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Jennifer Roth-Gordon

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 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 new research project, entitled Bodies of Privilege: Cultivating Wealth and Whiteness in Rio de Janeiro, investigates how race and class privilege are constructed and lived amongst Rio's whiter middle and upper-middle classes and how this privilege is taught and handed down to their children.

Selected Publications

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

2016 From Upstanding Citizen to North American Rapper and Back Again: The Racial Malleability of Poor Male Brazilian Youth, in Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes our Ideas about Race, ed. by H. Samy Alim, John R. Rickford, and Arnetha F. Ball. New York: Oxford University Press. 51–64.

2013 Racial Malleability and the Sensory Regime of Politically Conscious Brazilian Hip Hop. The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 18(2): 294-313.

2013 (with Antonio José B. da Silva) Double-voicing in the Everyday Language of Brazilian Black Activism, in The Persistence of Language: Constructing and Confronting the Past and Present in the Voices of Jane H. Hill, ed. by Shannon T. Bischoff, Deborah Cole, Amy V. Fountain, and Mizuki Miyashita. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins. 365–388.

2012  Linguistic Techniques of the Self: The Intertextual Language of Racial Empowerment in Politically Conscious Brazilian Hip Hop. Language & Communication. 32(1): 36-47. 

2011  Discipline and Disorder in the Whiteness of Mock Spanish, in The Multiple Voices of Jane Hill, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 21(2): 210-228.

2011  (with Norma Mendoza-Denton) Introduction: The Multiple Voices of Jane Hill, special issue co-edited with Norma Mendoza-Denton. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 21(2): 157-165.

2009  The Language that Came Down the Hill: Slang, Crime, and Citizenship in Rio de Janeiro. American Anthropologist. 111(1): 57-68.

2009  (with T. E. Woronov) Youthful Concerns: Movement, Belonging, and Modernity. Pragmatics. 19(1): 137-151.

2009  Conversational Sampling, Race Trafficking, and the Invocation of the Gueto in Brazilian Hip Hop, in Global Linguistic Flows: Hip Hop Cultures, Youth Identities, and the Politics of Language, ed. by H. Samy Alim, Awad Ibrahim, and Alastair Pennycook. New York: Routledge. 63-77.

2007  Racing and Erasing the Playboy: Slang, Transnational Youth Subculture, and Racial Discourse in Brazil. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 17(2): 246-265.

2007  Youth, Slang, and Pragmatic Expressions: Examples from Brazilian Portuguese. Journal of Sociolinguistics. 11(3): 322-345.

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.

My next research project continues my interest in exploring how daily cultural and linguistic practices rely on and construct racial meaning. Supported by research grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Ruth Landes Memorial Foundation, I spent the calendar year of 2014 conducting new research for a project entitled “Bodies of Privilege: Cultivating Wealth and Whiteness in Rio de Janeiro.” Here I turn to “study up,” examining the lives of the whiter middle and upper-middle class in the world-famous South Zone neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. My main goal is to understand how race and class privilege are constructed and lived, particularly as they are taught to one’s children. This is a study of how the racial ideologies associated with whiteness and non-whiteness inform daily parenting strategies and interactions. My ongoing research will investigate how Brazilian whiteness is not taken for granted and considered “normal” (as has been described within the North American context), but rather tightly bound to understandings of socioeconomic class and built on implicit and unspoken comparisons made to the poor non-white city residents who live all around them and work in their homes. This project thus furthers my desire to understand how daily practices do not merely uphold racial ideologies but constitute the very sites where racial and linguistic differences are created.


Research Interests

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

Jennifer Roth-Gordon's picture

Contact Information

Associate Professor of Anthropology


1994 B.A. Anthropological Linguistics, Brown University

1996 M.A. Anthropology, Stanford University

1997 M.A. Linguistics, Stanford University

2002 Ph.D. Anthropology, Stanford University