This summer, I had the pleasure of working under Professor Gil-Riaño as his research assistant on his upcoming book, which looks into the complex paradoxical relationships of anti-racist efforts and racist thinking. His project examines the history of international anti-racist efforts and the influence of scientists in the Global South in efforts, like the UNESCO Statements on Race.
The research that I was involved in sought to understand anti-racist social science efforts during the 19th and 20th century, specifically in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and UNESCO. It also sought to understand the relationship of these efforts to its historical contexts and racist frameworks. My job was to create research tools, such as timelines, source summaries, and citations.
During my time in PURM, I learned about the struggles of research such as the difficulty of transcribing and translating old documents. When I found out about the Brazilian National Museum fire where potential sources for Professor Gil-Riaño’s were destroyed, I realized archival information held much more value than I previously believed. In addition, when I was assigned to take brief, main idea notes on The Negro in Brazilian Society by Florestan Fernandes, I found it difficult to focus on fishing out key points and avoid becoming curious on irrelevant information. This struggle taught me the challenge that researchers have in order to achieve concrete details when met with a sea of sources.
However, I also found joy in learning through creating research tools and the adventure from exploring new information. While searching for 20th century correspondences between the Brazilian anthropologist and psychiatrist Arthur Ramos and American cultural anthropologist Ruth Landes, I felt surges of wonder whenever I found a correspondence I hadn’t expected to find. This feeling continued when I was assigned a trip to the Mudd Library at Princeton University to take photos of sources about the Andean Indian Project. Going through the archival boxes gave me the feeling of looking for a new discovery.
Through my conversations with Professor Gil-Riaño and my assigned tasks, I not only learned to sympathize with scholars I disagree with, but I also learned to better historicize anti-racist and racist thought through a critical lens. While I learned about the scientific studies on race and the discussions on race-mixing, environment, sociocultural evolution in Brazil, I also learned that research is more complex than I previously expected it.
As this summer gave me the desire to study anti-racism more in-depth, it ultimately reaffirmed my aspirations to continue studying the problems of racism. The PURM experience taught me to be more open-minded towards both the research process and communicating research. I am grateful for this opportunity PURM has granted me and could not have asked for a better mentor.