Caster Semenya Runs With Every Black Woman’s Struggle And Triumph By Cheryl Roberts

17 Aug

Champion athlete Caster Semenya’s devastating runs on the athletics track this year and around the world which has her as the world’s leading athlete in the women’s 800m going into the Rio Olympics event carries significance and power for every black woman living in a South Africa of patriarchy, hetero-domination, sexual prejudice and black body haters.
The black body and athletics prowess of a rural black woman has catapulted South Africa’s black sportswomen into global glare. The gaze from colonial and white supremacist media representation, European and right wing thought, conservative religious teachings, is upon this phenomenal black woman athlete, with a hate intent on breaking this black sports champion body.
For those criticising and attacking her body, it’s not a gaze of praise and respect. It’s intention is to ridicule and criticize, yet again a black woman.
Black women around the world know this pain and this struggle. But black women have also found their strength and power to challenge, throw out and discard these attacks on black women’s bodies. And we do this showing up with achievements like #BlackSportswomanProwess, as exemplified by Caster Semenya.
The hate thrown at Caster Semenya’s black body has been experienced by women in South Africa, from centuries ago up until this juncture. We’ve already written about the athlete Caster Semenya not being representative of whiteness and its white privilege, heterosexism, feminity, how she lives in a patriarchal, heterosexual-dominated society.
Caster Semenya’s athletics prowess throws out the hate and condemnation of black women’s bodies. Black women have participated in organised sport in South Africa for over a century where they found and had pleasurable moments as they enjoyed leisure and sport.
Anti-apartheid and human rights activist, Albertina Sisulu, told me in an interview in the 1980’s that she loved sport and was a high jump champion at school in the Transkei. This participation by black women in sport has never been supported by corporate sponsors and it’s been largely ignored by media, until the last decade when black women in sport have begun to be celebrated and acknowledged in the media.
I write about this because the participation of black women in sport, especially in the apartheid era has been characterised by struggle; these struggles occurring as black women in society and as black women in sports structures.
We have supported and celebrated white sportswomen’s feats and achievements but we have longed for our black sports warrior. She arrived a few years ago, straight out of her rural village, through the junior athletics ranks and ran her way to world champion status.
For all the black women’s bodies that are ‘shamed’ and ‘attacked’ by those representing patriarchy, whiteness and fake white superiority, the haters who hate no black women’s bodies and beings, our black woman athlete Caster Semenya runs with all those chains and still she triumphs with amazing feats.
Even within organised sport in South Africa, Caster Semenya has had to fight back with her athletics prowess. SA’s sports structures and controlling officials are men who are not feminists and have no record of speaking out against attacks on black women’s bodies. They are largely conservative and operate sport within the framework of patriarchy and male control of the sports network. These male officials from the Minister of Sport and his department of sport to the president of SASCOC and his officials, are seemingly quite satisfied to have SA’s sportswomen struggling to participate in elite sport. If they were concerned and had a gender equal policy in sport, the 2016 Olympics Team South Africa would never have been male-dominated.
Caster Semenya makes us ask where are the elite black women in sport and why are they not performing world class achievements. Caster Semenya not only shows us the talent of black women in sport, she also reminds us that we are not supporting black girls in sport to become elite participants in world sport.
And then she does much more. She places black, queer, woman beings out there and says ‘here we are’. To be black, queer, non-feminine is a black woman’s right. This right is still a struggle for black, non-heterosexual, non-feminine queer women. In SA’s conservative sports forums, where the emphasis is on winning and male sports prowess without inter-relationships across society, this is a battle for black women. But Caster Semenya knocks down these barriers and tells black girls and women they can compete in sport and achieve.


South Africa’s world class athlete Caster Semenya (photograph by: Cheryl Roberts)

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