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RACIAL ‘BOUNDARY-POLICING’: Perceptions of Black-White Interracial Couples in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro1

  • Chinyere K. Osuji (a1)


As people who cross racial boundaries in the family formation process, the experiences of interracial couples can actually reveal the nature of racial boundaries within and across societies. I draw on in-depth qualitative interviews with eighty-seven respondents in interracial Black and White couples in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro to compare perceptions of public stigmatization by outsiders, a term I call “boundary-policing.” I find that couples in Los Angeles perceive gendered, Black individuals as perpetrators of this boundary-policing. In Rio de Janeiro, couples perceive regionalized and classed, White perpetrators. These findings suggest that in the United States and Brazil, racial boundaries are intertwined with class and gender boundaries to shape negotiation of boundary-policing in the two contexts. This analysis builds on previous studies of ethnoracial boundaries by showing how individuals reinforce and negotiate them through interpersonal relations. It demonstrates the similarities and differences in the negotiation and reinforcement of racial boundaries in the two sites.


Corresponding author

Chinyere K. Osuji, Center for Africana Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 3401A Walnut St., Ste. 331, Philadelphia, PA 19106. E-mails:;


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The author is grateful to Edward Telles, Stefan Timmermans, Mignon Moore, and M. Belinda Tucker for their generous suggestions for this article. The author would also like to thank Andreas Wimmer, Angela Paíva, Sabrina Pendergrass, Anthony Ocampo, Jenee Slocum, Graziella Silva, and Tianna Paschel for their insights. Thanks to colleagues in the University of Pennsylvania Department of Sociology, the UCLA Department of Sociology, the UCLA Interdisciplinary Relationship Science Program (IRSP), and the UCLA Center for Brazilian Studies for opportunities to present earlier versions of this paper. Support for the data collection was provided by the National Science Foundation, the UCLA Latin American Institute, and the UCLA Bunche Center for African American Studies through the Institute of American Cultures. An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Atlanta, August 14, 2010.



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RACIAL ‘BOUNDARY-POLICING’: Perceptions of Black-White Interracial Couples in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro1

  • Chinyere K. Osuji (a1)


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