It seems that black athletes are allowed a single role, their humanity and personal politics flattened, even erased. When they dare to do anything else besides dribble or hit a ball, the public is outraged and they are punished for simply being more than just objects for our entertainment. It is time for this to end.
It is an old dynamic, the attitude that black athletes (as well as black entertainers) should be seen and not heard, serving only as vessels of amusement for (mostly white) audiences. It speaks to a larger idea ― that there is a very particular “right” way to be a black athlete and that is to simply be a body performing a task, not a human with passions, opinions and causes.
And thus it becomes the job of athletic administrators, coaches, officials, media, the public ― all of us ― to endlessly scrutinize their actions and decisions and put them back in the boxes so carefully crafted for them by any means necessary, be it through public shaming or enacting entire policies to block a black athlete’s progress both on and off the field.
Earlier this year, I wrote about how the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) wrote regulations that seemed tailored to keep the South African middle-distance running champion, Caster Semenya, from the sport. Her crime? Her body ― on its own, through natural function ― produces too much testosterone, according to the IAAF’s arbitrary numbers.