I don’t have to be what you want me to be: Caster carries on Ali’s fight
Her plight has caught the mood of a black world out of patience with a white world deciding who and what she is
Now what? Because, whatever the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has closed its eyes, ears, hearts and minds to, Caster Semenya cannot be wished away.
The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) have, in effect, told Semenya she isn’t who she is, and in Lausanne on Wednesday the CAS wasted the chance to tell the IAAF they are wrong.
In a decision that took 165 pages of explaining, the court said it had “found that the [IAAF’s] DSD [Difference in Sexual Development] regulations are discriminatory, but the majority of the panel found that, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics”.
Semenya’s integrity, then, is less important and expendable than that of other people, particularly those who can’t keep up with her, whose dignity matters more than hers. But she – and I do mean she – will not be airbrushed out of the annals. Her integrity is intact, her dignity, though attacked, is unchinked. She is and will remain as real as a battered woman’s broken bones.
A black woman, at that. And a black woman who not only refuses to genuflect to the race and gender stereotypes others have created for her but, rightfully, rejects it with contempt.
How many straight white men do you know who would not be enraged by the view that society should accept them only if they were not straight, white and male? Welcome to Semenya’s world.
By rejecting her appeal against the IAAF’s opinion of who is a woman, CAS has confirmed the tyranny of the ignorant.
But there can be no erase and rewind to a time when men were men and women were women and only a fool couldn’t tell the difference. And there shouldn’t be, because that was a bad time – when only men worked and only women kept house and raised children, when it didn’t matter how much plastic and petrol we pumped into the world, when we stuck pencils into people’s hair to establish their race and therefore determine the boundaries of their existence, when the poor were poor because they wanted to be and not because the rich had designed life that way.
We know better now. Pertinently, we know that who is a man and who is a woman is not at all certain, and we know that it is not our place to tell others which they are. At least, we should know those truths. Wednesday’s decision is, sadly, proof that we don’t.
Is it unfair on other women that they should have to try to beat Semenya, who through no fault of her own was born a drug cheat? Hell yes. Is it fair that the best the IAAF can come up with to level the race track is to order Semenya to pump herself with drugs to lower her testosterone levels? Hell no.
But there are bigger issues afoot here. Semenya’s plight has caught the mood of a black world that has, not before time, run out of patience with a white world that has historically thought nothing of exploiting the black body for its own gain.
From slavery to colonialism to apartheid to Britain inviting West Indians to come and help them rebuild their country in the wake of World War 2 and then, decades after they answered that call and added richly to the culture of their adopted home, deporting them back from whence they came, the black body has been a commodity; a resource to be used and replaced as required by its self-appointed white overseers.
Like Muhammad Ali before her, Semenya is not only refusing be one of those exploited black bodies, but refusing to accept that whites – or men, or straight people, or anyone – have the authority to define her.
In Miami on February 26 1964, the morning after he had beaten Sonny Liston to claim the world heavyweight title, the man who had until then been known as Cassius Clay told the assembled white, male, probably mostly straight press: “I believe in Allah and in peace. I don’t try and move into white neighbourhoods. I don’t want to marry white women. I was baptised when I was 12, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m not a Christian anymore. I know where I’m going, and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”
You can argue with some of that and take umbrage at other parts of it. But it was, is and always will be the bulletproof truth that “I don’t have to be what you want me to be”.
Fifty-five years on, we still haven’t accepted that truth.