Home is Where the Hurt Is: Racial Socialization, Stigma, and Well-Being in Afro-Brazilian Families

Home is Where the Hurt Is: Racial Socialization, Stigma, and Well-Being in Afro-Brazilian Families

Duke University
228 pages

Elizabeth Hordge Freeman

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Sociology in the Graduate School of Duke University

This dissertation examines racial socialization in Afro-Brazilian families in order to understand how phenotypically diverse families negotiate racial hierarchies and ideologies of white supremacy. As an inductive, qualitative project, this research is based on over fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil in fifteen poor and working-class Bahian families and 116 semi-structured interviews with family members and informants. Findings suggest that one of the most prominent features of racial socialization is the pervasive devaluation of black/African influences, which is conveyed through implicit and explicit messages as well as concrete practices (including rituals) that promote the stigmatization of negatively valued racialized physical features. The study reveals a pattern of unequal distribution of affection based on racial appearance (phenotype), which is evident in parent-child, sibling, extended family, and romantic relationships. Findings suggest that negative appraisals of racial phenotype may significantly compromise affective bonds in families and have social psychological consequences impacting self-esteem and sense of belonging, while also eliciting suicidal ideations and anxieties. These outcomes are most pronounced for Afro-Brazilian females. Racial socialization also conveys the “strategically ambiguous” logic of color and racial classification, uncritically exposes family members to racist messages, jokes, and stereotypical images of Afro-Brazilians, and encourages cultural participation that superficially valorizes Afro-Brazilian culture and fosters nationalism, rather than racial identity. In contrast to traditional findings of racial socialization in the U.S., messages valorizing racial heritage are rare and efforts to prepare family members for bias rely on universal terms. Families do employ counter-discourses and creative strategies of resistance; and so, racial socialization is characterized by practices that reflect both resistance and accommodation to racial hierarchies. I conclude that racial socialization in families is influenced by and sustains racialization processes that maintain the broader system of white supremacy. Contrary to how racial socialization has been framed as having a purely protective role in families, this study illustrates how it may disadvantage blacks vis-à-vis whites and uniquely stigmatizes the most “black-looking” family members vis-à-vis those who more closely approximate an idealized (whiter) somatic norm. Future studies should triangulate data on racial socialization from other regions of the Americas.


  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements
  • 1. Introduction
    • 1.1 “The Face of A Slave”
    • 1.2 Background
    • 1.3 Case Selection
      • 1.3.1 Community Site
    • 1.4 Data and Methods
    • 1.5 Methodology
    • 1.6 “Second Sight” or Double Vision? My Subjectivity in the Field
    • 1.7 Organization of the Dissertation
  • 2. Literature Review
    • 2.1 Crafting a Social Order: Race and Racialization
      • 2.1.1 Towards a Phenotypic Continuum
    • 2.2 Blinded by the White: Whitening and Racial Socialization in Families
      • 2.2.1 Studying Families in the U.S. and Brazil
      • 2.2.2 Mothering in Families
    • 2.3 The Stigmatized Body and Well Being
    • 2.4 The Family Systems Paradigm and Emotions
    • 2.5 Conceptual Framework
    • 2.6 Theoretical Framework
    • 2.7 The Racial Rubik: Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
  • 3. “All in the Family”: Implicit and Explicit Racial Socialization
    • 3.1 Chapter Preface
    • 3.2 “Strategic Ambiguity” and Color Inconsistencies
      • 3.2.1 Family Interventions in Racial Classification
      • 3.2.2 Will the real white person please stand up?
      • 3.2.3 There are no whites, We are all black!
    • 3.3 Race and Space
      • 3.3.1 Todo no seu Lugar – Everything in its Place
    • 3.4 “Explicit Socialization Messages?.
      • 3.4.1 Educação é Salvação: Education is Salvation
      • 3.4.2 Reading Bodies, Not Books
    • 3.5 Racially (Mixed Messages) and Quotas
    • 3.6 What is racism?
    • 3.7 Media and Culture
      • 3.7.1 Novelas
      • 3.7.2 Re-Telling National Tales
    • 3.8 Conclusion
  • 4. What’s Love Got to Do With It? : The Stigma of Racialized Features, Affect, and Socialization in Families
    • 4.1 Context
    • 4.2 The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: Mother-Child Relationships
    • 4.2.1 Harbingers of Racial Socialization: Babies
    • 4.3 Like a Good Neighbor
    • 4.4 Mama’s Baby is Daddy’s Maybe
    • 4.5 Racial Roulette and Sibling Rivalry
    • 4.6 She’s just my (pheno)Type: Romantic Love
      • 4.6.1 Race and Romance
    • 4.7 Discussion
  • 5. Black and “Blue”: Racial Stigma and Well being
    • 5.1 Incog-negro: Abandoning Blackness
    • 5.2 When Racial Roulette is Violent
    • 5.3 Depression, Trust, and Trauma
    • 5.4 Pretty Please?! Beauty and Self-Esteem
    • 5.5 We (Don’t) Belong Together
    • 5.6 Discussion
  • 6. Pigments of the Imagination: Beauty, Body, and Racialization
    • 6.1 The Bodies Exhibit
    • 6.2 Hands, Feet, and Ears, Oh My!
    • 6.3 Hair-itage
      • 6.3.1 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
    • 6.4 The Roots of Resistance: Afro-Aesthetics
      • 6.4.1 Hide My Roots! Afro-Aesthetics and Cultural Movements at Home
    • 6.5 Discussion
  • 7. “Where There is Power, There is Also Resistance
    • 7.1 Nascimento Family Values
      • 7.1.1 Racial Names.
      • 7.1.2 Race and Privilege
      • 7.1.3 Beauty
      • 7.1.4 Racial History
      • 7.1.5 Internalized Racism
    • 7.2 The Santos Family
      • 7.2.1 Racial Rituals
    • 7.3 The de Jesus Family: The Brazilian Black Panthers
      • 7.3.1 Brief Life History of Pantera Negra
      • 7.3.2 Explicit Socialization
    • 7.4 Discussion
  • 8. Conclusion – The Ties That Bind
    • 8.1 Limitations and Future Directions
    • 8.2 Conclusions
  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B
  • Appendix C
  • Appendix D
  • Appendix E
  • References
  • Bibliography

List of Tables

  • Table 1: Color Categorization by Percentage
  • Table 2: Summary of the color terms used in interviews and observations
  • Table 3: Summary of responses to the question: What is your race?
  • Table 4: List of all color or racial nicknames used by informants

Read the entire dissertation here.

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