Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Not sure I'll ever visit Brazil...

Training has changed so much of my life...from shopping less to improved diet and physical conditioning, the pursuit of jiu jitsu, any one will tell you, is truly a transformational life decision.

One of the biggest eye openers though, has been exposure to Brazilian culture. I've known for quite a while that Brazil is not an Hispanic country and that there are many linguistic and cultural differences that separate it from the Spanish influence of the rest of the continent. I want to learn Samba now. I've known about the large Black population (Brazil brought in 10x the number of slaves that the US did). From a classmate in grad school I learned about the weight of education (apparently it can trump race as a vehicle between classes) and the importance of being sexually attractive as a woman, even in business. Still, training has exposed me to even more.

Most recently, it's come from a blog that I've come to enjoy: Black Women of Brazil--whose most recent post really got my mind whirling about the concept of race and how it differs across the Americas. I know the experience of the Black American decently well and have talked with Black Latinos and PhDs about the experiences of those of African ancestry in Hispanic countries...but until I read this post from the blog on the Brazilian Mulata and the differences of the use of the term (as well as the term "Black) in the country, I was rolling with a lot of assumptions.

Apparently in Brazil, these women are considered "mulata". Quite different than the mulatto in the US. 

It's a great read on race, culture and sexuality, so I encourage anyone to check it out, but I'm not gonna lie...after reading, I'm less psyched about visiting Brazil (I know... sacrilege coming from a blue belt). I'm not going to blame that on Brazil or that post, and honestly, if I were going with people who I knew lived there, and they were people I trusted, I'd be up for a trip...however, almost every account of visits to the country (and this includes the stories of guys that train as well as businessmen) include exclamations of how "hot" "sexy" and "wild" the women are. As a person who gets confused for being Brazilian here in the US, the last thing I want to do is fork over cash to end up in an environment where some businessman is going to see in me another potential stop on his sex-cation. Any woman that travels without a male companion knows the importance of understanding the behavior and customs of the destination she's visiting.

As I said though, I'm not going to blame all of Brazil or Brazilians for the actions of a few foreigners and natives any more than I blamed Hong Kong for the Arab man who seemed to mistake me for a prostitute. I know that, despite the images we see on TV and online, Carnaval isn't going on year round and that there is much more to the country than sweaty chests and gyrating hips. That's something I've also learned from Black Women of Brazil...Brazilian music, politics, social activists, artists, cuisine...I just wish we saw more of that across the board.


Felicia said...

Wow. Interesting reads (both your post and the post you referenced). Race and racial identity can be such evil witches sometimes...

I study a Japanese art and have longed, for years, to go and experience the training and culture first-hand. But hearing and reading about the culture - and its racial...umm...issues...has also given me pause. Not sure if I will ever visit, either. The "isms" experienced here in the good ol' USA are tough enough. Like you, I'm, a bit leery of trekking half-way across the globe to meet more of the same. Quite a conundrum...


Megan said...

I'll tell you from my limited personal experiences in Japan and from my brother living there for 5 a Black person, you have little to worry about if you can connect with a good school.

He's of course experienced racial situations, but, especially if you train in an area not near military bases and connect with a good school that knows you're serious, you'd likely have to be more concerned about being female than being Black.

The Black people I know that have lived there have experienced fewer "isms" because of race than they do in the US.

Ze Grapplez said...

my wife puts up with this stereotype about Brazilian women when people ask where she's from. as far as race, going to Brazil was an eye opener for me in terms of latent racism or what I'd call unstated racism. you don't pick up on it in conversation, but for example, a serious, serious like, "fighting words" statement among women would be to insinuate someone had black hair. and by black i mean the texture of the hair.

we tend to take for granted institutionalized racism in the US, but forget that despite far more intermarriage between slaves and slave owners in Brazil (and slave children could be recognized as free), there are still long standing divisions based on race and $$$.

don't be worried about visiting. both the schools i visited were always keen to make sure i was safe, knew where to go (and where not to go) and the like. i'm sure they'd do more of the same for you.

Megan said...

Thanks Ze. I've never visited a foreign country for a purpose as specific as training, so I have no idea how that would change a trip.

The stereotype about the "exotic" women of the tropics is tiring. I've experienced it here, and 10x as much in the Caribbean. I assume it's worse in Brazil, but who knows.