Friday, August 21, 2009

hello, white racial frame

When the story about Caster Semenya was on Good Morning America this morning it triggered my memory.

What was said about Debi Thomas - that she was pure Sport compared to Katarina Witt's Art?

What was said about Surya Bonaly:
You know, competitors like Surya and Midori Ito, they had the really
masculine, exotic sort of style and yeah, it got them some great technical
marks. I mean, not many women are out there attempting triple axels.
But skating is really all about beauty and sophistication and all the really
powerful women skaters have modeled themselves after Grace Kelly or Audrey
Hepburn, or that sort of a thing. That’s what our women have to offer and
it just comes natural to them. And I’m not saying they’re not up there
technically. I mean, they’re obviously not as aggressive as someone like
Surya, but she’s never really had the respect, you see. She’s a great
skater, in an exotic kind of a way I suppose, but she’s missing the classic
basics our girls have. And she’s not the nicest person out there either,
let me tell you…

(sure, the quote comes from a Canadian coach but US media commentary pretty much conformed to this; Dick Buttons would be brutal on Bonaly during her skates for not being graceful, for having more jumps than grace, for showing bare legs, for being so muscular, for 'attacking' the ice. Thanks, Dick.)

What continues to be said about the Williams' sisters.

What was once said about First Lady Michelle Obama, that she was shaped like a 'horse'? (Wasn't this on the Daily Show?)

Back to Caster Semenya: The GMA correspondent didn’t blink at all as he’s describing how this athlete has to have her genitals examined, her chromosomes counted and analyzed and her organs picked over, like she’s a ‘thing’ rather than a human being. It’s like a live autopsy. Like Sarah Baartman, all over again. Once again, we see the disturbing tendency of the West to literally/figuratively dissect Other women.
Do we really have to remind folks about the intricacies and pervading influence of nationalist, white supremacist, imperialist, colonialist discourse?
(And I'm not going to recreate the scholarship here. Why not? Because I'm not the only one who can use Google Scholar. Shit.)


Songbird said...

Thanks for these thoughts. I first thought the other runners were being bitchy about losing, and then went down a mental road about genetics and gender identity; it didn't occur to me to think of this as racist, but the context of the figure skating story broadened my thinking.

ding said...

oh i'm sure they were bitchy, too, but there's a whole hidden context of 'whiteness' running behind the whole thing.

the incident itself may/may not be racist but the discourse certainly is and certainly fits into a racist pattern of Othering black/non-western athletes. the academic papers written on the williams sisters and the discursive strategies used against them are particularly illuminating.