I’m sometimes asked why do I differentiate between women in sport; why do I refer to women as black women in sport and black sportswomen when ‘all are women in sport’. So here’s my response….
Without going into the historical analysis of women in society – as this is an Op-Ed (opinion article), not a postgrad essay – let me lay it down from the start and state that not all women are women of the same social and economic lives; it’s their social positioning and skin colour which differentiates women. Black women are subjected to much, much more discrimination and exploitation than white women and this discrimination is carried out in sport.
I center black women in my writings, talks, resistance and activism in sport and society because black women are the most discriminated against and treated as if they hardly exist.
Yes, I do acknowledge that gender inequalities and discrimination affect women in sport and impact on all sportswomen. But these inequalities and discrimination impact much, much more on black women in sport!
Black sportswomen and black women in sport have for over a century and more, not only been victims of the harshest discrimination; they have also been viciously marginalised and kept on the sidelines, out of positions of power.
Admittedly, 2016 in South African sport produced world class, Olympic and world champion black sportswomen. But this doesn’t mean that black sportswomen are given their rightful support, encouragement and assistance within South Africa’s sports paradigm.
With South Africa’s male-dominated and controlled sports network, black women in sport are placed mostly at the bottom of the sports paradigm. Look at national positions on national federations like swimming, athletics, cricket, rugby, football. Where are the black African women? Officialdom and leadership of SASCOC increased women’s numbers at the SASCOC elections held late last year. Black African women were available for election. But not one Black African woman got elected onto SASCOC; and this by a council that is mostly white-dominated.
Get this! White women – most of them, not all of them – represent themselves, their white privilege and their inherited life that their whiteness is privileged and must be looked after and supported.
We rarely have white women speaking out against the system that discriminates against black African women, then marginalises them and keeps them floating in non-supported sports environments.
And what about this reality? White people don’t see any inhumanity or racial injustices when national and provincial sports teams are mostly white or just about all white like in swimming, tennis and netball. Do we hear white people talking about and calling out the invisibility of black African women in sports teams and sports officialdom?
Yes, women have to struggle and compete and challenge for their place at the sports table. But white women don’t have to struggle as much as black African women. This is because white women are protected by their inherited and historical white privilege and whiteness which guarantees them preferential support and recognition.
There’s the examples of SA’s Paralympic champion, Zanele Situ and world boxing champion, Noni Tenge and world class netballer Pumza Maweni. These black African sportswomen have excelled in sport, are achievers and represent black woman prowess in sport, yet they are ignored and unsupported by corporate and sponsors. Not one of these achieving sportswomen have made a million rand in sport, despite their sports achievements indicating they should have.
Black sportswomen are not seen as being ‘commercial partners’ for corporates; they are also not viewed as being able to sell products and make profits for corporate businesses. This, because they have the wrong skin colour and hair and are not ‘fabulously sexy’, through the corporate lens.
Our resistance and activism must challenge the marginalisation and invisibility of black African women in leadership positions in sport and in national teams, especially where women are present in those sports.
To talk about women in sport without emphasising and centering black women is to further marginalise and suffocate black women in sport. Mentioning women as sportswomen and women in sport is to ignore the racial and class inequalities in sport, to falsely think that all women face the same levels of discrimination and inequalities. But this is not so. White women in sport don’t face the same sustained discrimination as black women in sport!
From the moment a black working class girl wants to play sport, her struggles are different from a white girl’s participation in sport. The black working class girl must battle for money to get football and rugby boots, to pay registration fees, have transport money and to be kept in sport. The white girl in sport is about ‘where we going to eat after training’, ‘what time is she being picked up after sport’ and ‘let’s go buy me the latest tennis racquet’.
I center black women in sport because black sportswomen are not only not given the media coverage and corporate support as that given to white women but because black women are not perceived as being able to exemplify sports prowess, despite us witnessing the achievements and amazing feats such as that accomplished by Caster Semenya, Zanele Situ, Noni Tenge and Pumza Maweni.
Most importantly, I center black women in sport because it’s a gender injustice to center white women in sport! White sportswomen are not the only women capable of achieving in sport; black women are just as capable, given the necessary supportive environment.