Monday, June 15, 2009

Intersections of gender, race, and youth sport

This past weekend the NYT published a very good article on the access urban girls have to sport. The Title IX Blog has given some more of the details of the article itself (and provides a link), but I want to, especially in light of Golf Channel commentator Rich Lerner's questions to Lorena Ochoa the other day, comment a little further.
Because my worry is that while it is often the case that girls from Latino (and sometimes African-American as well) families bear much of the responsibility for childcare duties and other domestic chores that can impede their access to sports, these realities can engender some misconceptions, some judgment, and some passivity.
What do I mean? Well I worry that whenever we talk about trying to involve more urban girls and girls of color in sports we are going to encounter a defeatist attitude. As in, "well, it's just their culture. There's nothing we can do." I have already seen, in discussions of Muslim women's access to sport, some of these attitudes. We hear about male-dominated cultures; cultures that do not value women or support their physical activity. Perhaps we even hear something about acquiescence to the oppression.
But this could describe almost any culture. Just because young white, suburban girls participate in higher rates than their urban counterparts who are black or Latina, does not mean these white girls live in a culture that has eliminated patriarchy or gender bias or even provides them full support. Just look at all the Title IX complaints OCR is investigating in suburban schools. But white, suburban culture has the privilege of avoiding such attention.
Such impressions about a "culture" also may be a deterrent for school administrators who, with plenty on their plates already, just do not have the time and resources to find ways to work within communities in an attempt to negotiate solutions.
If Rich Lerner makes an assumption that the number one golfer in the world, who has a wealth of resources available to her, is going to be the "good Mexican woman" and stay at home--or at least off the golf course--once she gets married, how easy is it for others to make similar assumptions; to resign themselves to a situation in which young urban girls of color are just not going to be able to get out of their homes to play sports?
On a positive note, though, there are youth sports advocates around who are working on and with the situation(s) many urban schools are facing. The NYT article does mention some of the work being done--largely through the Women's Sports Foundation which supports many grassroots programs. My hope is that this work continues.

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