South-North Dialogues on Queer Epistemologies, Embodiments and Activisms
Edited By Elizabeth Sara Lewis, Rodrigo Borba, Branca Falabella Fabrício and Diana de Souza Pinto
South-North Dialogues on Queer Epistemologies, Embodiments and Activisms is composed of research presented at the fourth international Queering Paradigms Conference (QP4), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In line with the QP project ethos of bringing together diverse epistemological and geographical allegiances, this volume intends to contribute to building a queer postcolonial critique of the current politics of queer activism and of queer knowledge production and circulation. However, rather than perpetuating the North-South dichotomy, the papers gathered here are an effort to establish global dialogues that crisscross those axes, as well as attempts at queering epistemologies, socio-political bonds, and bodies, embodiments and identities. They endeavour to trouble unequal geographies of knowledge – namely the North as an exporter of theories and the South as their importer; the North as a producer of knowledge and the South as its object of study – hosting enormous potential for reinvention.
The Black Male Body and Sex Wars in Brazil
What challenge does th[e] excluded and abjected realm produce to a symbolic hegemony that might force a radical rearticulation of what qualifies as bodies that matter, ways of living that count as “life,” lives worth protecting, lives worth saving, lives worth grieving? (Butler 1993: 16)
Crisis of Masculinity/Crisis of Society
The low level of critical light shone on the question of masculinity creates the illusion that the social forms that produce and regulate performances of masculine identity remain in a blind spot when it comes the reproduction of society’s symbolic forms. However, we need to recognize the intense social and political investments that affect the creation of masculine subject positions and identities in the invention of social life, with all of its contradictions and ambiguities. Not only is masculinity itself – as experienced in the lived world, in the public sphere and in transformations of intimacy – socially regulated; society also gains body and density in masculine gestures repeated as difference or through the innumerable other differences that produce the emergence of performative gender representations. As such, the goal of this chapter is to analyze the power relations that interconnect the state and the construction of black male bodies and subjectivities in Brazil, using the controversy over the so-called Lei Anti-baixaria to explore the sexual and racial tensions involved in the debate.
The theoretical effort behind this chapter is related, primarily, to an attempt to include “race” in queer perspectives. This is a fundamental task if we want to challenge the politics of production, circulation ← 301 | 302 → and consumption of knowledge and queer activism along Global North / Global South axes, since race and ethnicity issues are structuring factors in the Global South, particularly in South America (and Brazil, of course). In challenging these politics, I want to affirm my commitment to vernacular forms of social criticism, located in popular culture, as well as alternative epistemologies, found among racialized, sexualized Others, like myself. I also need to point out my affinity with queer approaches like those of Lisa Duggan and Cathy Cohen, which not only take on a queer point of view in criticizing the state, power relations, public cultures, etc., but also try to look at non-queer subjects or issues through a queer analytical lens. As Duggan says,
In other words, the need to turn our attention to state politics is not only theoretical (though it is also that). It is time for queer intellectuals to concentrate on the creative production of strategies at the boundary of queer and nation – strategies specifically for queering the state. (2006: 173)
I am also, of course, indebted to Judith Butler’s perspectives and discourse on queer and the abject, as I try to apply these categories to thinking about black male heterosexual subjects and their relations with the state. In this manner, I seek to queer the “macho” performances of masculinity of young, black, male pagode fans, performances which are related to how the state produces them as targets for state “necropolitics” (Mbembe 2001) or what I refer to as a state-sanctioned and state-promoted genocide. This task requires the aid of postcolonial theories, which is why I have been drawn to Spivak’s work, as we shall see below.
Keeping in mind what we have said above, we need to consider the crisis of the masculine, as we can ultimately qualify it, as a crisis of society itself and of its contradictions, carried out or staged through the production of fields of social differentiation. In Brazil, racism, as a founding historical fact and structural figure, is ever-present, albeit in ways that often go unperceived. In the New World in general, and rather dramatically in Brazil’s case in particular, kinship and gender relations amongst enslaved Africans and their descendants have been the object, over an extended period of time, of policing, admonition, pathologization, and even criminalization. In historical terms, such attempts to control bodies and relations range ← 302 | 303 → from cases of sexual interdiction, to Jim Crow laws, to the criminalization of black men, and include the ideological concealment of black families and the idea of the “purity of blood” (Cohen 1999, 2001; Vainfas 1997; Stolke 2006; Malebranche 2005). The violence and stigma of barbarism and savagery is joined to the symbolic space of the representation of black masculine identity.
