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Inclusivity as pro-body diversity in capoeira and youth sports

Copyrights: Nacho Doce/Reuters

Inclusivity as pro-body diversity in capoeira and youth sports

Santos Flores applies critical disability theory to the sport of capoeira, to understand what bodies are popularized in the sport and how to change these narratives of an ableist body.

The capoeira community has evolved as a complex Black expression, intertwining game, play, and martial arts. It has evolved as a unique approach to critical pedagogy, intentionally addressing race through critical consciousness, and pushing the boundaries of gender mindfulness. However, if you were to examine social media images and videos of capoeira, those that dominate our access, it would be common to assume that one must have a certain type of body to play or participate in capoeira.

These assumptions are not unique to Capoeira. In Capoeira, disabled youth capoeiristas have to follow the path of the master to be accepted, which gives disabled capoeiristas a position for increasing their social participation, as opposed to sports like youth boxing. Yet, these images persist, and are problematic in youth sports. However popular these assumptions are in the sporting society and in popular media, they must also be addressed for what they are: the social construction of the “ableist body.”

Critical disability theory (CDT) is a framework for the analysis of disability which centers disability and challenges the ableist assumptions which shape society, including sports. CDT's central theme is that disability is a social construct, not the inevitable result of the impairment. This suggest that disability in sports is a complex inter-relationship between impairment, an individual's response to that impairment and the physical, sporting institution and sporting attitude (together, the 'social') environment. The social disadvantage experienced by disabled people in sports is the result of the failure of the social environment to respond adequately to the diversity presented by disability.

The image of the “ableist body,” both within capoeira and generally in youth sports, illustrates the deep structural inequalities of our society, leading to a development of a popular “ableist body” image, which likely amplifies hegemonic expressions of power through idealized or idolized notions of gender, race, and ability. By extension, “ableist body” images in both capoeira and youth sports inadvertently prevent the broadest diversity of bodies from exploring capoeira and youth sports, preventing many from gaining the benefits of a lifelong pursuit of these.

Though practicing sport is a human right, the common practices in youth sports and Capoeira are both unconsciously discriminating against a diverse range of bodies. While a pro-body diversity sporting policy inherently requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play, many disabled people experience oppression by the failure of the sporting society and culture to live up to more inclusive social norms which can provide an experience of equality and justice.

To this point, principled and practical ways should be found to strengthen the diversity of bodies in sport, centering their voice for meaningful engagement. While human rights discourse itself is a powerful political tool for the advancement of the interests of disabled people, it may be better for sporting institutions to advance those interests beyond the application of policies into critical pedagogies.

A critical inclusivity of disability or of a pro-body diversity therefore should begin to:

(1) identify the sources of disability oppression within the sporting institutions, youth sports culture,  and “ableist body” imagery, and by means of that exposure, seeks to relieve disabled people from that oppression

(2) identify the potential positive role of sports and seek to create policy and critical pedagogy to enlist sporting institutions in the struggle for the emancipation of disabled people.

The pedagogical implications should be that sporting culture, from youth sport coaches and Capoeira Masters, take the opportunity to dialogue about body differences, utilize adaptive sport activities within youth sports to educate youth on the diversity of able-bodiness, as well as expose students to amateur and professional athletes who disrupt conceptions of “able bodies.”

Santos Flores is doctoral student at UNC Greensboro’s Department of Kinesiology, concentrating on Community and Youth Sports Development (CYSD). He holds a Master’s in Peace and Conflict Studies, and a certificate in Cultural Foundations and Social Justice Education. He is currently a research assistant at UNCG’s Department of Peace and Conflict Studies and a student scholar at UNCG’s Institute for Community and Economic Engagement.

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]


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Santos Flores


Friday, November 27, 2020 - 19:32