This essay examines the ideological power of Carnival and the carnivalesque on the Colombian Caribbean Coast by circumnavigating the dominant narrative about these events as primarily stages to transgress social norms and resist authority. Instead, it explores whether blackface and other forms of racial impersonation performed during these festivities are globally migrating manifestations of anti-Blackness. It argues that in order to achieve visual resonance, performers rely on taken-for-granted propositions about how Blackness works in Colombian society and that in the absence of such objectivated social knowledge, as Stuart Hall describes it, the racialized characters Las Negritas Puloy, Las Palenqueras/Las Negras Bollongas, and El Son de Negro would be illegible to audiences. These three popular representations of Blackness ascribe particular behaviors and ways of being to phenotypic variations associated with Blackness (skin complexion, hair texture, body type, etc.). This essay demonstrates the racial subordination that can develop, fester, and be reproduced through debasing cultural productions in an environment where anti-Black racism is typically invisibilized and trivialized.
Burlesquing Blackness: Racial Significations in Carnivals and the Carnivalesque on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast
Melissa M. Valle is an assistant professor at Rutgers University-Newark, jointly appointed in the departments of Sociology/Anthropology and African American/African Studies. Her current book project is an ethnography exploring the ways race, ethnicity, and gender become encoded in the value of urban spaces. Through an examination of struggles over material resources and the politics of recognition in a gentrifying neighborhood in Cartagena, Colombia, she deciphers how people construct metrics to define worth, make meaning of their marginalized positions, and craft responses to such positions.
Melissa M. Valle; Burlesquing Blackness: Racial Significations in Carnivals and the Carnivalesque on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. Public Culture 1 January 2019; 31 (1): 5–20. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-7181814
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