Feminism, Capoeira, Cultural Appropriation, & Black Self-Determination

22 07 2008

Last week, a very important and unsettling (for me) but necessarily tough conversation began underneath my “Why ‘Sexist Capoeirista’ is an Oxymoron” post. Kimbandeira raised many deep issues that span across feminism, anti-racism, social values, and of course, our own positions in relation to capoeira.

...taking the time to take Africa and the cultural and intellectual production of African seriously.

These included issues such as the “position of privilege” from which “white [or, I suppose, ‘whitewashed’] feminists” seem to speak while advocating feminism, disregarding or trampling over (inadvertently or not) the not necessarily similar positions of black or brown women in the process, or of other women of colour.

A second major issue was cultural appropriation and sense of entitlement: As “gringas/gringos”, do we have the “right” to change capoeira from its original form/context and modify it into better suiting our own values (even a value such as gender equality)?

Finally, how valid is our 21st-century belief (exemplified in my own short story post, “Contours“) that the individual is what matters, freedom of choice and self-expression, options and unrestrained pursuit of happiness, as opposed to the values system of social responsibility, where duty to society, community, and family comes before the individual, no matter what?

The first issue, regarding mainstream feminism and anti-racism, is one I’ve wanted to approach for a while now, but didn’t because I knew I’d be going in way over my head. So, I have Kimbandeira to thank for giving me the opportunity to bring it to all of your guys’ attention. Please read her comments, and all of the responses, for what I consider to be a completely thought-provoking and eye-opening read. Click here.



14 responses

22 07 2008

Can you change that last link to an absolute link? When reading the feed it ends up linking to some nonexistent page on Feedburner.

22 07 2008
Ronin Capoeirista

Unfortunately capoeira is fighting a losing battle. Capoeira in and of itself is the most unbiased arena you can be in. Simply said we are all “capoeiristas “; No genders or colors attached. Only a game of survival. Seems beautiful right!

Its current form is disheartening though. It’s seems that capoeira instead of EVOLVING is DEVOLVING. Becoming an EXCLUSIVE CLUB instead of a PUBLIC FORUM. I experienced that myself being separated from my capoeira family.

Sad but true those are some of the stigmatisms being forced into Capoeira as many others that it carries. Over its history Capoeira has changed many times. It’s taken an ameba like persona and blends into its environment taking with it some not so good traits. One of which is the gender bias. It has also brought with it religious traits. I strongly disagree with those!

Currently it’s taking on the US traits. Brazil has a history of discrimination be it gender, color, socially, or economically, of which came the birth of capoeira. Capoeira evolved to include those same things that created it. However, Capoeira is showing a different face in the US. It’s beginning to show gender, color, social and economic separation. Partially by the mestres that adopted the American lifestyle but more so by the American counterparts that want to create their own capoeira. Instead of capoeira for all you can now find capoeira for blacks only, whites only, Hispanics only, women only, gays only, etc. You can even find so called Mestres teaching a form of capoeira that isn’t like capoeira at all!!

So the issue isn’t white woman and their prissy upbringing. It’s more in dealing with the American ego. We’ve all had that Newby that comes in with a bark that we have to change to accommodate them. Like if we’re servants or something. Anyway, Capoeira is changing to accommodate. It shouldn’t Capoeira should stay Capoeira and leave aside all those traits that it’s adopting. Wishful thinking I guess.

Capoeira is not American…it’s just being Americanized!!!

2 02 2012

I’ve never heard of a “gays only” capoeira.

However, I do completely understand when African descendants in the US want to learn this African art form from African mestres and with their African brethren.

It is a value you may never understand, judging by the propaganda tone of your comment. It does not deal with reality.

The reality is that this is a fighting form that came from the African continent (with forms spanning from the African-American population of the US to even the Caribbean – that although these particular islands and the US did not have traffic with each other that was in any way significant, they did have a common ANGOLA/KONGO root.

