Earlier this year, a great Brazilian lifestyle magazine called Trip published an interview with Anderson Silva in which he speaks about his early life, including experiences with discrimination. Some of his anecdotes touch on the bittersweetness of adolescence, while others tell of Brazil’s own struggles with racism.
For some background, Anderson Silva’s mother sent him to be raised by and live with an aunt and her family in the southern city of Curitiba at age four. And coming from a more diverse cosmopolis like São Paulo, growing up in a mostly white city presented difficulties for Spider.
Once, while working at McDonald’s, a customer refused his service because he was black. Anderson even had a girlfriend’s father refuse him entrance to his home, and sabotaged their relationship because he was black.
The photo covering this Trip interview recreates the iconic April 1968 Esquire cover, titled The Passion of Muhammad Ali, where the American boxer is standing in white trunks and boots with his hands behind his back, riddled by arrows. Unlike Muhammed Ali, however, Anderson prefers to avoid controversial subjects.
But that doesn’t keep Anderson from sharing some very compelling words about life, race, identity, and mixed martial arts, showing us a side of Anderson not often seen.
On whether racism is worse in Brazil or the United States:
Racism is bad anywhere on the planet. It exists the United States as well, even more than in Brazil. I never had a problem with racism in Los Angeles. I think things are changing, people are learning that everyone is equal before God, independent of their color, their race. I tend to say that conflict is inevitable in man, that color is just an excuse to unleash that madness, that lack of respect people have for one another. I’m very well set on this racism thing. We’re living in a moment in which racism does not fit in the world.
On getting started in martial arts as a young, poor and black man:
My aunt and my uncle taught me to go into and come out of places with my head held high. At every academy I frequented, I was always well received for having the discipline and education that I acquired at home. When I started training tae kwon do, there were a lot of Koreans and whites in the academy, I was maybe the only black person. I cleaned the academy and trained for free. I never suffered any prejudice within the academy. I was always well-received, I was always respected. I have great friends that I made in the academies, to this day. In the sport environment, you have to learn to deal with different opinions, different races, and different classes. Everyone is the same.
On encounters with police as a young man in Curitiba:
There were several times. I was coming back from training with friends, I went for a stroll at the mall, and I was at the bus stop, in shorts and sandals, with a backpack on. A police car stopped. An MP (military police) came out and approached me, asking me where I was coming from. I said that I was coming from the mall. “What do you mean the mall,” he asked. He could’ve done it to any other boy there, but he only did with me. I was the only black one there. I thought, “I’ll respond to whatever he needs and it’s all good.” He was a bit rude, but I didn’t pay it much attention.
On news of police violence upon black people, specifically Claudia Silva Ferreira, who was dragged on asphalt by a police wagon in Rio de Janeiro:
It was a horrible episode. As I’m from a military family, I think there was a lack of preparation from the police. What we can do is open our eyes and pay attention to the things that are happening every day and try to change that. Protests get us nowhere, we get Carnaval soon after, and then everything’s all right. There’s no point in protesting, if we’re going to have a holiday for the World Cup, and then everything’s all right. We’re entering an era in which we have the opportunity to make changes. It’s important for people to have the conscience to exercise their rights, to protest without violence and aggression, to have objectives. It appears very vague when people are victims of something, they make a fuss in the media and then let it go. Other cases of violence and racism get passed over. I think it’s more important for people to stop, take a step back and observe how much they can change the country, laws—how much better of a country we can have.
On having a Jackson 5 coreography crew, being a dancer, practicing ballet, and fitting in:
My brothers had a Jackson 5 crew. And my friends and I would always watch them practice. Then we decided to start our own dance crew. We'd get together in garage at home, coming up with these choreographies. When there were parties, we'd go off dancing.
I have been a dancer. Not anymore.
Man, what a phase. At first I didn’t like it, no. It was punishment. No friend of mine did it. Me doing ballet? Hello? It wasn’t very cool. My friends would all go like, “ah, little girl, little lady.” And add that to my high-pitched voice—I was bullied a lot.
But I started to like ballet. And my aunt also put me in tap-dancing lessons. I’m thankful to her because it helped me a lot in fighting. Evander Holyfield practiced ballet. It’s got nothing to do with that, you know. If you want do ballet, you do ballet. You want to fence, you fence. You want to be gay, be gay, it’s all right. You respect people’s spaces, they respect yours, it’s all right.
On prejudice towards homosexuals in mixed martial arts:
I don’t think there’s prejudice, but there’s a lot of homosexuals in mixed martial arts. There are a lot of them who haven’t yet come out.
[If they were to come out,] nowadays it’s so silly to not express your feelings. As long as you respect people’s spaces, and respect their limits. You have to live your life in peace and no one has anything to do with that.
I would train with a gay man. As long as he respected me, it’s all right. I don’t think much of it. The fact that guy is gay doesn’t mean he’s going to accost you. He can be gay, have a relationship, live among guys who aren’t gay. he can do whatever he wants with his private life.
On vanity and getting picked on in the gym:
They tease me. Sometimes people think I’m gay. A lot of people have asked me if I’m gay. I answer, “Look, not to my knowledge. But I’m still young, it could be that in the future I’ll find out that I’m gay. I take good care of my things, I put everything in a bag, I use soap, I put on a cream after training. People think it’s capricious. To each his own. Doesn’t mean you’re more man or less man, more gay or less gay.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.