May 27, 2006
Brazilian "Race" and the Latin American Studies meeting
Well, I see it's been over two months since my last posts on this blog. I returned from the late March Latin American Studies Association Congress in San Juan writing a report in my head to post here, but like so much of what I want/need to write about my first and still, unfortunately, major research area, I've been blocked. The field of of racial studies in Brazil has just become so damn unpleasant. Specifically, anyone who suggests publicly, here or in Brazil, that race is not the major, overriding, irreducible category of Brazilian social experience gets chastized. I use the term "political correctness" with great reluctance, owing to its hijacking by US conservatives since the early 1990s, but that is exactly what this is.
I gave an intentionally strong and polemical paper, as an antidote to the mind-numbing acquiescence to the raciological orthodoxy that prevails at these meetings. Michael Mitchell, one of the deans of Brazilianist raciology, sits there shooting daggers of stares at me the whole time, and a young guy, apparently one of his graduate students, patronizingly suggests that I need to read the "literature," by which I presume he means the unempirical, circular, intellectual pyramid scheme that is Brazilianist "race relations" research today. Then, my commitment to social justice is challenged by a woman who identifies herself as an attorney, professes ignorance of the literature, and misinterprets my argument about the ethnographic data on race and color by 180 degrees. (It turns out that describing Brazilian society as "prejudiced" "discriminatory," "unequal" and "pigmentocratic" about two dozen times and arguing that accurate and honest data will help the struggle for social justice isn't enough to innoculate oneself against this particularly hurtful canard.) Then, my argument is labeled "neo-Freyrean" by my panel chair, who has just given a paper about race and space in Rio Grande do Sul using the most slippery, vague, and deceptive term in the race theory arsenal: "racialization."
This, of course, is what anthropologists Peter Fry, Yvonne Maggie, and their allies have had to put up with Brazil for over a decade. It was the most infuriating experience I've personally had of it, though, and it reminded me of why I've been trying to move myself out of this increasingly dismal subfield for a few years.
Ah well. The conference was fun. Record high attendance due to its location in San Juan (one colleague joked that it was all she could do not to write the words "Puerto Rican junket" into the text of her talk), record low attendance, it seemed, at panels, although I can't be sure because I didn't make it to many myself. Hey, I was there with a four-month-old baby!! He needed to see the beach!
Cuban scholars weren't allowed to attend, by the way, and I think the Association will vote to move the 2007 meeting from Boston to Montreal. That's how I voted, anyway.
An eBay dilemma
Here's a problem for the tit-for-tat sociologists: I'm in the middle of an eBay dispute, my first ever, really. I bought some audio recoding equipment nearly a month ago from a guy in Canada who appears to run a small business making this stuff and selling it on eBay. His feedback is very high, and people say nice things about his products. The problem is that I've been waiting nearly a month for it to arrive. I paid immediately after "winning" the make-an-offer-style auction, but he took 9 business days to get the thing to the post office, and it still hasn't arrived. In the process of tracking down the reason for delay, we both forgot that the $24 shipping charge I paid included a hidden $12 extra for a set of cables. He refunded it thinking it was an overcharge, and I thanked him, suggesting that I would leave him positive feedback for his fairness and good communication. Well, apparently he misinterpreted that as a threat, and preemptively warned me that he would respond to negative feedback with negative feedback and starting making charges about some failure to follow his payment instruction that are clearly discredited by our email history. That is, if I complain about the trully excessive delay in shipping, he will retaliate, even though I totally fulfilled my end of the transaction. Both of us, could, of course, post explanatory notes with any less-than-positive feedback, but here's the dillemma, custom-made for rat-choice theorist: He has 1050 feedbacks, 99.6% positive. I have 60, 100% positive. My potential negative feedback - which I have never left, for anyone despite a couple of borderline cases - even though merited, would hurt him far less than his wholly unfair retaliation to me. What to do...? And this from a Canadian? Aren't they supposed to be friendlier up there? 'S always been my experience. :-) (I sent back the mistaken refund, by the way.)