Such harsh scrutiny of the bodies of black sportswomen does not happen to white women. Pictures: Rebecca Blackwell/Laurent GillieronAP
Such harsh scrutiny of the bodies of black sportswomen does not happen to white women. Pictures: Rebecca Blackwell/Laurent GillieronAP

Racist barbs hurt athletes

By Cheryl Roberts Time of article published Mar 4, 2019

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To be a champion and great black sportswoman is to have your black woman’s body incessantly interrogated by those who falsely assume a superior gaze to constantly harass the bodies of black women.

Ask athlete Caster Semenya, tennis player Serena Williams or gymnast Simone Biles.

If it is not about the clothes they wear, or their muscular and physical strength or natural hormone levels, then it’s the misogynistic remarks and comments.

It’s all seemingly okay when black girls and women participate in sport at grassroots levels, but the moment they emerge as global champions, the vicious attacks are thrown around. This is particularly rampant in sports accustomed to having white, North American and European sportswomen champions. But when the black woman arrives to claim titles and dominate sport, then the misogynistic and insulting arrows are thrown.

It’s not only the racist, misogynistic fans doing the attacks, it’s also the mostly white male officialdom that shows up with intentions to dehumanise champion black sportswomen. It’s happened to Serena Williams, Caster Semenya and Simone Biles. 

Yet, such scrutiny of a sportswoman’s body doesn’t happen to white sportswomen. Now comes the attack on women athletes with “higher testosterone”, a resolution propelled and accepted by a majority male and European exco committee governing international athletics that is the International Amateur Athletics Federation.

Outside the IAAF, the public response to the IAAF’s “higher testosterone ruling” in women athletes is overwhelmingly in favour of the naturally born women athletes competing in their natural body states, but there are those who are pushing for a “higher testosterone ruling”, and they are mostly European, white and male.

There are now open accusations, from mostly white and European people in sport, about Africa’s champion women athletes being able to win world and Olympic titles because “they are doping”. 

Such accusations linking achieving and successful African women athletes to doping is of course associated with racism, racial prejudice and the white superior belief that black and African women don’t have what it takes to be champion sportswomen.

Today’s generation of black sportswomen role models have lit up the stage for black girls to believe they, too can achieve. And many more black sports girls are maturing into champion sportswomen. 

For those who choose to define the achieving black and African sportswoman as being unnatural or a doper, they will continue with their misogyny and body attacks directed at black sportswomen.

It’s no easy journey on your way to becoming an elite sportswoman. And it’s even tougher when you are trying to make your way through sport as a champion. When a black woman achieves in sport, we can’t and don’t want to stop the applause, knowing theirs was no easy journey to the top.

* Cheryl Roberts is a sports activist.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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