- Ph.D. and an M.Phil from New York University
- M.A. from the Universidade Federal Fluminense
- B.A. from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Rafael Cesar holds a Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese from New York University (2021), an M.A. in Lusophone African Literatures from the Universidade Federal Fluminense (Brazil), and a B.A. in Portuguese Language and Luso-Brazilian Literatures from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).
His main research and teaching interests revolve around comparative racial imaginaries and race relations from a Transatlantic perspective; comparative African and Afro-Diasporic histories, popular cultures, cultural production (literature and cinema), gender relations, and political thought; and the social and cultural production of history and memory in those contexts, covering Portuguese-speaking Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe), Portugal, Brazil, Cuba and the USA.
Rafael Cesar’s current book project, "Fictions of Racelessness: The ‘Latin American’ Racial Imaginaries of Angola (1878-2002)", examines the racial imagination in twentieth-century Angolan nationalism. More precisely, it argues that, in contrast with the more common Pan-African, Afro-Centric, race-centered Subsaharan African nationalisms, the current of Angolan nationalism that eventually achieved power in the country forged a racial imagination in confluence and dialogue with Latin American discourses on race and nation, particularly Brazilian and Cuban politics of “racelessness.” By comparing the literature, film, press articles, political speeches, among other materials from Angola, Brazil, Cuba, and Portugal, and reading this production against the backdrop of letters, testimonies, colonial police files, internal papers of the liberation movements, memoirs, among others, the book tracks the emergence and Transatlantic circulation of this discourse and shows how a group of ‘creole’, multiethnic, mostly non-black Angolan nationalists translated Latin-American notions of colorblindness, mestiçagem/mestizaje, and racial democracy into the cultural production and social and political thought of Angola. Frequently at odds with the political expectations of the subjugated black population, it also shows how this discourse produced ambiguous racial politics based on the idea of a “raceless” country in the context of decolonization, ultimately suppressing the debate on race relations raised by the major black population in post-colonial Angola. This body of Angolan racial thought and imagination is what he calls the "fictions of racelessness".
He has previously published a book, Kuatiça Ó Ngoma (2011), on the relation between modernity and tradition through the literary (re-)inventions of language, history and memory in the works of Angolan writer Boaventura Cardoso, and the importance of those articulations in African literature for the building of Afro-Diasporic politics. He has also published scholarly articles on other African authors, such as Paulina Chiziane (Mozambique) and Luandino Vieira (Angola), and Afro-Diasporic literatures, on the works of Nei Lopes (Brazil) and Toni Morrison (USA). His public engagements include the co-authorship of a booklet on affirmative actions in Brazil’s higher education, Cotas Raciais, Por Quê Sim?.
For these and other projects, Rafael Cesar has conducted archival and field research in Angola, Portugal, Brazil, Cuba, Germany, and France supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Social Sciences Research Council (SSRC), and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). He is also a former Berkeley President's Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Visiting-Researcher at the Universidade de Lisboa.
Before joining Princeton, he taught courses on the literatures and cultures of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Portuguese-speaking Africa at New York University and public universities in Brazil.