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.

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Better a Conscious Hellcat than a Sleeping Beauty…

14 07 2008

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Excerpted from “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening“, Robert Frost)

I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that not many of you have become hypothermic while stranded in a snowstorm in the middle of nowhere. (Just for the record, I haven’t, either.) If you ever do find yourself in this situation, just remember one thing: don’t go to sleep. When your body temperature drops below a certain level, and you begin to feel tired and heavy all over, and all you want to do is close your eyes and sink your head into that soft, fluffy pillow of snow…that’s when sleep means certain death.

To relax is to put yourself in the ultimate danger, here. Compliance is fatal. And yet…it’s so easy. It’s so much easier to close your eyes and let yourself fade away into rest—and oblivion—than to keep struggling, if not with eyes wide open then from one blink to the next. Everything is telling you to board the sweet, cotton candy cloud of dreams: your eyelids, falling like blinds; the giant pillow, waiting underneath; the drifting flakes, promising to cover you in a perfect quilt; your body, begging for relief. But then what?

Though slightly dramatic as far as extended metaphors go, sometimes I feel like that 2nd-stage hypothermic wanderer. Only instead of my body wanting to shut down and rest, it’s my mind and personality.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, especially during instances when the following monologue runs through my head: “Okay, so should I ‘play feminist’ and say something here, or just let it go? Do I want to ruin the fun? Will it even make a difference? Is it really that big of a deal? Oh who cares, whatever!”

Basically, I’ve found, ignorance is bliss. Apathy is peace. Indifference is tranquility, and obliviousness is happiness.

Sleeping, not thinking, would mean being able to appreciate the humour in a joke instead of being annoyed by its premise; able to be chill/cool/relaxed/generic instead of worked up and politicized; able to play along/get along/sing along without feeling like an ever-so-slightly hypocritical sell-out. Sleeping (or is it dreaming?) would mean being able to laugh at everything my friends find funny, and like/respect my capoeira teachers without doubts, and watch a certain new Pixar film without feeling the need to roll my eyes at every gender stereotype along the way, and just enjoy the cuteness.

When you’re asleep, you don’t feel angry, indignant, incensed, or infuriated. When you don’t think or don’t care, you’re not bothered by injustice; you can read the news with cool, desensitized nonchalance; and the full weight of a systemic, worldwide, fundamental, political, religious, societal, deep-rooted undermining, suppressing, assault, and attack on you and/or yours in all his slightest and heaviest forms leaves you well undisturbed.

But at the same time, lest we forget…sleep is death. And that storm will still come to bear down on you, in some way or form, no matter how much you ignore or disregard it.

I once read a quote that began, “Finding feminism is like discovering the Matrix”*—and it is spot on. Who do you think leads happier lives in the movie, those inside the Matrix or those outside of it? But who, after knowing, goes back? Who would purposely commit mental and intellectual, and possibly ethical, suicide?

So yes, sleep would be nice. And, as I said, easy.  (Because what’s easier than default?)  But ignorance and apathy are two things I hate/fear probably just as much as, if not more than, misogyny and other types of discrimination. So, let’s just say…it’s a good thing I’m used to all-nighters.

*“Finding feminism is like discovering the Matrix. You can’t believe you didn’t notice all this stuff, you can’t believe no one told you how fucked up things are. You feel angry for knowing, angry for having not known. It’s such a harsh transition to make. You don’t just gently start to pick up on misogyny here and there. Once the floodgates are open you are smacked relentlessly with realization after realization. It can be devastating and it can feel like the only way not to drown is to find a really big crew and a really big boat, put your head down—and paddle.” -Julia Gonzalves





“Nobody Can Say!”: The “Roda” That Is Capoeira Arguments

7 07 2008

“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers.”

Capoeira is like philosophy. And I don’t mean it’s like a philosophy, as in “the philosophy of capoeira”. Capoeira is like the entire field of philosophy—at least when it comes to the discussions.

Who can say?  Maybe somewhere in the stars...

It struck me shortly after I came back home and finally broke it to my capoeira group (read: teachers) that I’d been training with another group in France. (I’d kept it a secret during all of last year…slightly long story there. But I digress.) What I then found amusing (as well as not so amusing) about the whole thing was how each side of the pond so readily disdained the other, even though I love and esteem both. And they all have their not-unreasonable explanations, including for why they’re each superior to a separate third group—who, I have no doubt, considers itself better than my two!

