Blackness, Violence, and Performance in Brazil
Author: Christen A. Smith
The paradoxes of an Edenic playground sustained by, and dependent on, Black pain and suffering
Cloth – $110
Paper – $26
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Publication Date
Cloth: 02/01/2016
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About the Book

Tourists exult in Bahia, Brazil, as a tropical paradise infused with the black population's one-of-a-kind vitality. But the alluring images of smiling black faces and dancing black bodies masks an ugly reality of anti-black authoritarian violence.

Christen A. Smith argues that the dialectic of glorified representations of black bodies and subsequent state repression reinforces Brazil's racially hierarchal society. Interpreting the violence as both institutional and performative, Smith follows a grassroots movement and social protest theater troupe in their campaigns against racial violence. As Smith reveals, economies of black pain and suffering form the backdrop for the staged, scripted, and choreographed afro-paradise that dazzles visitors. The work of grassroots organizers exposes this relationship, exploding illusions and asking unwelcome questions about the impact of state violence performed against the still-marginalized mass of Afro-Brazilians.

Based on years of field work, Afro-Paradise is a passionate account of a long-overlooked struggle for life and dignity in contemporary Brazil.

* Publication of this book was supported by funding from The University of Texas at Austin Office of the President and the Department of Anthropology.

About the Author

Christen A. Smith is Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin.


"An impressive ethnography of racialized state violence in Brazil and the quotidian gestures to survive or counter its enduring push against black life. The writing is urgent, engaging, and exemplary in its focus and clarity.”--The American Society for Theatre Research

"Afro-Paradise offers a much needed contribution to the field of black studies in the Americas. . . . Additionally, it expands the recent discussions unearthed by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, by addressing the unique context of race relations in Brazil."--Luso-Brazilian Review

"This book is an excellent one that should be of great use in a number of seminars, particularly to those that consider the predominance of violence in the genealogy of African diaspora communities, and in the contemporary lives of their members, in Brazil and elsewhere. It is an excellent demonstration of the importance of performance studies for socio-cultural anthropology."--Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology


"This book powerfully demonstrates that Bahia's exotic allure is in fact no afro-paradise. In a unique fusion of ethnography and textual analysis, the author reveals how in the 'land of happiness,' anti-black violence is pervasive and deadly. As the question of anti-black violence continues to emerge as the key political issue of our generation, Afro-Paradise brings a much needed global perspective to our discussions of anti-blackness and black survival."--Keisha-Khan Y. Perry, author of Black Women against the Land Grab: The Fight for Racial Justice in Brazil

"A compelling look at anti-black violence in contemporary Brazil. From the pelourinho to the forms of policing that followed emancipation, through to the military dictatorship and post-1989 processes of gentrification, Smith demonstrates in specific ways how violence against black bodies is foundational to the state. An exciting contribution to a number of fields."--Deborah A. Thomas, author of Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica

"This provocative ethnography is extremely timely. The current upsurge of antiracist activism on U.S. and Brazilian streets and also the availability of a rich repertoire of theoretical, and methodological, and ethical tools that anthropologists like Christen Smith strategically engage have set the stage for this compelling social analysis, which is situated where scholarship and activism intersect. In a remarkably sophisticated and creative way, the author brings street theater, carnival, state violence and social movements into a trenchant conversation on race, gender, class and the paradoxes of citizenship, as Black Brazilians embody and perform them in Salvador, Bahia. In this book Smith performs a powerful act of counter-storytelling at its best."--Faye V. Harrison, author of Outsider Within: Reworking Anthropology in a Global Age


•  Honorable mention, Errol Hill Award, American Society for Theatre Research, 2017

Supplemental Material

Videography by Christen A. Smith






Christen A. Smith is Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and Anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin.