By Cecilia Minden

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A notable feature of Nestor’s explanation is his suggestion that a mixed person or racial mixture is not an identity that is in any significant way distinct from preto or negro. On the contrary, he asserts, all those who are not white, whatever the degree of darkness or lightness their skin possesses, are black. I interviewed Joia’s half sister Susana on several occasions.

The police had also stolen his television and VCR. The story, as it passed through the community grapevine, was accompanied by nervous, muffled laughter. Although Delson and his men were thought of as protectors, they, like all who had voluntarily surrendered their virtue to the spoils of crime, would inevitably have the sword turned against them. Today or tomorrow, people implied, they would come to a bad end. While I was still living with Varena, the Gulf War exploded, and I stayed glued to the television, which carried excerpts of the CNN coverage.

Returning to the survey data itself, it is clear that different informants interpreted my question about color in different ways. Was I asking them to classify themselves in racial terms, to describe their color in relative terms, or to tell me how they would typically be referred to in polite everyday conversation? I could not, obviously, assume that the responses I collected in my survey were conceptually or linguistically equivalent. Generally speaking, what most of my informants were manipulating was language itself rather a reified notion of identity or membership in a taxonomical category.

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