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American Ethnologist

Melted gold and national bodies: The hermeneutics of depth and the value of history in Brazilian racial politics

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ABSTRACT

Anthropologists have long puzzled over a supposed lack of explicitly racial identification among Brazilians who face racial discrimination. Yet a clear uptick in Afro-Brazilian identification and contestation of racism is observable in Brazil today. In this article, I examine the transformation of Salvador, Brazil's Pelourinho neighborhood into a heritage center, a process that includes the commodification of residents’ lifeways, so as to link semiotic relationships encouraged by the patrimonializing of buildings, people, and their habits to alterations in racial politics. This case suggests that racial consciousness ties into popular concerns with secrets, depths, and hidden relations encouraged by heritage-based reifications of everyday habits as potentially alienable forms of property.

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