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Nadra Kareem Nittle

Is the Caster Semenya Sex Controversy Racist?

By August 22, 2009

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Caster Semenya is making headlines after winning an 800-meter race in the World Championships in Berlin on Wednesday by 2.45 seconds more than the second-place athlete. The fact that the 18-year-old South African literally left her rivals in the dust during the competition has led some of them to accuse her of being a man.

Both Italian runner Elisa Cusma Piccione and Russian runner Mariya Savinova made the accusation, the Los Angeles Times reported.  

Now, the International Assn. of Athletic Federations is requesting Semenya to take tests to determine if she's indeed female. If found not to be, she would be barred from racing and stripped of her medals.  

The request has not only infuriated Semenya's family but South African dignitaries as well. The L.A. Times printed a statement issued by the Young Communist League of South Africa, which supports Semenya.

"It feeds into the commercial stereotypes of how a woman should look, their facial and physical appearance, as perpetuated by backward Eurocentric definition of beauty," the league stated of the accusations against Semenya. "It is this culture which has forced many African women to starve themselves with the objective of reaching the model ramps of Paris and Milan to become the face of this or that product or magazine."

The league may not be far off the mark. Although their gender was never in question, tennis players Venus and Serena Williams have frequently been deemed too masculine by critics. First Lady Michelle Obama has faced similar criticism because of her muscular arms and 6 foot frame. Are black women in Western society unfairly pegged as masculine? In the case of Semenya, this argument is strengthened by the fact that two European female athletes publicly called her a man.

Semenya's mother said that these accusations are rooted in jealousy. However, Semenya, who is 5 feet 7 and 140 pounds does have some characteristics that make such accusations seem viable. In addition to her very muscular arms and washboard stomach, she has a notably deep voice. These traits have led others to accuse her of being male in the past.

To clear her name, Semenya's family has released her birth certificate to publications such as the Daily Mail of London.  The certificate clearly identifies Semenya as female. So, if the runner exhibits typically male traits, it could be the result of her taking performance-enhancing drugs, the Daily Mail posits. Other possibilities include that Semenya has underdeveloped male sexual organs inside of her body or an unusually high number of male chromosomes.

Only time will tell what the truth is. But, until then, I hope Semenya can withstand this intense scrutiny about her gender.


August 22, 2009 at 7:18 am
(1) James says:

He is a man.

August 22, 2009 at 7:22 am
(2) Anon says:

I say – Go read some stuff before jumping to conclusions. This is about playing by the rules of the sport and not the tone of someone’s skin. Anyone who thinks that International Athletics is dominated by racists is seriously deluded.
The inability to recognise and deal with legitimate criticism and instead label anyone with a different point of view as a racist, is in itself a form of bigotry.

Here’s a few reading suggestions -

August 23, 2009 at 3:40 am
(3) Alessandra says:

Racism? Please.

In the 1976 Olympics, there was a reason why milky white, blonde Eastern European female athletes had deep voices, male-like musculature, little mustaches, and incredibly powerful performances. That reason was not pretty. Yes, they were women, but they were “chemically altered” women. And it was an investigation that got to the truth. Sports cheating technology has come a long way since then, and it surely has not been stopped in Berlin (several athletes have been caught cheating already). Is Semenya simply one of the latest examples?

In every case where there was a major scandal about doping or sex impersonation in sports in the past, the first reaction of the coaches and respective officials is one of outrage and absolute denial. Not any different in this SA case. The bringing up of racism to impede an investigation would have been totally suspect to me. As long as a full investigation is carried out related to Semenya, I don’t care how much they screech racism.

Let the tests begin and the blame fall where it should, once the results are out.

August 24, 2009 at 3:45 pm
(4) Pam says:

I do not think this is racist. I have heard of similar accustaions against people of different ethnicities. Furthermore, I read someone from a school she once attended said he always thought she was a boy.
Athletes are expected to be muscular, some more so that others. And I have heard men refer to women, of different races, as being manly because of their musculature.
In this case, I looked and looked from head to toe, and could see nothing feminine about her. I looked for resemblance with her mother. I have my doubts and I am a woman of color.

August 24, 2009 at 9:35 pm
(5) Gregory says:

If you do not think this accusation is race driven…then you have probalbly not expericence much discrimination base on your race.