This martial art was used in Brazil as a means of defense from the white captors/terrorists who held Africans in bondage and tortured and raped them literally to death. How ironic that now, this very same group/descendants now wish to adopt something this SACRED as their own, claiming (with all out propaganda/manipulation) that it’s for “everyone”. that’s a part of cultural appropriation and it’s nothing new, unfortunately.

You have no concept of what’s sacred, and frankly, in Brazil, the Portuguese are easily able to impose themselves on the Africans of Brazil. This is also done in the US, but not as easily – especially because they have Black Consciousness in the US, and understand limits/when something is SACRED GROUND. This is something you cannot understand.

This is why their sacred music is not “for everyone”, just because you like it. This is why their burial customs are not “for everyone” just because you like it. Equally, they feel that a sacred African art of fighting is not “for everyone” just because you like it.

By Americanized, at least when it comes to the Black population of the US, I assume you mean Capoeira is meeting Black Consciousness in the US. If so, then this is a very good thing. You’re attempting to justify the continued theft of Black bodies, souls, and now cultures because of your own agenda. But I’m here to let you know, your motives are transparent.

I’m still confused as to why anyone of European descent would not be interested in their own traditional music, dance, and fighting. I don’t understand at all the insecurity necessary to drive one to reject their own native culture and adopt a bastardized african one, under the guise of being “global”. There’s plenty of European folk, etc. that remains ignored dancewise, musicwise, and fighting wise by whites. I will never understand that insecurity.

21 06 2012

You’ve got this wrong – Capoeira was not invented in Africa, it was invented by Afro-Brazilian slaves in Brazil who were not allowed to learn fighting styles so they created their own that looked like a dance.

Slavery is now no longer legal in Brazil (obviously) and the former slaves are now Brazilians – in the same way that Portuguese descendants are Brazilians and European immigrants, Asian etc are all Brazilian. That is why Capoeira is not an African only art, it is a BRAZILIAN art.

Many Non Europeans practise European fighting styles – Boxing, Savate, Wrestling etc. Your view that we should all “Stick to our own” is dangerous as if we all don’t go outside our box then we will never overcome notions of race, prejudice and Xenophobia.

23 06 2014
Respect is Minimum

Logic is completely correct. It is an African fight system that was illegal for enslaved Africans to partake in. Now others are interested and think its fun and cool and want to join and in effect -on purpose or not- hide the origins. If you’re in a capoeira class and the mestre does not give respect for the African roots of the art then it’s not really a legitimate practice. Pattern shows whatever the masses/Euro descendants get their hands on ends up being whitewashed, unoriginal or worse, attributed to them as originators. This does happen. Basically, if your going to join something join its true form and become one with it don’t just choose the part you think is hip, trendy or a good workout. It’s like the notion: you can’t really claim it because it’s not part of your identity it’s part of someone else’s sacred identity, doesn’t apply because the cool factor making one want to join is more important than the historic enslavement of innocent people. Capoeira developed as one of a few ways to preserve remnants of a life from back home and defend themselves from murderers, tortures, and rapists. Respect is demonstrated not talked about. Respect what is now the art of capoeira. Peace.

23 07 2008

Hey mkb, thanks for the heads-up. The link should be working now.

23 07 2008

Oops I think I responded to the wrong discussion……but I guess it applies to both so I will post on both…..my bad!

Wow this conversation really took off!!

I think there are a couple of issues that should be brought up in order to better wrap our brains around the issues at hand. First, capoeira, in academic literature and writings by different mestres, is many time theorized in terms of the African Diaspora. That is, capoeira is understood in terms of diasporic (and in this case certainly forced diaspora) movement of people. Explicit in this is that “Black Culture” is always already a hybridized culture (see the following for theoretical discussions on the hybridization of “Black Culture”: George Lipsitz. “Diasporic Noise: History, Hip-Hop and the Postcolonial Politics of Sound”; Stuart Hall. “What is this ´Black´ in Black Popular Culture?”; and Tricia Rose. “A Style Nobody Can Deal With: Politics, Style and the Post-Industrial City in Hip Hop”). Because of this hybridization it is very difficult to claim that any of our cultural forms in the New World are a PURE result of past traditions or cultural forms from Africa or Europe. Imagery in African-based religions are mixed with christian images (Mama Ezili in voudun for example is many time seen as a specific apparition of the Virgin); languages are mixed versions of Old World and New; etc. My point being that capoeira cannot be understood to be a pure African form.