As has been well established in the literature, everything unfolds as if the repudiated fantasy of desire, or foreclosed desire – the desire for violence and death that haunts the dominant white imaginary –, could be encountered in the black body, in the skin and muscles of the black man as a point of manifestation, as abjection (Mbembe 2001; Derrida  1994; Amparo-Alves 2009; Butler 1993; Spivak  2010). In the shadowy theater of racial identities staged within the force of colonial power, the body, desire, sex, and violence are the main protagonists (Quijano 2007; Maldonado-Torres 2007).
Working from a specific empirical context and an ethnographically critical point of view, I will discuss the proposal and ratification of the so-called Lei Anti-baixaria in the state of Bahia. Located in the Northeastern Region of the country, Bahia is characterized by poverty, structural social inequality, a colonial past of plantations, and a predominantly black demographic (80% of the capital city of Salvador, which has a total population of over 3 million), and stands on the lowest level of the social pyramid.
The word “baixaria” is difficult to translate into English. It means something like trashiness, vulgarity, public profanation, profanity, debauchery, indecency, vileness, depravity, and crassness, although none of these terms communicates word’s historical connection to the sexualization and racialization of poor people in Brazil: “baixaria” is the kind of stuff that “low” (“baixo”) people do. Supposedly on behalf of women’s dignity, the law specifically prohibits the state from contracting musical groups that play the local music genre known as pagode or pagodão (“big pagode” or “super pagode”), a contemporary and very popular variation on samba, marked by sexual suggestiveness and corporal, hyper-sexualized, heterosexual male performances. In my perspective, what we are facing in the case of the prohibition of this type of music is a racialized war on sex (Duggan 2006).
← 303 | 304 → We will undertake this analysis against the background of the genocide of the young black population in Brazil and in Bahia specifically, understood as a structuring factor of the racialized public sphere, and as an essential step in the repudiation of the black man as a foreclosed/abject “native” (Hanchard 1996; Spivak  2010). As Butler reminds us, the
exclusionary matrix by which subjects are formed […] requires the simultaneous production of a domain of abject beings, those who are not yet “subjects,” but who form the constitutive outside to the domain of the subject. The abject designates here precisely those “unlivable” and “uninhabitable” zones of social life which are nevertheless densely populated by those who do not enjoy the status of the subject, but whose living under the sign of the “unlivable” is required to circumscribe the domain of the subject. (1993: 3)
Our previous use of the term genocide is not rhetorical, as statistics will soon make clear. However, more important than the numerical evidence is that the nature and modality of the violence produced or permitted by the state genuinely reaches the level of genocide, one that is politically determined and ideologically conditioned (Vargas 2010).
As we plan on showing in the remainder of this chapter, the connection between sex wars and the disproportional everyday lethal violence perpetrated against young black men living on city outskirts is not arbitrary, but has been determined by history and by a politics of subjectivity involving race and gender in the Brazilian context. Removing the cognitive and intellectual barriers to understanding this connection is a political task of decolonization that needs to be matched in the emancipatory practices and critical engagements of social subjects. As we develop this proposal we shall consider it from a queer perspective – that is to say, a non-substantialist, critical perspective, informed by racial contradictions and sexual and gender ambiguities (Cohen 2001; Butler 1993).
First, I will explain the context of the proposal of the law and the circumstances of its ratification. Secondly, I will consider the historicity of black bodies and popular Afro-Brazilian culture, as well as the anti-black genocide sanctioned and even promoted by the state, in order to stress the structuring role the state has in shaping gendered subjects. To conclude, I shall emphasize how sex and race work as a power apparatus to effectively subjugate and subjectify young black males as abject subjects and bodies.
The Lei Anti-baixaria, originally proposed as Bill 19.137/2011, was an initiative of Luiza Maia of the Worker’s Party (“Partido dos Trabalhadores”, or PT), a representative in Bahia’s Legislative Assembly, and earned the support of diverse local protagonists, including Governor Jaques Wagner (also of the Worker’s Party) and many feminists and researchers in the field of gender relations. On the 27th of March, 2012, the Legislative Assembly of the State of Bahia approved the Lei Anti-baixaria in a vote of 43 to 9 – a surprisingly feminist, politically correct about-face for the usually conservative Assembly (G1 BA 2012).
