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I am Black AND Jewish: Black Jewish Women’s Experiences in “White” Jewish Communities in Brazil


Afro-Brazilian Jewish women struggle against racism, sexism and classism within their Jewish communities, but they continue to practice Judaism and raise their children Jewish. They affirm their identities as both Black and Jewish in the face of rejection from white Jewish communities as well as their Afro-Brazilian communities.

Because Brazil has consistently made efforts to make Jews into symbols of otherness and at the same time rhetorically valued the mulato identity as a symbol of brasilidade (“Brazilianness”), Jews are seen as foreign parasites, light-skinned Blacks are symbols of authentic Brazilian identity, dark-skinned Blacks are invisible, and Jews and Blacks are irreparably separated from each other. In addition the rhetorical valuation of the “mulata” and the devaluation of the Jew, places the Black Jewish women I interviewed (who are lighter-skinned black women) in between what is symbolically valued and devalued in Brazil, literally in the border between “us” and “them.”

The Brazilian state appropriates and utilizes beneficial aspects of racial others to advertise its modernity, while oppressing the unwanted parts. The Brazilian state portrayed Jews as “economically desirable,” but “politically inexpedient,” (Lesser, 2005, p. 36). “Mulata” women are sexually valorized and considered erotic, but only through commodification and objectification (Lilly, 2007, p. 61). The Brazilian state claims acceptance based on its appropriation and utilization of the Jewish or Black culture, but continues to enact racism and anti-Semitism (Barcelos, 1999, Barroso, 1999; Berdichevski, 2001; Lesser, 1995, 2005; Lilly, 2007; Reichmann, 1995).

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