Why I think we should continue celebrating Caster Semenya despite IAAF's discriminatory landmark ruling
The news of a landmark ruling affecting Caster Semenya directly, shocked and disheartened South Africans yesterday.
This announcement revealed that the Court of Arbitration for Sport will be upholding the International Association of Athletics Federations's (IAAF) regulations that women athletes with above average testosterone levels (hyperandrogenic) will now have to take medically prescribed medication to decrease their testosterone levels - this will be effective as of 8 May 2019.
This discriminatory verdict comes after a decade of the 800m world champion's career has been largely riddled with humiliating inquests into her gender identity all in the name of attempting to stain her clean record of wins.
As such, a Sport24 report shared how Minister of Women Bathabile Dlamini, remarked that "this is a disappointing judgement, it actually removes Caster Semenya's agency as person, as an athlete, as a person who trains hard."
Bathabile further highlighted how Caster is "being targeted because she is so successful through her hard training and her dedication".
This is also a stark example of how black women's bodies - black female athletes especially - continue to be the most othered, policed, humiliated, and interrogated whenever they go beyond the boundaries of what is "normal" to the white (often) Eurocentric gaze.
One only needs to mention the French Open's ban on Serena Williams' catsuit to unpack just one layer of this misogynoir.
This is a sentiment that was echoed on social media throughout the day upon the announcement of this "reverse doping" regulation:
Michael Phelps has a body that naturally produces half the lactic acid of an average person, but everyone calls him an amazing athlete. Caster Semenya has a body that naturally produces high testosterone levels and she gets punished. The misogyny and racism of it all is awful.— Penny Moore (@precociouspenny) May 1, 2019
Colonialism & anti-Blackness are scaffolds that support the kind of institutionalized gender control we are seeing in Caster Semenya’s case. This situation only further illustrates how any movement for gender freedom must be simultaneously an anti-racist, anti-colonial project.— Harper B. Keenan (@HarperKeenan) May 1, 2019
Black women's bodies are constantly policed in professional sports--from track to tennis.— UltraViolet (@UltraViolet) May 1, 2019
Let's be clear: Caster Semenya is being punished for her achievements, and the IAAF decision is based in anti-Blackness and misogyny. We must support Caster in her fight for justice.
With unwavering support for the 28-year-old athlete coming from all corners of the world, it should therefore be highlighted why we ought to celebrate Caster Semenya now more than ever.
"The way you were born is the way you were born"
Anyone who has watched the very aptly titled Caster Semenya documentary, Too Fast To Be A Woman?, can attest to the fact that the perpetual intrusive poking and prodding at her gender identity has always been unfounded.
In this doccie she declares what she has since reiterating for years - that she is a woman and that there is nothing peculiar about the fact that she is competing in races with other women.
The IAAF's decision to now enforce a rule that requires hyperandrogenic athletes like Caster to decrease their testosterone levels, affirms the question posed by her documentary - yes, she and other women like her are indeed "too fast to be women", and that is a gross violation of their identity and human dignity.
Solidarity in the face of alienation
Alienation is often used as a weapon to deter morale and confidence. Several black women have shared anecdotes about how being alienated at the office and having to constantly justify their capabilities has been the reason they eventually left their jobs in pursuit of greener pastures.
As a nation that knows prejudice better than the next, it can be said that we've heard these stories from black women first-hand, we've written about women like former Rustenburg Girls' Junior School teacher Nozipho Mthembu, and you might even be reading this and thinking "I have been Caster too" or "I have been Serena Williams", who was given the 'angry black woman' label when a sexist referee provoked her and accused her of cheating last year.
Caster's "corporate office" is therefore every international race track she has raced on, where every victory came with the athletics version of the corporate "are you sure?", except hers was in the form of "but she shouldn't be racing with women" and athletes like Joanna Jozwik who blamed placing 5th or 6th on the gold medalist.
It takes a formidably healthy mind to not experiences pangs of self-doubt when your excellence is brought into question every time you hit a milestone. Such a mind is Caster's, who continues to react gracefully and with positivity amid the constant attempts to alienate her.
A story that can't be rewritten
It appears that what the IAAF might be trying to do is to rewrite the Caster Semenya story to the point where her previous feats will be erased in our history books - where 10 years from now the narrative will be "she was going to go far".
Upholding a regulation that requires her to decrease testosterone levels is a means of hampering her performance in the hope that she'll have fewer medals under her belt. However, her hard work, determination and the support of South Africans should fuel a fire within her that will keep her world champion status ablaze until she retires.
Caster has 30 days to appeal the verdict, and until then, there is no question that rings louder than the one she poses in her Nike ad, where she asks "would it be easier if I wasn't so fast?"
Perhaps it would be because then we'd all be telling a story far different from that of yet another black woman who has had to defend her integrity to appease those who feel threatened by her success.
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