The 2021 Olympics in Tokyo are coming up, and people are talking about the anxieties and excitement associated with the Games. Many view the Olympics, which were postponed last summer due to COVID, as a symbol of a return to normalcy. But in some ways, this is a bad thing, both for the false declaration, and for the way the Olympics treats its Black women athletes.
Many are anxious that the 2021 Tokyo Olympics will become a super-spreader COVID event. This wouldn’t be surprising considering how many athletes, trainers, and spectators were supposed to attend. And, Tokyo just declared a state of emergency due to a spike in COVID cases.
We need to talk about the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and its relation to the pandemic, yes. But there are other widespread issues that we need to address. People are not talking enough about the way Black women have been mistreated in sports, specifically in the Olympics.
The hypocrisy of white spectators
Many misunderstand how systemic racism presents in sports.
Some think that since we celebrate famous Black women athletes such as Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglass, Laila Ali, Simone Manuel, and so on, surely racism does not still exist in sports.
But one of the problems is that we tend to only celebrate these Black women when they win despite the obstacles that society sets before them. And not even always then.
White society uses Black athletes as a source for entertainment, which is exacerbated for Black women, as society objectifies women in more ways than men. At the Olympics, society appropriates the victories of Black women for a source of patriotic pride. Yet, our country continues to treat them as lesser-than.
Recent criticism toward the Olympics’ lack of inclusivity has further exposed long-existing hypocrisy among white spectators.
Olympic organizers exposed for exclusivity
Critics are reiterating how Olympic organizers do not support Black competitors, particularly Black women.
The International Swimming Federation (FINA) refused to approve the Soul Cap for international competition. Soul Cap is a brand of swimming caps designed for “thick, curly, and voluminous hair,” as quoted on CNN.
In other words, Soul Caps can accommodate for the natural hair of many Black people and Black women. However, FINA rejected the inclusive Soul Cap designs.
Soul Cap said to BBC reporters that FINA banned the caps because they do not “follow the natural form of the head.” After receiving backlash, FINA decided to review their previous decision, but the damage has been done.
The Olympics have unwelcomed Black athletes and implied that natural Black hair is somehow unnatural and an inconvenience to other athletes.
The Olympics continues to deem some Black bodies unnatural by refusing to let Christina Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi compete.
These 18-year-old Black women sprinters from Namibia are not allowed to compete for having naturally high levels of testosterone. According to CNN, naturally high levels of testosterone has hindered many other Black women from competing in the Olympics.
Olympic organizers are attempting to define femaleness and womanhood. Who gave them that right? They’re extending their responsibilities to further oppress Black women.
Why are we putting so much pressure on Black woman athletes?
White people have a history of exploiting Black athletes in the US.
Joseph Cooper writes in The Boston Globe that “whites who control mainstream sports have long exploited Black athletes—economically, psychologically, politically, and for entertainment.”
And, for “Black males, athletic performance [is] valued more than their educational development.” White society attempts to manipulate and dehumanize the Black athletic body into a source of entertainment. But what about Black women athletes?
Considering the intersectional identities of Black women, their experiences may be similar to those of Black male athletes, yet very distinct.
Claudia Rankine writes in The New York Times that on top of experiencing exploitation for entertainment, Black women athletes are often criticized in ways that “perpetuate racist notions that Black women are hypermasculine and unattractive.”
These notions are apparent in how the “unnatural” Soul Caps were banned and how some Black women are excluded from competition for natural levels of testosterone.
The Olympics don’t deserve Black women
We tend to celebrate the bodies and victories of Black women only when they are convenient for us.
This pandemic of racism in the Olympics and all sports requires our attention and understanding just as much as COVID does. We need to stop this paradoxical, hypocritical spectatorship. Clearly, the Olympics do not deserve the prowess, grace, and passion of Black women athletes.