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.





The Brazil/Africa Capoeira Metaphor: Seeing Through Stereotypes

12 05 2008

Do you see through stereotypes?Before/while/after writing the “Is Brazil the Mother or Father of Capoeira?” post, I had some tiny, niggling misgivings about it at the back of my mind, but ignored them for the sake of the post and saying what I wanted to say about the metaphor. However, the more I thought about it, the less comfortable and the more, well, intellectually dishonest it seemed to just leave it, especially when what was bothering me stood out even more clearly with Xixarro’s first comment and then my own response to it. So, I’m going to distill all those thoughts out now.

In the post itself, I noted how the original metaphor and my rationale for its correction were based on stereotypes, something I’ve touched on before here. Thus, the first problem: was I reinforcing those stereotypes by bringing it all up, and basing my rationale on them? The second problem: I felt it was feminist to advocate for Brazil as the mother of capoeira rather than as the father (in addition to it being first and foremost logical, of course). But I was relying on (and so possibly reinforcing) gender stereotypes in order to make that advocation. So then wasn’t that counterproductive, and maybe even hypocritical, feminism-wise?

Okay, first things first. I think it was right to point out that Brazil seems more like the mother instead of the father of capoeira, because when I first realized why the comparison didn’t seem accurate, I felt like there was some hypocrisy going on: “Oh sure, pigeonhole women and femininity as the nurturing, childrearing,¬†breeding-is-their-function¬†ones, until it’s time to give them credit for it (i.e. parenting capoeira), then switch it all around.”

Then, there was the idea that capoeira is “masculine”, so therefore of course Brazil would be the “masculine” partner as well, and the idea that of course the country that’s the most majorly/obviously associated with or seemed to play the biggest part in something (in this case, capoeira) would be the “male”. So, my objection was in order to deconstruct the seeming hypocrisy and system of thought there.

As for reinforcing the stereotypes…I actually realized just how entrenched they were even as I started writing this post: “in addition to it being first and foremost logical”, I wrote, referring to my “correction”. Well, the only reason I found it “logical” in the first place was because my premises were the very stereotypes I was trying to deconstruct!

It all became even more obvious and more uncomfortable when Xixarro made his comment and I replied to it, and I realized I’d somehow gone from arguing against stereotypes to arguing for which stereotypes seemed more “right”! In truth, no stereotypes are right, let alone “logical”—by definition!

It’s not logical that woman = childrearer or = background/minor role*, and it’s not logical that man = leader/fountainhead/major role. Again, those are all purely social, (hu)man-made constructions. Somebody just upped and decided those things, with really no basis whatsoever except for his own inflated superiority complex.

So, in conclusion: While I relied on stereotypes to make my argument against one instance of (mis)use of stereotypes, at least I recognized that I was doing it, and then went on (in this post) to deconstruct those stereotypes themselves. And hopefully, this provided a good case study for you in the recognition and disconstruction of stereotypes, whether as obvious statements or as subtle underlying premises in yourself!

Picture source: http://thegreatconnect.wordpress.com/category/brasil/





Brazil: The Father of Capoeira—or the Mother?

8 05 2008

Despite the title, this post is not exactly about how capoeira originated. It’s about something I heard recently, and wanted to…question? Correct? Mostly because I didn’t say anything at the time I heard it, and slightly kind of regret it now; so I’m saying it here!

Capoeira, the child of Africa and Brazil

I was at an event when a mestre (well, okay, my mestre) started talking about capoeira, and partway through he said, “Africa is the mother of capoeira…and Brazil is the father.” At this point there was a rippling of “oohhhhs” and laughter among the students, and a self-satisfied pause at his own joke. But I just wondered…why was that funny/how was it a joke? I thought making the comparison was fine (though inaccurate, as I’ll discuss shortly), but were people laughing because of the idea that Brazil “overpowered” Africa, or seized its flower of capoeira, or something? Because in that case, it really wouldn’t have been funny at all.

As for the comparison itself, first I thought it was fine (without the supposed-to-be-funny part), but thinking upon it further, I realized it was actually wrong. Assuming that the way, way-back roots of capoeira are from Africa (safe general statement #1) and that the actual sport/art as we know it today came to flourish in Brazil (safe general statement #2), then…Africa is actually the father of capoeira, and Brazil is the mother.

Why? Think about it. (Note: This is going to be all based on stereotypes…since that’s how metaphors work.) Africa provided the seed of capoeira, but it was the environment in Brazil that nourished and raised capoeira (even if at one point Brazil actually tried to abort it, but you get what I mean…though even in that respect, to whom do abortions usually apply?). The genes and chromosomes of capoeira came from both Africa and Brazil, but it was inside Brazil where they actually combined and merged and grew into the fully-formed art of capoeira (or as fully-formed as a constantly changing and evolving art can get). The gestation period of capoeira took place in Brazil—that is, Brazil was the womb. And who has those?

So, with all due respect to the mestre…if one insists on making this particular comparison, it’d be more accurate to say that Africa was the father of capoeira, and Brazil the mother. Not the other way around. And that doesn’t mean Brazil is weaker than or has been subjugated by Africa. Just my two cents!

Picture source: http://masscapoeira.com/HistoryofCapoeira.html