Interview with HLS Alum Adilson José Moreira

March 15, 2019

By Tiago Genoveze

You have a Master's and Doctoral degree from Harvard Law School (HLS). Your Doctoral dissertation for HLS in 2013 was called “Racial Justice in Brazil: Struggles over Equality in Times of New Constitutionalism.” How have these struggles inspired you to write your most recent book "What is Recreational Racism?" (O que é Racismo Recreativo?)

My scholarship reflects my interest in unveiling the ways in which social and legal narratives based on the idea of race transcendence cover discriminatory practices in liberal democracies. My dissertation addresses one particular manifestation of this problem: the uses of this ideology in court decisions about the constitutionality of racially inclusive measures. Brazilian courts frequently resorted to legal arguments based on the articulation between racial homogeneity and formal equality in order to attack affirmative action programs. The same thing happens in legal decisions regarding the question of racial offenses: many courts refuse to classify obvious manifestations of racism as criminal behaviour because of this false understanding of the irrelevance of race and the supposed existence of cordial race relations in Brazil.

What new insights have you learned about racism in Brazil in writing "What is Recreational Racism?"

I learned that racial jokes play an important role in the reproduction of racial inequality because it allows white people to freely express racial animosity while maintaining a positive social image. This strategy serves to prevent political and legal mobilization around the question of race, an important goal for those interested in perpetuating white hegemony. Recreational racism represents the power of the dominant racial group to create social meaning that seek to reproduce racial stereotypes that preserves the idea that white people - and especially white males - are the only individuals able to operate competently in the public and in the private spheres.

Could you tell us a little about the book and the concept of recreational racism?

This book addresses an issue often debated in Brazil: how should we classify humorous expressions that reproduce negative stereotypes about racial minorities? Members of these groups affirm that cultural stigmas negatively affect all dimensions of their lives, while other social actors reject this argument by saying that racist humor has a benign character. This discussion is particularly relevant in a society that is increasingly aware that the circulation of disparaging representations about minority groups prevents them from having legal protection and social respectability. This work identifies the central elements of recreational racism, a characteristically Brazilian domination project that masks racial hostility through humor. This is a strategic discourse and practice that allows white people to pursue psychological satisfaction by affirming racial superiority, while maintaining their interest in preserving a positive social image. As such, recreational racism has a strategic nature: as I mention before, it allows white people to disguise racial animosity through humor, permiting whites to legitimize racial oppression while affirming that racial hatred does not exist in our society. One could say that recreational racism is a type of cultural racism: it seeks to create a representational field according to which members of racial minorities have inferior moral, cognitive, aesthetical, and social traits.

Reflecting on your decades of work on racial justice and inequality, can you draw conclusions about how Brazil can achieve a society that is more equitable?

This is something very difficult to be achieved because most members of the dominant group are entirely committed to their racial privileges, and even those who do not discriminate remain oblivious to racial disparities because they are perfectly aware that being white is a source of social advantages. Of course, there are some signs of progress. Afro-Brazilians are much more mobilized than in previous decades; they now occupy many important positions of power and influence, and many private institutions are quite committed to idea of racial inclusion. Many white individuals have recognized that we will never be a developed nation if we don't promote racial inclusion, which means that they have to change their behavior and challenge mechanisms that preserve racial subordination. However, the last political election demonstrated how entrenched forms of cultural and institutional racism motivate people to vote for openly racist individuals, providing evidence of their interest in living in a society that affords significant advantages based on race.