Monday, September 6, 2010

Sports and social clubs

One common feature on the sports and social landscape here in Rio/Niterói is the prevalence of private clubs. They come in every style (read: class) and vary in focus from yacht clubs to tennis clubs to clubs associated with Schools of Samba. There is even a sports club near our house sponsored by the city (so the rest of us can enjoy a swimming pool and a maintained futebol field).

I’ll admit right up front that my working class bullshit detector goes off when I hear about or visit private clubs in Rio, Niterói or other places. I can’t help it. Maybe it’s me, but there is often an air of “we are better than those poor people (read: brown people) who go to the beach and swim in that nasty water.” Ok, maybe I’m being too harsh. I don’t think so.

Stopping short of a complete generalization I want to be clear that there are clubs for everyone, but they are definitely stratified by class. But alas, so much is so in Brazilian society. What’s the big deal? If class stratification were restricted to social clubs, then not much. But I fear the clubs are more an outgrowth of the gaping separation of the haves and have-nots in Brazil and that they reinforce and normalize this gap.

Sports and social clubs definitely have their perks and advantages and many, many are not only for the rich. They may bring swimming options to those living far from the beach. The grounds are safe for kids to wander and play on their own. Food and drink can be cheaper than on the street (since your monthly dues subsidize the environment). They are certainly a place to find tennis partners or to socialize with people self-selected as like you. They can be a quiet respite from the cacophony of the surrounding neighborhood.

That is all very reasonable. But at the end of the day, some of these places do not pass the smell test when it comes to self-selected class stratification – for whatever the reason. To suggest otherwise is to ignore reality.

Like I said, the hair goes up on the back of my neck. I flash on a memory of being the guest of a friend of mine in San Francisco for the annual LGBT physicians’ association dinner. We wandered the room meeting and greeting new colleagues and old. EVERYONE extended their hand to me first and introduced themselves. In turn I would introduce them to my host who had a PhD in psychiatry from Harvard, an African American man. We left early. Harold was worried that when it came time for people to leave they would be giving him their car keys and asking him to go fetch their BMWs.

On the other hand, I do enjoy going to some private clubs and having my class stereotypes contradicted by the openness and inclusivity shown by their members. And I have been to many clubs for us working class folk and they can put on one hell of a party.

1 comment:

Fabio Bossard said...

You are completely right about the class stratification. However, you have that in many places, not only in Brazil. People tell that the beach is a democratic place because you have the rich and the poor, but the truth is that the rich and the poor hang out in different places. I always tell about what happened to me twice. I invited friends from zona sul in two different occasions to go to the beach and we stayed at a spot where you see more poor people. My friends complained the whole time. That sounds like racism to me, but if you ask them if they are racist, they will say: "of course not".