On paper, the bill aims to impede public funding of artists whose work demeans the image of women and incites violence against them. As Cecilia Sardenberg (2011) has discussed in depth, such a project is situated in the historical narrative of the fight both against the social devaluation of women and for their rights. As Sardenberg argues, the new law would merely create regulations for enforcing Article 282 of the State Constitution, which declares that the state of Bahia
will guarantee, before society, the public image of women as mothers, workers, and citizens in conditions of equality with men, aiming to […] prevent the circulation of messages which violate the dignity of women, re-enforcing sexual or racial discrimination. (State Constitution of Bahia, quoted in Sardenberg 2011: n.p., my translation)
However, in practical terms, the new law would banish various musical groups who play pagode baiano, or pagodão, from Bahia’s popular festivals (such as Carnival and Saint John of Bahia Day), which are usually paid for by public funding.
There is, of course, no doubt that the state should be obliged to scrupulously endorse human rights and dignity for all, especially subjects, such as women, who have been discriminated against historically and submitted to specific types of violence and repression. Furthermore, my commitment to women’s emancipation and to feminist criticism is beyond doubt. We must observe, however, the constellation of discourses and representations, in all of their historicity and contradictions, around this debate, which is ← 305 | 306 → besieging the streets of Salvador and the public arena. Loyal to the tradition of critical anthropology, I will attempt to take on the viewpoint of the “natives” in question, that is, the pagodeiros (young, male pagode performers and fans), and identify with the socially rooted perspective of these subjects.
Examining the heated debate about the Lei Anti-baixaria permits us to critically reflect upon the questions of emancipation, representation, and identity politics embodied in the horizon of peripheral modernity. Here, I would like to point out some key elements in the construction of the positioned perspectives within this debate, considering the contradictions and questions raised by political struggles around issues of body, gender, and race as identity politics in postcolonial class societies. As such, I will not consider the transcendental objectives of the proposed law, but its effects on young, disadvantaged, black youths.
I will assume, therefore, not a substantive point of view, but a procedural one, similar to that developed by Sonia Corrêa (2006), who highlighted the “procedural” background involved in the establishment of rights. To adequately qualify the process, we will have to take into account “the conceptual and practical-political dilemmas” (ibid: 101, my translation) connected with the procedure of the legitimation of rights; in the author’s own words, “the construction of these rights does not happen in a vacuum” (ibid). These tensions and contradictions are materialized in historically specific forms and do not represent moral choices and timeless ethics. We thus come face to face with a scenario in which supposedly universal values need to be considered in light of practical and possible self-contradictory circumstances.
The Samba Moral Panic Report
We cannot overlook the historical significance of the unease over samba felt in Salvador, reflecting a racialized urban experience, manifested in history, structures of expectations, or as the historical grounds for traditions (Soares 1994; Habermas  1987). At the level of concrete history, the ← 306 | 307 → street – often imagined as dangerous, anonymous, liminal, or marginal – seems to have been reinvented in terms of its social significance by Africans and their descendants, at least in some of the main Brazilian urban centers, as a network of focal points for articulating space, work, identity, and resistance. Such forces drove the well-documented and persistent moral panic that underpinned the various campaigns of de-Africanization which occurred in the city of Salvador. The notion of moral panic in use here is close to the one applied to studies of black music genres by Joseph Jordan (2008), for whom moral panic is a social feeling that becomes structured when a group of people “become[s] defined as a threat to societal values and interest: its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right thinking people” (Welch, Price and Pankey 2003, quoted in Jordan 2008: 18). The de-Africanization campaigns driven by such moral panics appear in newspaper extracts from the beginning of the 20th century, as evidenced by Lombrosian ethnologist Raymundo Nina Rodrigues:
We have been requesting, for a long time, that the police take measures against these events [the sambas] […]. [S]ince they continue to take place as the Carnival holidays approach [in 1902], once again we voice our protest against this contravention of our customs. (Jornal de Notícias 1902, quoted in Rodrigues  1977: 168, my translation)
