“The Other’s Other”: African Women in Rio by Cierra Barnes

In our last assignment, the Susan Socolow book review, I noted that the author offered a solid account of women in Colonial Latin America. However, I felt that she neglected to spend the time necessary to acknowledge the position of African slave women. I argued that without the understanding of the “other’s other” [African slave women], her analysis of women in Colonial Latin America was incomplete. I did not want to make that same mistake here. In this group, it is my job to introduce and present information on women in Colonial Rio de Janeiro. I chose to expand upon that and use this platform to shed light on women who suffered from forced servitude in Colonial Rio de Janeiro.

Women public exchange

I began my research by sorting through both primary source items and secondary works as supportive material. During the process one thing became apparent to me: there is a significant lack of accessible information about women in and of that time. Initially, I became frustrated. African women were an integral part of Colonial labor, economy, culture and social structure. So, why were these people perpetually being left out of mainstream discussion? One source says, “Negro labor made possible in large measure the creation of a Brazilian civilization. It was the slave who toiled the cane fields, picked the coffee berry and extracted precious metals from the mines. Four centuries of uninterrupted toil, accompanied by misery, poverty and strife constitute the long and painful history of the slave in Brazil.”[1] With such rich importance, why does the struggle of these people remain vastly undisclosed?

Coaling Island Photo

This lack of information may speak to a much larger issue at play. African slave women are being left out of historically critical conversations. It is my belief that this is due to the concept of the matrix of domination, or intersectionality.


Originally introduced by Black Feminist Theorist Patricia Hill Collins, matrix of domination a concept that “draws attention to the inherent complexity of privilege as it operates in social systems and shapes people’s lives. The basic idea is that various forms of privilege—such as those based on race, gender, class, ethnicity, or sexual orientation—do not exist independently of one another in the social world or people’s experience of themselves.”[2] The status of African slave women is dependent upon their relation to others in Colonial society. Race, class, gender and work among other things all intersect to create social positions. In Colonial Rio de Janeiro, African slave women found themselves at an incredibly undesirable place on the matrix.

Women in Relation to Others

[1] Ramos, 29.

[2] Johnson, 485.

For further reading, please visit the following:

Johnson, A. (2005). Matrix of domination. In G. Ritzer (Ed.), Encyclopedia of social theory. (pp. 485-486). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412952552.n186

Ramos, A., & Pattee, R. (1951). The Negro in Brazil. Washington, D. C.: The Associated publishers, inc.



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