Saturday, October 29, 2016

About Capoeira and cultural appropriation

Our Mestres teach us that Capoeira is not just for the 'little roda' (of Capoeira itself), but it is also for the 'grande roda' of life. Our Mestres' message, as I have heard it, has always been that we should always be striving to learn more, to challenge ourselves, to do our own research and then bring the issues or questions we find back to our groups.

Sometimes our challenges may be physical (doing a beautiful and effective au'), sometimes they may be linguistic (learning a long corrido in Portuguese), sometimes they may be emotional (overcoming our fears, or our tendency to get upset, when we play in the little roda). Sometimes those challenges come to us in the 'grande roda' of life with its many injustices.

In the context of the broader struggle for racial justice, we can often find ourselves confronting the ugly reality of the insidious ways in which racism as a phenomenon influences our lives - including in our practice of Capoeira Angola. After reading an insightful article about these issues by Maisha Z. Johnson, which I recommend to everyone, I wanted to jot down questions that should be in the back of our minds:

1) In our Capoeira practice, do we trivialize the history of violent oppression against Black people in Brasil? In general, in our lives, do we trivialize the history and current practice of violence against Black people by the state and by individuals both in Brasil and in the United States?
2) We appreciate the culture of Black people that are participating in. Do we actively seek to challenge our prejudices and stereotypes about Black people?
3) Do we judge White and Black people differently for practicing Capoeira? Or for participating in elements of African/Black culture? 
4) In our practice of Capoeira, do we gain monetary or financial benefit off of undervalued labor of Black people?
5) Do we get rewarded or celebrated for things that the creators of the art, and our Mestres, have not been acknowledged for, or are not rewarded for?
6) In our Capoeira Angola practice, are we spreading a misrepresentation of history? Do we actively seek to learn more about the history of Capoeira and the experience of colonization and the slave trade?
7) In our practice of Capoeira Angola, are we perpetuating racist stereotypes?
8) We have access to something that Black people were punished for doing. What are we doing to increase access to Capoeira for Black people?

Devagar se vai ao longe - P'ra crescer se leva tempo;
Slowly you will go far - to grow it takes time.

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