Monthly Archives: April 2020

Castor Semenya: Shameful Context of an Athlete’s Persecution

Laurie and Debbie say:

World Athletics remains committed to a centuries-old, white supremacist notion that defines “womanhood” in terms of the white, cisgendered female body, rendering everyone else, especially women of African descent, socially unacceptable aberrations. 

We have written about Castor Semenya several times, most recently here and here.  Semenya is an Olympic-class runner who has been continually harassed and demeaned by World Athletics (formerly the International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF), which is committed to the proposition that she’s not a real woman. Elizabeth Adetiba, writing at SB Nation, goes deep into the repulsive historical, contemporary social, and biological background to this substance-free “controversy.”

Read the whole article, don’t rely on our selections:

Based on the tones of disgust used to discuss her physicality, one might think that Semeya is the only runner to ever possess a body that so greatly differed from everyone else’s in the field. It seems the sports world has forgotten the peculiarities of Ira Murchison’s stocky, 5’4 frame, which earned him both the nickname “Human Sputnik” and an Olympic gold medal in the 4×100. Or that world record-holder Usain Bolt was taller with longer legs than any of his competitors.

Unlike those men, Semenya’s body is often deemed unwanted and out of place, most notoriously by her sport’s governing body.

Adetiba names two other contemporary African runners who are receiving similar treatment. Annet Negesa, from Uganda, was pushed into invasive surgery by World Athletics, and is suffering both physical and mental consequences. Adetiba goes on to cite the repugnant 19rh century “scientific” theories of Sir Albert Cook, who categorized Black women’s bodies by their “ape-like” features.

Before Cook, Sarah Baartman, more commonly known by her derogatory nickname “The Hottentot Venus,” encompassed Western society’s fixation on black women’s bodies. Captured and enslaved in what is now South Africa (Semenya’s home country), Baartman was brought to Europe in 1810 and exhibited in circuses and public squares until her death, when scientists assessed and dissected her elongated labia. That work was promoted as more evidence that black women’s so-called deficiencies made them less “womanly” than their white counterparts.

The impact of such ideas can still be seen today within the medical community through widespread diagnoses of “labial hypertrophy,” a medical term for an elongated labia, despite the fact it is not a major (nor, for the most part, even minor) health concern.

She goes on to discuss J. Phillippe Rushton’s spurious 1995 claims about Black people’s levels of testosterone. “Scientists have spent the last few decades refuting Rushton’s claims, and ironically fanning the flames of racial pseudoscience.”

Stepping back 150 years, Adetiba addresses other racial stereotypes:

In 1851, physician Samuel Cartwright wrote that, “It is not only in the skin that a difference of color exists between the negro and the white man, but in the membranes, the muscles, the tendons, and in all the fluids and secretions.” Cartwright’s work, which Hoberman claims was read widely by slaveholders, gave (pseudo-) scientific, biological justification for maintaining racial hierarchy and slavery, even as moral opposition grew in other parts of the United States. Implicit in Cartwright’s work was the idea that black men’s physicality is acceptable only when it can be manipulated for profit.

Today, we see Cartwright’s legacy in sports. Exceptional male bodies, often characterized by great strength and size, often inspire awe, and not ire, because for the last century sports institutions have forged and refined mechanisms to make money off of them. Strong women’s bodies, however, haven’t yet been nearly as profitable, and thus have been much more easily derided.

And she minces no words in making her key points:

World Athletics simply sees little use in acknowledging and developing female talent, particularly black female talent in the Global South. As exemplifiers of a particular strain of racialized thinking, those women, to them, are not “real women.” And when World Athletics refuses to elevate the athletic prowess of a black woman, within a body that defies centuries of white supremacist, colonial, gender-essentialist myths, it chooses, instead, to humiliate her on every level.

It is impossible to read this article in April 2020 without also thinking of the Black women being denied hospital care for coronavirus, of whom Rana Zoe Mungin is only one example.

We can only join Adetiba in our outrage.

… these women shouldn’t need to advocate for themselves. As society continues to confront the racial legacies of social institutions in other ways, sports organizations like World Athletics have a clear opportunity to address the harm done as a result of the implementation of racist, sexist ideas. No more hiding behind biased science, doctors, and metrics. Semenya, Niyonsaba, Negesa, and other African female athletes with hyperandrogenism need not alter or manipulate themselves to fit ideals of womanhood that were constructed explicitly around their exclusion. Their bodies are simply not the problem.

They never were.

Thanks to @LisaIronTongue on Twitter for the link. Follow Debbie on Twitter.


Just, Equitable, and Regenerative Recovery with Public Banks

Letters of the Word "Safer" between the columns of a classic looking bank building

Debbie says:

I try not to ride my public banking hobbyhorse in this space too often (Laurie thinks I should do it more). However,  this op-ed was just published in the Post News Group papers, though it was really a group effort by Friends of Public Bank East Bay, an activist group I am part of.

… only banks can multiply their impact by leveraging their capital: if our bank has $10 million in equity, it can loan up to $100 million to small businesses and others suffering from the economic fallout from COVID-19.

All banks do this, but private  banks are legally bound to maximize profits for their shareholders, most of whom are already wealthy. Public banks will be bound by their missions and their charters, and overseen by their community-based boards of directors, to maximize recovery for the people and businesses who have been longest overlooked.

In case you haven’t been counting (they have!), the Wall Street banks have so far made $10 billion in windfall profits from processing just the clusterfuck that is the small business stimulus payments. They are also permitted to deduct any money owed to them from your stimulus checks — the bills passed and signed in March very carefully make sure that any money you owe government at any level can’t be hijacked from this payment, but the same protection wasn’t made from loans to (or through) the banks. Some banks are taking “their share,” some are letting the money through, and some are blaming Congress for “forcing” them to deduct debts.

Public banks will also be in a position to accept the zero-interest loans now made available only to banks from the Federal Reserve.

Cities and counties with public banks will be able to deploy economic recovery efforts quickly and efficiently, because they know their communities intimately. In partnership with community banks and credit unions, these banks can prioritize loans to individuals, and to small- and medium-sized businesses owned and run by people of color and other vulnerable groups.

If this makes sense to you, you can check out California Public Banking Alliance, soon to be a member of the National Public Banking Alliance (in formation). And you can sign our petition to lawmakers.  (Hey, I warned you this was my cause.)

The day we get the first California public bank up and running, we will have a ready source of funds to help people and businesses sustain and rebuild themselves through these hard times, without repeating the mistakes of the last 40 years. It will multiply its capital and equity up to 10 times, while multiplying its positive impact on people of color and others who have been systematically marginalized, because — unlike Wall Street banks — prioritizing those who need it most will be built into its DNA.

COVID-19 is doing great harm. At the same time, it is pointing the way to a more equitable world and a regenerative economy. The time for public banking is now.