whenever Dr. Rocha was not sending me out into the field, I was shut away in her home library for hours on end, reading and unlearning much of what I had thought about race in Brazil prior. Apart from my mini-ethnography, there were many takeaways from my time in Brazil, and I must offer my sincerest thanks to Social Science Scholars and my supervisors, who guided me along the way.
Mackenzie Teek is a 2017 Social Science Scholar. She will continue her research as a Fulbright Scholar.
The featured image is from Wikipedia.