Also documented are a diverse range of municipal initiatives prohibiting Africanized clubs and black drumming, called “colossal candomblé” (candomblé is the most traditional form of Afro-Brazilian religion, devoted to the worship of Yoruba deities called orishas), between 1905 and 1914 (Vieira Filho 1995). Decades later, in the 1960s and 70s, similar attitudes were directed against blocos-de-índio (carnival groups that used Native North-American costumes and themes while performing on the streets), resulting in a conflict on the carnival stage that reenacted the tensions of class struggle itself. The blocos-de-índio carnival groups were mostly composed of the city’s poor, and they soon gained a reputation for violence. In 1977, the Apaches do Tororó (Apaches from Tororó, a poor district) group, comprising 5,000 youths mostly from the impoverished city outskirts, was brutally dispersed by police under allegations that a number of ← 307 | 308 → its participants had threatened some young members of another carnival contingent, Lá Vem Elas (literally “Here They Come”, but better translated as “Here Come the Women”, as “elas” or “they” is marked feminine), made up of the sisters, wives, and fiancées of the military police. This event was the trigger for an intense campaign of repression launched against the blocos-de-índio groups, culminating in their virtual extinction (Rodrigues 1996). The white bourgeois press once again fulfilled its role:
Like a horde of furious, bloodthirsty Indians, the “Apaches do Tororó” once again made their violent mark on Bahia’s Carnival, creating a significant headache for police authorities and upsetting Carnival-goers and members of the other Carnival groups. Their victims this year were mainly women. (A Tarde 23/02/77, quoted in Godi 1991: 64, my translation)
As we can see, in considering issues related to samba, carnival, and the black presence on the streets of Salvador, we are facing the issue of “civilization” and the reordering and regulation of particular subjects and social practices.
The Barbarism of the Masses and the Ethnography of Pagode
Based on ethnographic sensitivity and subjective identification, I have been able to recognize, in samba, pagode, and Brazilian funk, autonomous discourses of representation of racialized experiences of life in poorer neighborhoods, peripheries and “ghettos”. Sex and the body are always central traits of these vernacular politics of representation, as are reactions to their supposed immorality, as documented by José Ramos Tinhorão (1988).
I can recall my own pagode field experience at a bar whose name translates to “It’s Forbidden to Forbid”, where the overwhelming majority of activities seemed to be in some way connected to seduction and sexuality (Pinho 1998). The pagode music that we heard there obsessively made references to sex, and the way people danced also represented sexual acts or practices. Women, even with dance partners they did not know, usually showed no opposition to significant physical contact as long as it was part ← 308 | 309 → of the right kind of choreography for each song. Men – heterosexuals – danced with each other and displayed no embarrassment in intertwining themselves, dancing and moving with an enthusiasm that bordered on the explicitly sexual. The lyrics, almost always humorous, generally made some type of sexual commentary, and spoke about the everyday life of the poor people of Salvador, making comical allusions to specific neighborhoods and streets. The musicians seemed to have a social profile quite similar to that of their listeners, and incited their active participation. In this particular micro context, as is the case in many others, macro-political reverberations were observed, manifested through the bodies as racialized immorality (McClintock  2010). With this in mind, our question now is: how can class and racial alterity become manifest in the form of particular expressive structures, played out on the far-reaching level of conflict over the representation and regulation of sexed and racialized bodies? One such form of expression may be found in the hundreds of home videos on the internet in which we can watch young black men performing pagode as a way of affirming their masculinity.
The huge economic and social gap underlying Brazilian society, and particularly intense in Salvador, in the city’s currently degraded condition, can be measured through the irreducible structures of subjectivation that persist between social classes and racial groups. Voices authorized to speak about class differences attempt to delegitimize, abduct and erase discursive possibilities that do not fit the universal discourse that is the trademark of Western consciousness. Therefore, in this sense, can the subaltern speak?
One such delegitmization of subaltern voices occurs when certain groups come together against pagodão, as was mentioned previously, for supposedly being a music style that is an affront to women’s dignity, not allowing public money to be spent on supporting this “degenerate” music produced by the foreclosed “natives” mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.