However, the lack of “purity” is not be understood as a detriment in any way shape or form. In fact, hybridization has very powerful political/cultural/social possibilities. Through hybridization there are many more “nodes” for social groups and people to attach themselves to an art/cultural form. Through hybridization we can build cultural understanding that might help various oppressed groups come together at specific moments to resist oppression(s). My oppression might not be the same as a woman of African descent but there are certainly aspects of our oppression that overlap and that engage one another. The very problem with many freedom/liberation movements is the concrete-ness of their definitions of who belongs to that specific “community.” Even the example brought up about white-middle class women defining feminism is really about who is able to define the needs and qualities of the community and thereby concretizing that community into a politics of strict identity. Third World Feminism brought to our attention that “feminism” is multi-faceted and should indeed be “hybridized.” Therefore, hybridization results in fluidity which helps various socio-cultural groups come together at specific moments to fight for the resistance to oppression (please see Miranda Joseph. “Against the Romance of Community” for an engaging discussion of why “community” and identity politics limit our ability to resist oppression).

To bring this ethereal discussion back to capoeira. Instead of staking claims as to who has the right to change capoeira; who it “belongs” to; and who can be an “authentic” player of capoeira/practitioner of candomblé/voudun; etc…..I think it might behoove us to think about the power of hybridization and the opportunities such hybridization brings about for all of us resisting oppression on various levels. Look at the Mesters who made capoeira a “sport”…..and the Mestres who brought it to the the USA….or even globalized the art form….many of them are not of pure African descent and some might argue that some of the most influential Mestres are actually of European descent (yet of New World Origin). This is certainly an historical and very physical example of how capoeira and its practitioners are hybrids……much like the game which is fluid….capoeira can and does shift and change both its artistic form and its expression in the physical body of the practioner. Therefore, capoeira, in my opinion, is the physicalization/embodiment of the hybridization of the New World. Granted, this hybridization was forced for some and chosen for others (though I am not sure that anyone can consciously choose hybridization and certainly not understand all of its effects). The New World and its art forms/languages/ and really all cultural forms created a hybridization that allows all of us to engage capoeira and disallows any of use to appropriate capoeira as belonging solely to ONE group. The fact is that capoeira as we know it came into existence in the New World; and that many people of various ethnicities/races/genders have practiced the art form over the centuries. What is exciting about capoeira is that it is one of the only New World martial arts……it is a hybrid…….and it is that hybridization that invites us to play; that invites us to change the game; that invites us to imagine a capoeira community that gives something to everyone and requires that we all give something to the art.

So, in my humble opinion fear not hybridization…..”claiming” capoeira as belonging to this, that, or the other is also to ignore the socio-cultural and historical factors at play throughout the conquest/discovery of the New World. Claiming that capoeira is solely “African” is to rewrite a history and seek purity where there is only hybridity…and finally, “claiming” capoeira also limits the ability of all of us to resist oppression that affects us all in very specific, yet overlapping, manners.

My two cents…….thanks for making me think!

8 09 2011
john smith

Spoken Like a true priviliged white boy academic. Can you please decipher all the big words. Onca, why first do whites tend to grab onto anything else but their own story first. Know who you are and get a foundation before coming into communties of color. Hybridization, my ass, its just a way to justify exotification.

8 09 2011
john smith

Something to look forward to All white west african drumming, all white capoeira, all white hip hop, all white jazz, all white diasporic religous practicioners. To Onca, if you cannot see how privilige, commodification, globalization, and racial equity tie into the whitening of capoeira. Then there still is a “Class” you have not taken 🙂 (&)…

21 06 2012

Come on now John Smith, that’s a bit silly.

