UCSB Latin American and Iberian Studies Program

Interview with faculty affiliate Prof. Jaime Alves

Dr. Jaime Alves is an Assistant Professor in Black Studies at UCSB. He received his Ph.D. Social Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin. Before coming to UCSB, he taught Cultural Anthropology and Latin American Politics at the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York and was a visiting professor in the Center for African Diaspora Studies at Universidad Icesi, in Colombia. He is the author of The Anti-Black City: Police Terror and Black Urban Life in Brazil (University of Minnesota Press, 2018).

Tell us a little about your current project.

I am very interested in studying outlawed forms of Black protest against police violence and broad forms of state violence. Currently, my work investigates how Black youth engaged in ganging practices challenge the security state in places such as the peripheries of Cali, Colombia, and São Paulo, Brazil. I want to excavate stories that challenge the crappy narratives of police victimization – a local version of the Blue Lives Matter narrative deployed to justify violence against predominantly Black and poor communities. How does one write about these stories of resistance without further criminalizing the Black urban poor?  In what ways can we be sympathetic to the insurgency of those excluded from the city and yet be attentive to the tragic agency that some subjects embrace in their attempt to fend off the state?  As a continuation of the previous work, my next book deals with these questions by exploring the meanings of resistance embedded in everyday practices such as occupying public land, stealing electricity and water, pirate transportation, gang membership, and illegal street-vending. How does Black resistance look like in these contexts? More specifically, how do Black Colombians reclaim autonomy over their lives and territories in a city that necessitates black subjugation and death, all while celebrating Blackness as a cultural asset?  

How does your work shed light on Latin American and Iberian studies?

My work is very interdisciplinary. It dialogues with Latin American and Iberian Studies, particularly with current trends that interrogate the marginal place of Black scholarship in Latin American Studies. The field needs to question its own existence as a (pos)colonial discipline and meaningfully engage with new directions that are really challenging la academia gringa. Can Latinidad, as a concept and a mode of sociality, include Black people? What work is the “Afro” of Afro-Latin America supposed to perform, anyway? Likewise, what is the African Diaspora’s place as a theoretical framework within Latin American Studies? I know these questions are hardly new. It is what Brazilian scholar Lélia Gonzalez had in mind when she proposed Améfrica Ladina as a conceptual counternarrative of colonialism. While it still does not change some colonial assumptions about Black and indigenous geo-ontologies, her call is crystal clear: it’s time to “enegrecer’ our field and our disciplinary practices.  I am glad to see LAIS committed to this ethical imperative. The Program’s  interdisciplinary body of scholars is doing impressive works that expand the horizon of possibilities in Latin American Studies.  

Can you tell us about how you became interested in pursuing an academic career in Black Studies?

My career in Black Studies and Anthropology results from my activism in the Black movement in Brazil. Over the years, I had the privilege to actively participate in the vibrant struggle for affirmative action policies in higher education in Brazilian universities and anti-policing movements in São Paulo. More recently, I have been involved with Black grassroots in Cali, Colombia.  In all these stances, my work is grounded in my activism and my experience as a Black person coming of age in a favela plagued by police terror. While I am very aware of the complex ways skin-color and region of origin plays out in Latin America’s pigmentocracy, these conditions taught me the meanings of Blackness and the importance of activist or militant scholarship to enable social change.  I believe that Back Studies provides us the insurgent tools to do so and that a dialogue between Latin American Studies and Black Studies can generate meaningful insights and possibilities to engage with emancipatory projects in the region.  

Is there any advice you have for Latin-Americanists pursuing academic careers?

There is so much that one can do with a degree in Latin-American Studies. The primary advice I would give to students is to get involved right away with the region’s vibrant social movements and grassroots organizations. Of course, by ‘region,’ I am also referring to the Latinx population in the diaspora. From Argentina to Canada, the Americas is a fertile zone of indigenous and Black pedagogies of resistance, as much as it is a laboratory for predatory capitalism.  A Latin Americanist degree holder from UCSB will be well prepared to act in the public sector, NGOs, or academia. Just look around campus: UCSB faculty and students, many of themselves from underprivileged social groups, are pushing forward engaged researches in pressing issues such as the geopolitics of security in Colombia, the waves of social change in Chile, environmental racism in Central America, the cruelty of humanitarian interventions in Haiti, the struggle against far-right backlash in Brazil’s Bolsonaro, and so on.  

 Any other fun details, hobbies, or news you’d like to share with us?

A piece of news that I would like to share is that currently, I am part of a transnational research initiative– with my dear colleagues Terrance Wooten (Black Studies) and Amanda Pinheiro (Global Studies) –, which is investigating Black communities’ responses to the Cov-19 pandemic in Brazil, Colombia, and Kenya. It is really refreshing to see how, despite all odds, Black communities across the African Diaspora are creatively developing strategies to cope in this biopolitical crisis.  The project is co-sponsored by the SSRC, The Orfalea Center, the Center for Black Studies Research, and the Division of Social Science through the Dean’s Office.  A fun detail/hobby about me, I am indesculpablemente a fan of Silvito Rodrigues and Mercedes Sosa.