A related issue worth mentioning, although an in-depth discussion of it would go beyond the scope of this chapter, is that of market conflict. Pagode’s popularity amongst the youth of the poorer classes has made it the new music of the masses in Salvador, meaning that music venues and radio airtime are occupied by music from an emergent popular culture ← 309 | 310 → outside big cultural corporations. In Salvador, I have heard many musicians and people in the music industry express annoyance regarding the space “taken up” by pagode to the “detriment” of other musical genres of a supposedly higher quality. The very success of pagode is viewed both as an indicator of cultural regression in Salvador and of the barbarism of the masses, when in fact, from the point of view I adopt, the real backwardness is manifested by the developmental differences within Brazilian society, as mentioned above.
A Map of Violence
The most dreadful expression of this disparity takes place in terms of violence and struggle for life, with young men amongst the main actors in the drama of urban violence. Julio Waiselfisz has produced, since 1998, the “Map of Violence”, a compilation and critical analysis of official statistical data about violence in Brazil, paying special attention to homicides. As the Map’s introduction has saliently noted, violence is endemic in Brazil, not representing merely the outcome of a conjuncture of adventitious circumstances, but rather constituting and limiting the Brazilian public sphere itself, as well as the objective contours of social structures, as innumerable songs from the Brazilian Hip-Hop movement roundly proclaim (Rosa 2006; Silva 2011). Additional arguments state that the subjectivity of young, black men seems constructed within some “structure of feeling” (Williams  1979: 130–137) over-determined by violence.
The violence prevalent in poor neighborhoods, whether motivated by personal confrontation, by disputes between groups of armed youths, or by the actions of agents of the state (the multiple Brazilian police forces), is the stuff of the everyday. The killing of neighbors, family members and friends forms a social and affective environment that consolidates the subjectivities of the youth of African descent. Police violence and the constant possibility of its occurrence (I could even cite statements from my university students and friends who have told me about having to step ← 310 | 311 → over corpses when leaving home in the morning), constitute the persistent background informing the production of young black male subjectivities (Amparo-Alves 2010, 2011; Vargas 2010).
The data confirm a very powerful racial and gender bias in terms of exposure to violence, which reaches a disproportionate level in the case of young, black men (but we should also consider, of course, that the violence against black men affects their mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, and daughters as well). In 2004, 92.1% of homicide victims in Brazil were male (Waiselfisz 2010: 109). In the five-year period from 2002 to 2007, the number of white victims in the total population per year fell from 18,852 to 14,308, representing a significant drop, in the order of 24.1% (ibid: 115). Amongst negros (meaning blacks and “mixed-race” persons in Brazilian Portuguese; not to be confused with the negative connotations surrounding the word “negro” in English), however, the number of victims of homicide grew during that same period, from 26,915 to 30,193 per year, which is equivalent to an increase of 12.2% (ibid). Specified in different terms, the homicide rate for whites fell from 20.6 to 15.5 homicides for every 100,000 people, representing a fall of 24.9% between 2002 and 2007, while amongst the black population, the rates grew from 30.0 in 2002, to 32.1 homicides for every 100,000 people in 2007, which represents an increase of 7% (ibid: 116). Speaking proportionally, in 2002, 58.7% more negros than whites died. In 2004, this index climbed even higher, to 85.3%, and, in 2007, it reached 130.4% (ibid: 120). Therefore, in relation to the race/color issue, the Map demonstrates a general tendency, since 2002, of a fall in the absolute number of homicides in the white population and a growth in those in the black population. Upon reading the Map, we can observe that homicides in Brazil do not increase in a neutral fashion, but rather proceed by “selecting” their victims.
Furthermore, the complexity of the phenomenon also reveals itself when we examine regional differences in the percentages for lethal victimization by race/color and sex/gender. In Brazil’s Northeast Region (comprising the states of Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe), the indexes oscillated between 2002 and 2007 from 8.2 to 7.8 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants for whites, while for the black population of this region, the index in the same period grew from 23.4 to 33.8 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants (Waiselfisz 2010: 118). In the case of ← 311 | 312 → the increase of violence in the state of Bahia, we can observe that between 1998 and 2008, the number of homicides in the total population grew from 1,251 to 4,765 (Waiselfisz 2011: 23). In the population aged 15 to 24 alone, the increase was from 452 to 2,004 (ibid: 27)! Also, in the state of Bahia, 93.1% of homicide victims registered in 2007 were male (Waiselfisz 2010: 110).