Capoeira will never be all white – in my Capoeira group here in the UK, there is not one dominant racial group. My Mestrando is mixed Brazilian, we have a lot of Indian/Pakistani Capoerista’s, A fair few mixed race people, French Arabs, White People, Black People and the list goes on.

I have met Mestre’s who were “dark as tar” and Mestrando’s who were skinny blonde women.

It you go on thinking Capoeira is just for black people and White people should stick to things like Boxing (A British art with a lot more Black champions than white – but I doubt you care about that) then I would hate to see the day a skinny white girl or gangly Indian man knocks you on your bum.

Good day!

25 07 2008

Hey Onça…the other post was the right one actually, since that’s where the actual conversation is taking place! =) But thanks so much for your comment, and I believe you got a response to it on the other post.

Hey Ronin,

I would suggest that like Onça, you resubmit your comment under the other post, where all the discussion is taking place, so it doesn’t get missed! Thank you for commenting however, and since you took the time to, I’ll try to respond to you here.

I have to admit that I found your comment a little confusing. You seem to be alternatively arguing for and against the same things in different paragraphs! I haven’t actually heard of those super-exclusionary capoeira groups you’ve mentioned, but I definitely agree that that doesn’t seem right, and I think would count as even more severe cultural appropriation than a typical non-Brasilian capoeira group might be considered as today. Actually I haven’t experienced that newby, either. o.O”

I think that the American ego is exactly what Kimbandeira is talking about, though—“American” meaning “white” in this context. And the “prissy white woman” is said to have that ego, so that’s where it comes from/how it’s connected.

And for better or for worse, I think you’re right when you say it’s wishful thinking…like I mentioned earlier and like Angoleiro has been saying, it seems like whenever people come into contact with capoeira, capoeira not only affects and influences them, but may be affected and influenced by them, as well, whether subtly or drastically, deliberately or merely through exposure and osmosis.

26 07 2008

I have to disagree with Ronin, Capoeira is one of the most biased places to be. There is sexism, tribalism, and yes, even racism.

2 08 2008

Yeah, I think it can go both ways Brotheromi…it kind of goes back to the whole “nobody can say thus everybody can say thus nobody can say thus…” etc.! I think capoeira is unbaised in the sense that it embraces everything, rather than is neutral and sterile…and so it becomes biased when it embraces some things more than others.

25 07 2013

interesting discussion. i personally quit doing capoeira, very sadly as i loved it with all my heart, because we could never do capoeira to hip-hop. and i’m talking real hip-hop, like wu and nas and outkast, none of that whack ass bullshit. also i wanted to play to fela kuti, and antibalas, and even to arcade fire and modest mouse. these are the musics that speak to my desire as a man of color for freedom in this world, and i found the enforced brazilian-ness in my group, along with the mestre worship and deference to authority, and the hierarchy of the belts, to be very, very troubling. eventually i had to leave. now i just practice at home, to ab-soul, underachievers, my own rap songs (i’m a rapper in a rap group), to tame impala, and even to 80’s music like new order. i am a person with a point of view, i am educated yes, but i am a man of color, too, and i think that hip-hop, and indie rock in a totally different way, are the music of the american soul yearning for revolution, to be free of empire, to be emotional and engaged with the world, but our brazilian mestre was so caught up in selling a cultural product that was ‘authentic’ that he pandered to all the largely uneducated white girls of privilege and young men, some of whom were of color too, who were deferential to him in extremis, and just in the end the whole thing was deeply inauthentic. authenticity is about being present, about being aware of who you are, and if you are a nationalist, or an essentialist, perhaps you are self-objectifying in this sense, but this seems to fly in the face of black revolutionary ontology, and it also defies the roots of capoeira, which SHOULD, nay MUST, change in each context to avoid reification.

capoeira and wu-tang? what’s so wrong with that. i don’t want to speak portuguese, i want to be a free american, open to experiencing brazil as a hybridity which it surely is – not as a statue which it surely is not.

mixed-up 3rd world american man.

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