Learning Affect, Embodying Race: Youth, Blackness, and Neoliberal Emotions in Latino Newark



This article examines everyday constructions of racial subjects, the affective worlds of those subjects, and the potential material consequences behind emotional ethos that are oftentimes in alignment with the interests of state and market imperatives. Under neoliberalism, there has been an intensification in the cultural standardization and organization of feelings and sentiments (Haskell 1985). I examine how feelings and sentiments intersect with everyday evaluations of racial difference and processes of racial learning, particularly among Latin American migrant and U.S.-born Latino youth. What do individuals’ affective worlds tell us about multi-scale experiences of race, racial ideologies, and racialization practices? What kinds of emotional work do embodied practices of learning race require? How does becoming a transnational racial subject in the United States alter one's affective world and perspectives on the emotional subjectivities of racialized others? I approach these questions by drawing from ethnographic materials gathered from fieldwork conducted in public high schools in the Puerto Rican area of North Broadway and the largely Brazilian Ironbound, two predominantly Latino neighborhoods in Newark, New Jersey, between 2001 and 2008. To a lesser extent, I also draw from research conducted in private and public high schools in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Santurce, Puerto Rico, over several months in 2004, 2005, and 2006. I argue that Latin American and Latino populations in urban areas of the United States navigate unfamiliar racial situations through the development of a quotidian emotional epistemology; that is, through the deployment of a set of rules and assumptions about affect and its adequate expression, interpretations of how others feel or should feel, and the creation or performance of an affective persona. As I demonstrate in the essay, these rules and assumptions are informed by transnational racial ideologies, social practices around performances of Blackness, socioeconomic hierarchies, and expectations of belonging on multiple scales, like the neighborhood, nation state, and the market. I am particularly attentive to how Latin American migrant and U.S.-born Latino youth engage in a process of racial learning that renders them “street therapists” dedicated to observing and correcting “defective” forms of Blackness, developing appropriate feeling rules, and hesitantly embracing a docility valued in an exploitative service sector economy.