As we mentioned previously, the overall homicide rates in Brazil have fallen substantially for whites while increasing drastically for blacks. The state of Bahia, however, was an exception to this overall trend, since there was also an increase in white homicides, from 137 in 2002 to 325 in 2008 (Waiselfisz 2011: 56). Nonetheless, since the number of black homicides during the same period increased from 1,280 to 4,099 (ibid), the numerical disproportion between deaths of whites and blacks is so great that this exception to the countrywide tendency doesn’t detract from the general diagnosis of the situation in Brazil – a situation we can refer to as the genocide of the black population, as we shall see next, as we consider the nature and form of the violence produced and/or permitted by the state.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, racialized violence has structured social relations in Brazil. Today, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, violence is still the determinant factor for black men’s social standing and human condition in the country. The whole environment of racial panic not only victimizes, but also creates examples, transforming all the young black men from poorer communities into suspects, that is to say, enemies of the State.
In the Brazilian context, a large part of the lethal violence produced in big cities can be attributed to the action of police (both civil and military). Usually in the name of the so-called auto de resistência (resistance bill), police officers who kill in the line of duty can allege that the victim was resisting arrest in order to avoid prosecution in a homicide investigation. Moreover, the autos de resistência are not even judicially characterized as homicides. The sociologist Michel Misse (2011) and his team uncovered incredible findings regarding the state of Rio de Janeiro, showing the number of civilian deaths in confrontations with police over time. In 2010, for instance, about 500 people were killed by the police in the city of Rio de Janeiro. In 2008, however, this number had reached the astonishing threshold of 1,300 casualties, in a society that – at least in theory – was ← 312 | 313 → not in a state of civil war (ibid: 20). The security forces of the state have killed thousands of people, the majority of which, as we have seen, were young black men from the outskirts of major cities. The state thus has a ghostly yet terrible presence, showing itself to be simultaneously not only inefficacious and absent (in preventing the deaths of a large sector of its population), but also ruthless and lethal (in targeting that very same sector and thus contributing to the deaths of its members).2
Sexuality is also a domain of specific forms of oppression, injustice, and inequality. Sexuality, as with other forms of human expression, is mediated by conflicts of interest and political manipulation, and, in this sense, sex is always political. For Gayle Rubin ( 1998), this means that a radical theory of sexuality should identify, describe and reveal forms of erotic oppression and injustice, or how sexuality-based oppression leads to other forms of stigmatization and violence.
Popular thinking holds to the belief that sexuality is dangerous (and that blacks are more sexual), and should be, if not downright repressed, at least controlled and maintained within the strict limits of its simply reproductive social function. However, sex, as a social relation, is itself generated as a point of juncture in the production of separated and sexually distinct bodies (Rubin  1993). Furthermore, or because of this, the sexual system is not monolithic, but permeated by incessant battles and conflicts as to values, methods, arrangements, privileges, and legitimations. As such, the battle for the regulation of sexual life is often a battle to separate “acceptable” (or respectable) bodies and sexualities from “unacceptable” or inassimilable bodies or sexes. The latter are constantly transformed into ghettoized, marginalized, or peripheralized forms of social life (Rubin  1998). This also occurs with expressive forms of black culture, which, in the Americas, are associated not only with sexuality, but also eroticism, abandon, and licentiousness, that is to say, “baixaria” (Vainfas 1997).
← 313 | 314 → The relationship between state authorities, violence, and the regulation of sexuality and bodies corresponds to particular processes of the development of democracy and the formation of new political subjects in many Latin American countries (see, for example, Rapisardi and Modarelli 2001). Even after the end of the military era in Brazil, transgendered people, hustlers, and homosexuals continued to be persecuted, arrested and assaulted in the streets. Today, under the formal democracy, such violence is construed as a measure of “respect” to “honest”, “decent”, or “normal” residents (Álvarez 2000: 151).
