When it comes to commonly believed stereotypes of black women, high attainment within sports is rarely something that is mentioned. What has prompted me to write a post on black women within the sporting industry is the whole Caster Semenya debacle that keeps popping up on my radar. If you haven’t already heard, Caster Semenya is a South African Olympic Champion who competes in the 800m and 1500m races. As a result of having hyperandrogenism, Caster Semenya has uncommonly higher levels of testosterone for a woman and because of this she has been in an ongoing dispute with the The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF). The IAAF insist she has an ‘unfair advantage’ and should take medications to reduce the amount of testosterone she has, if she wants to carry on competing as a female athlete.
Unfortunately for Caster, the IAAFs ruling has been finalised and she has lost her case meaning she has a few options; stop competing altogether, take the medication to lower her bodies natural levels of testosterone or competing in the men’s races! The first thing I’d like to address here is that the higher levels of testosterone Caster has are not down to her taking drugs or enhancers of any sort… she was born that way. Since when did people have to start altering their bodies NATURAL genetic composition to give competitors a fair chance at winning? It’s a competition for a reason. Secondly, the way in which athletics governing bodies have handled Semenya’s case is in stark contrast to Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps has half the amount of lactic acid of an average person and is double jointed, making it easier for him to swim for longer and recover faster. There was no uproar whatsoever when this was discovered, in fact, I believe he was told he was lucky for having such an advantage.
All of this craziness with Caster Semenya has caused me to reflect on black female athletes as a whole. What I get from this case, as well as what I’ve seen other black female athletes go through is this. The general perception is that black women are unable to play sports competitively. If they do play competitively, they’re not expected to win and if they win, they’re most definitely not expected to dominate. Problems begin to arise when they’re dominating their sport because governing bodies, some social media users and general naysayers begin to question why they’re dominating. Whether or not they find a “reason” why that black woman is dominating their sport (in Caster Semenya’s case her testosterone levels) one thing that must be done is to try and dehumanise her or belittle her in some way.
In terms of dehumanising and belittling black women in sport, I think Caster’s case is a good enough example on its own but I won’t leave it at that. Serena Williams, Professional Tennis Player, ranked world No. 1 on 8 separate occasions, won 23 Grand Slam tournaments (the second most of all time, at the moment), mother, entrepreneur and so much more, has also faced unnecessary scrutiny on several different occasions. The most recent being the cartoon depicting Serena Williams having a “tantrum” on court following her match with Naomi Osaka in September 2018. Although the Australian Press Council deemed the cartoon not to be racist or sexist it still completely demeans the tennis champion in many ways. One way that really stands out to me, is the speech bubble that reads “can you just let her win” as if to suggest Serena is incapable of winning on her own bearing in mind, she’s already won several Grand Slams. I really think what is said in the speech bubble completely undermines all the work she’s already done to get where she is, regardless of whether or not people think she threw a tantrum.
So, what now? I felt the need to write this post and honestly, I don’t know if there’s a lot we can do as black women to change other people’s actions. All we can do is change our own actions and thoughts. Let’s not think small and accept what society says of us but let’s continue to break barriers, continue to smash records and continue striving to not only win but dominate in our respective fields.