August 25, 2009 at 8:21 am
(6) Chaka says:

as much as i got what Anon and Alessandra have said South Africans are not just bunch of naive people who can’t see reality and make sense out of situations. We are not fighting for Semenya not to be tested if need be,but the manner in which it was conducted,one, lets assume those two Europeans athletes who are alleged to have called her a man,for whatever reasons,IAAF was supposed to take a procedural step,consult the ASA(south African federation and take it from there,why we a suspecting foul play ? Semenya is a minor for the test to be conducted guadians has to be involved be it her parents and the local federation,for that matter in confidentiallity,but instead the leaked what info for whatever reason,What is important is not the results as such but her dignity,we are not starting to know her now but we grew up with her,of which the chances of her been a boy amount to nothing,we don’t judge people because of the look,but who they are.Top athlete have gone through a lot of suspicion before we only knew their fate when the results were out but not while the tests has to be conducted,racing is concived from the way it was originated and its conduction by IAAF,i think they knew better than me and you thus at the end they regretted nad i believe they are still going to,because the moral of this is issue is for them to conduct a test is to prove but if the results are not in there favour,then what? what about her and her dignity, as a human beings we must judge,God does.

August 25, 2009 at 8:39 pm
(7) Swede says:

Racist? Why bring racism into it? Anyone who suggests that this is racism has a chip on their shoulder.

August 26, 2009 at 3:07 am
(8) anon says:

yeah right our democracy is still young in south africa hence we still have memories of the racist past south africa wich still exists by the way, in work places and else where the bottom line is whites racist dont expect good from a black person look what they did to sarah bartman what was that dont tell me you dont see no similarities in these two situations.
a leopard will never change its stripes once a racist always a racist and once a fighter always a fighter. stop hiding behind unity when you kow very well that you dispise us. but i tell you we will continue to suprise you till we prove that the only thing that makes you better than us is nothing couse we are gods created humans with extra ability and we are strong

August 26, 2009 at 5:17 pm
(9) Sophlames says:

I just love the new thing in vogue when black people say something is racist whites are there to say well ur racist for thinking so.
CAN U SAY AMELIE MAURESMO, no one has ever test her to see if shes a man and now she plays in the womens tennis competitions, i wonder why. Also isnt it funny that all the other african runners include the kenyans who hold the record most of the time didnt complain, it was the white european nations.
For those of u who say its protocol etc and nothing to do with racism, then why is it been made into a scandal.
Lets take look Michelle obama, the william sister and the list goes on why do people call them men.

August 28, 2009 at 1:14 pm
(10) Hans B says:

I think racism isn’t the big issue here. Lots of natural testosteron is. If a sportsperson uses testosteron to enhance his or her performance it is considered a crime. But what if some people have a more than average production of testosteron, of EPO or another natural drug? If that becomes an issue, we can say farewell to top sport. And what if all black males have naturally more testosteron?

August 28, 2009 at 4:08 pm
(11) Nadra says:

Hans, why do you think that black males would have a higher amount of testosterone than other men? There’s no evidence that this would be the case.

August 29, 2009 at 3:16 am
(12) Javas says:

What part of H U M I L I A T I O N don’t u understand. IAAF told her to withdraw from the final and when ASA disagreed the 18 year old African child was victimised and ridiculed by the Imperialist and Western Media. Tests previously had been conducted in labs YOU BLATANT IDIOTS not in Press conferences and Newspaper Frontpages. First they said she might have male chromosomes ruled that out now they say she has a high level of testosterone a female athlete can’t have the same level of testosterone as Paris Hilton IDIOTS. Another thing they say the tests are due in 3 weeks but the IAAF is leaking them already to the Telegraph. The IAAF is prepared to rewrite their constitution to destroy Caster’s career cause it’s quite clear she’ll dominate until she retires. Well they have been exposed.

August 31, 2009 at 8:32 pm
(13) Ceejay says:

Just because people have said things are racist in th e past, does not mean this instance isn’t also racist. Racist are often the last to come to the conclusion that they are in fact racist.
By the same token, every thing thought to be racist is not.
I’ve seen lots of people who look either masculine or feminine,doesn’t mean my observation’s are right.
Genetic tests can prove they have the DNA of one gender or another. Sometimes due to inborn genetic error’s people have extra chromosomes, that cause them to either look more maculine or feminine.
I feel that the media and most people want to latch on to this because of prejudice( prejudging)they themselves have. They use any and all excuses to chime in on subjects because of those issues. Not becuase it has any relevance to them or affects them one way or another. Which this obviously doesn’t.

August 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm
(14) randomlou55 says:

I don’t think it’s racist that caster is under controversy. A lot of great people are being argued over, or have been in the past. They are being held up to a higher standard, and are scrutinized moreso than the average person.

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