In her prologue to Policing Public Sex, a volume organized by the collective “Dangerous Bedfellows”, Lisa Duggan recalls the moral panic in relation to the AIDS crisis and the “bath houses” in New York, remembering the so-called “Sex Wars” and anti-pornography campaigns (Duggan 1996). Assuming a queer perspective, the authors sustain a line of questioning against the normality and stability of identity categories, as well as the opposition between public and private, in a spirit of challenge to the state in its policing of sexual activity (Dangerous Bedfellows 1996). The collective’s critical project was motivated by the desire to keep the state from regulating sexual activity and maintaining sexual activity itself free of identity objectifications.
We can draw from this the same critical impulse, interrogating the improbable coalitions and the brand of feminism of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Bahia, while also deploring how the inventiveness and ambiguity of sexual negotiation are sacrificed to benefit state censorship – a state which, as we have seen in the case of Brazil, masks its own breed of lethal (in)justice committed against the poor, black youths living on the city outskirts, the becoming of a morbid fetish of its own.
Transfiguration and Class Struggle
As Paul Gilroy ( 2001) explains, the cultural forms of the Black Atlantic are modern and modernist most notably as expressions of their hybrid, creole origins, in a manner similar to a subject position that makes black artists organic intellectuals. This presupposes a realization of the ← 314 | 315 → practical and vernacular overcoming of the Hegelian artistic prerogative, and the considering the superiority of black art as a medium for a critical reflection on Western philosophy. In this way, Gilroy emphasizes the strong modernity of black cultural forms, and the superior status of black music in its capacity to directly express an image of the will and experience of slaves and their descendants. The music of the Black Atlantic produces primary expressions of cultural distinction, by way of commentary about work and leisure, in a form of “popular historicism” that does not neglect complex representations of sexuality and gender.
Given that gender is the modality through which race is lived, black masculinity carries its own contradictions, for example, the embodiment of a culture of compensation for black men who live under constant racial tension, subjugated by class structures, coerced by the sex-gender system, imprisoned amidst militarized, criminalizing, capitalist discourses (Amar 2003, 2011). Such subjects seem to see in sex and the body a fundamental location for a confrontation over contradictions about race and gender, stressing the limits for the “difference that race makes”.
The transformation of the terror, violence, and racism of slavery, encountered in the historical, subjective reconnection of the black man with the body and sex, creates a fatal frontier. The black body, conceived as the barbarized map of both the colonial imaginary and class struggle, materializes racial subjects as “illegitimate”, abject figures, understood as such from the perspective of a universalistic “civilization”. Here, as in the case of Brazilian funk music from Rio de Janeiro, the question of respectability and morality operates as a figure of political difference producing new stigmatizations and criminalization (Mattos 2011). At the heart of the debate about pagode, framed by the racial terror of the state, we cannot ignore such questions and issues without running the risk of producing new oppressions and reproducing old ones. In attempting to defend women’s dignity through the Lei Anti-baixaria, albeit with the best of intentions, we risk assuming a neocolonial point of view that demonizes the “native”, wrongly treating disadvantaged black youths as unbridled barbarian predators with immoderate sexual appetites, rather than as creators and appreciators of a specific musical genre and, most importantly, as victims of a terrible state-sanctioned and state-promoted genocide.
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1 I would like to thank Ângela Figueiredo, Iara Belleli, Paul Amar, Ephen Glenn Colter and Henriette Gunkel for the suggestions and criticisms that helped to shape the present chapter. I would also like to thank Elizabeth Sara Lewis, Katia Santos, Ibrahim Sundiata, Monica Treviño, Paul Amar and Sadkane Baroudi for their help in discussing how to translate the word “baixaria”.
2 At the same time, we need to take into account what João H. Costa Vargas (2010) suggests about the complicity of the black population in the genocide of the Afro-descendent communities. This complicity is motivated and sustained by a series of contradictions and for a series of reasons connected to class, gender, and sexual differences in the black communities themselves, and essentially by that which, following Audre Lorde, Vargas calls “the oppressor within”. It is fairly evident however, that such complicity is founded in inter-subjectivity and has structural roots: “It should be clear that, while the oppressor within and our complicity in anti-Black genocide are graspable realities, they are a product of a much broader constellation of societal norms and power structures. The terror that characterizes Afrodiasporic communities is a product of imperialist, White supremacist capitalist patriarchal society” (Vargas 2010: xxi).← 319 | 320 →