a week of equality

carnivalI’ve been restless lately. Something I experience several times a year when wanderlust fills my being again. Lately I have dreams of teaching at a university in the Virgin Islands or somewhere in Brazil where the sun, beach and ocean are on constant display, the food is scrumptious and people are warm. Then I realize it’s carnival season, or carnaval Brazilian style. Carnival kicks off on February 9th and the samba schools are kicking it up with dance, floats and costumes. Samba always fills the air in Rio, but especially this time of year as it is celebrated through the annual spectacle of carnival. Carnival and samba are romantically intertwined. Samba evokes these happy narratives of equality, class and racial harmony that permeate the country of Brazil. Millions of people enjoy samba music and dance and it has this way of maintaining relative social peace in Brazil, at least for a week. During carnival people from all social classes and races mingle and talk, dance, drink, kiss and make love together. Samba is pervasive in the ways people of Rio prefer to view themselves as harmonious, peaceful, loving, non-racist people. Those ideals are embodied in Samba.

One night I met a young Afro-Brazilian rapper in Lapa who told me, “samba is a lie, rap tells the truth.” He dared to challenge Brazil’s sambastic narrative of peace and harmony as it positioned itself a truth-teller of Brazilian reality. “If you want to really know Brazil,” he said, “listen to rap.” And so I did. Rap told stories of race and class inequality, racial disharmony and state violence. It told a completely different story.

Remembering that young rapper and Rio during carnival season, and the one-week of celebration when roles and social scripts are temporarily suspended in order to imagine a world where equality, harmony, and justice reign… but only for a week.

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About Calenthia Dowdy

Calenthia Dowdy (PhD, American University) is a cultural anthropologist and youth ministry educator who focuses on urban youth and culture in the U.S. and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Alongside teaching, speaking and writing on youth, cities, race, gender, and faith, she serves as the director of faith initiatives at a comprehensive community health center that specializes in HIV/AIDS care