Jennifer Roth-Gordon

Associate Professor, Anthropology

About Jennifer Roth-Gordon

Jennifer Roth-Gordon is a linguistic and cultural anthropologist who has been conducting research in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil since 1995. Her first book, Race and the Brazilian Body: Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de Janeiro (University of California Press, 2017) explores how racial ideas about the superiority of whiteness and the inferiority of blackness continue to play out in the daily lives of Rio de Janeiro’s residents. Her current book project, entitled Precious White Lives: Middle-Class Parenting and the Protection of Whiteness in Rio de Janeiro, tells the story of how "good parenting" entails the shoring up of racial privilege through the hypervaluation and protection of white life, white well-being, and white comfort.

Selected Publications

2017  Race and the Brazilian Body: Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de JaneiroOakland: University of California Press.

2018 (with Jessica Ray) Language and Race, in Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology (online), ed. by John Jackson. New York: Oxford University Press.

2020  Situating Discourse in Ethnographic and Sociopolitical Context. The Cambridge Handbook of Discourse Studies, ed. by Anna De Fina and Alexandra Georgakopoulou. New York: Cambridge University Press. 32–51.

2020  (with Jessica Harris and Stephanie Zamora) Producing White Comfort through “Corporate Cool”: Linguistic Appropriation, Social Media, and @BrandsSayingBae. International Journal for the Sociology of Language 265: 419–440.

2021  Language and Creativity: Slang. The International Encyclopedia of Linguistic Anthropology, ed. by James Stanlaw. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Courses Taught

ANTH 150a: Race, Ethnicity, and the American Dream (Tier 1)

ANTH 314: Race and Language in the U.S. (Tier 2)

ANTH 395b: Whiteness and Racial Violence (Tier 2)

ANTH 678: Ethnographic Discourse Analysis

ANTH 681: Keywords in Linguistic Anthropology

ANTH 696c: Whiteness and White Supremacy

SBS community course: Whiteness and Racial Violence in America

Areas of Study



My book, Race and the Brazilian Body: Blackness, Whiteness, and Everyday Language in Rio de Janeiro (University of California Press, 2017), explores how racial ideas permeate the daily lives of Rio de Janeiro’s residents across race and class lines. Drawing from spontaneous conversations of shantytown youth hanging out on the streets of their neighborhoods and interviews from the comfortable living rooms of the middle class, I weave together the experiences of these two groups to explore Brazil’s “comfortable racial contradiction,” where embedded structural racism that privileges whiteness exists alongside a deeply held pride in the country’s history of racial mixture and lack of overt racial conflict. This linguistic and ethnographic account describes how cariocas (people who live in Rio de Janeiro) “read” the body for racial signs. The amount of whiteness or blackness a body displays is determined not only through observations of phenotypical features—including skin color, hair texture, and facial features—but also through careful attention paid to cultural and linguistic practices, including the use of nonstandard speech commonly described as gíria (slang). I argue that implicit social and racial imperatives encourage individuals to invest in and display whiteness (by demonstrating a “good appearance”), avoid blackness (a preference challenged by rappers and hip-hop fans), and “be cordial” (by not noticing racial differences) and that it is through this unspoken racial etiquette that Rio residents determine who belongs on the world famous beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon; who deserves to shop in privatized, carefully guarded, air conditioned shopping malls; and who merits the rights of citizenship.

In my current book project, I offer an ethnographic analysis of how white people in Rio de Janeiro work to ensure their children’s prosperity, protection, and value through the global parenting strategy of “intensive parenting” – a strategy that requires an enormous investment of time, energy, and money. My research interrogates how whiteness itself requires a defense of white life as precious and valuable. This is a critical intervention and necessary complement to research on racial violence that asks how racialized others are dehumanized, stripped of their rights, and disproportionately subject to suffering and death. The proposed research stages several key interventions into our understanding of racist ideology and racial hierarchy by: 1) exploring how white parents engage in the hyper-valuation of white lives; 2) analyzing the domestic sphere as a critical site of white power; and 3) illustrating how acts of violence committed against people of color depend on the active defense (by white people) of white life.

Research Interests

Linguistic anthropology; anthropology of race and racism; critical whiteness studies; language, culture, and power; language ideologies; ethnographic discourse analysis; Brazil