As one of my teachers pointed out, “…and it’s all opinion anyway! Maybe you think this capoeira group is better, but I think that capoeira group is better. Everyone has their own preference.” Most capoeiristas recognize this, yet many capoeira groups still claim, for one reason or another, to be the best (or at least pretty darn up there). It’s funny because with every capoeira group touting their own superiority, their claims kind of all cancel each other out, and so in the end it comes right back down to personal opinion anyway. After all, at least when it comes to capoeira style and capoeira philosophy, nobody can say!

Similarly, about a week later, I got into a conversation about fights breaking out in capoeira, and capoeiristas who “play” really to fight other group’s capoeiristas, and ended up saying something like, “It’s not capoeira!” (Since “just dancing” isn’t capoeira, so it’s okay to say “just fighting” isn’t capoeira either, right?) After I said that though, another one of my capoeira teachers ended it with the inevitable line: “But what is capoeira? Nobody can say.”

And therein lies the crux of the whole thing. Capoeira reminds me of philosophy because no matter how much capoeiristas—like philosophers—talk and discuss and debate and rationalize their respective arguments, you can almost never come to any ultimate conclusion because—who can say?! What can be proven?? No one capoeirista has enough authority or knowledge to decide for all, and for better or worse, Newton concentrated his efforts on gravity rather than capoeira when making his laws.

I think one of my friends from first-year put it best (paraphrased from memory): “The thing about philosophy [or in our case, capoeira] is that you can spend hours and hours talking and going through arguments and making your points, but in the end none of it matters because nobody can prove any of it anyway!”

Although that doesn’t quite work, either (clearly it matters some, or this blog wouldn’t exist!), I just found the irony or circularness (hence “roda”) of it all amusing. So sue me! 😛

Picture source (modified):
http://s272.photobucket.com/albums/jj161/masterplats3/





10-Step Guide to Rocking the Capoeira Roda (by A. B. Ghinner)

4 07 2008

Hi everyone! Joaninha has been exhausted with work and training for the past few weeks (she slept for 15 hours last Saturday), not to mention catching up with all her Canadian friends, and apologizes dearly for having unintentionally lead you on regarding her return! I’m her hitherto unknown alter-ego, A. B. Ghinner, and she sent me to write a guest post in her absence.

Getting through a roda is easy!

Don’t tell her I told, but she’s been complaining about her performance in the roda lately, so I’m writing a post to help with that! Now, I don’t know that much about capoeira rodas, but the point is to maintain the circle, right? In that case, she’s actually pretty good! In fact, I’ve put together this fabulous guide for you guys on how to rock the roda, based on my observations of her alone. You’re sure to learn tons from it—and no need to thank me!

A. B. Ghinner’s 10-Step Guide to Rocking the Capoeira Roda

1. Watch the games, clap to the music, and sing along to the songs.

2. Be polite and “let” people go in front of you.

3. Shift your weight from foot to foot. Constantly.

4. Create a mental flowchart of conditions for buying in, and don’t even think of deviating from it.

Joaninha’s personal favourite (She’ll love how attentive I’ve been!): kid: no ==> much higher belt: no ==> floreio-happy: no ==> trains everyday with: no ==> excessively aggressive: no ==> played already in last or 2+ games: no ==> involves buying out higher belt: no ==> remaining capoeiristas: maybe, depends, we’ll see)

5. Mentally organize every other capoeirista present into order of preference for playing against.

6. Hover on the edge of the roda, preferably directly behind one or more large, shirtless, sweating men whose eye-levels you are literally below.

7. Attempt to put every capoeirista with a higher belt between you and the bateria.

8. Failing that, continually take one step towards and two steps back from the bateria/pé do berimbau. Reverse direction when you reach the other side.

9. As a last resort, practice the cha-cha or salsa steps right at the entrance to the roda.

10. Do not, under any circumstances, actually go into the roda and play.

Well, that’s it! Easy, right? You could get through a roda like that blind-folded! Although I have to admit, she only does about half of those things, but I hope my own ideas will work just as well! Be sure to let her know if they do; I’m sure she’d be so pleased. 🙂 It was great meeting you guys, and I’ll see you around!

Picture source:
http://carfwebnet.blogspot.com/2004/12/rehabilitation-in-crisis.html