Monday, August 29, 2022

Unreconciled racism: The BYU incident

 Last weekend, BYU fans directed racial slurs against several Black women on the Duke volleyball team. It seems that Rachel Richardson experienced the brunt of it including a threat from a white man in which she was told to "watch her back" on her way to the bus. She is the athlete who has spoken up about the violence. 

BYU responded late and poorly, but this was an all-around failure by all coaches and officials. 

It has been pointed out that BYU's response reflects their ignorance. Others have thrown up their hands in a "it's BYU--what do you expect?" kind of way. 

ALL institutions should already be doing this work. That Heather Olmstead, BYU coach, said that after talking to Richardson (and others) that she now "understand(s) areas where we can do better" is offensive. Stop asking Black people to educate you about racism. AND ALSO how do you not understand that yelling racial slurs is a problem? This is not an area to be worked on--this is an area that should be fully understood; there should be a plan in place for if this happens and more importantly a culture in which this behavior is not acceptable should already exist. 

This work should have been done already! This is basic stuff. Athletic departments and colleges/universities that are not having conversations about race, that do not have action plans in place are failing. 

This is not revelatory. 

The question/issue that remains for me is whether an institution such as BYU that has clearly not engaged at all with its racist, imperialist, and colonist past AND ongoing practices can actually do this work authentically. One of the Mormon church's crucial practices is missionary work. Missionary work is a form of imperialism. They recruit non-white people into their religion without having addressed the church's own history. How can BYU legitimately engage in anti-racist work? 

Arguably, the majority of higher ed institutions have not approached their own racism honestly, and many institutions fail to appropriately address and sanction racist fans (hey UIowa my alma mater, I am looking at you!) For some reason, BYU's actions and inactions seem more egregious, more hypocritical as they preach a morality that they cannot adhere to given their historical and current practices. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

That umbrella makes you a hypocrite

 Mariah Burton Nelson and Donna Lopiano, long-time women's sports advocates, have found "a fair and inclusive solution" to the "problem" of trans athletes--specifically trans women (because trans men are apparently inherently disadvantaged despite all that testosterone, the very substance that a mere blink of an eye ago everyone said meant everything in terms of advantage). 

They (presumably with their more visible/vocal and polarizing colleagues Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Martina Navratilova) have created the Women's Sports Umbrella. The umbrella, they claim, allows for anyone identifying as female to have a "team" experience. But if an athlete was assigned male at birth and transitioned after the age of 12, that person cannot compete alongside women. Well unless it is an individual sport in which case fine but the scores/times do not get included with the "real women's" scores, they get put into the trans category. (But rugby and other contact team sports--forget it; they will hurt someone with their dense dense bones.) The authors do not use the term real women of course; but all their rhetoric about how trans women are category-defying makes the implication easy to pick up. 

I am going to break down pieces of their Forbes column (linked above) in a moment, but first some context. It is clear that Burton Nelson and Lopiano are playing good cop to Makar and Navratilova's fascist cop. They use terms like inclusion and advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion training for coaches, teammates and administrators (which should already be happening). They call trans athletes brave and say they should not be sidelined for being who they are. 

But they are all still cops; they are all arguing for surveillance; they are all damaging the very entity they claim to protect and serve: women's sports. Because as much as they think that they are being all post-modern by recognizing that gender is not a binary, they themselves cannot actually get out of that binary and the traditional way of thinking that has reified western gender categories. This was cemented when they wrote: "our nonbinary solution is called the Women's Sports Umbrella." 

To be fair, the binary they actually invoke is the inclusion/exclusion one. But their "third" non-binary option is inspired they say because trans women do not fit the category of woman--"biologically speaking." This is the height of cis white women privilege. They are deciding that trans women are other; that they are a third category. They are taking a huge range of trans experiences and putting it into a "third" category. 

They keep invoking biology and categorization based on biology without acknowledging that humans create these categories and definitions. For example, some people in the past (and still) think they women who love women (which Burton Nelson does according to her website which states that she has a wife) are not actually real women because real women have a biologically based desire for men. The norm is heterosexuality. The whole lesbian panic in sports is based on the idea that these women are more like men and it includes a biological component: some people believed that lesbians were biologically advantaged. And it is not just about sexuality. Many people today still believe that Black people have biological advantages. Though no one says aloud anymore that Black women should compete in their own separate categories, that based-on-science belief is not in the distant past, nor has its effects disappeared. (A cursory look at the coverage of Serena Williams attests to this.) But certainly we all know that is not true anymore, one might retort. Do we? Who gets picked out for being suspiciously masculine? Whose sexuality and gender get questioned? 

There is a lot in this piece. I could point out the lack of nuance in the thinking and the violence that this perpetuates, but I want to end on the concept of fairness which is over and again uncritically invoked here and in other pieces about trans athletes. 

SPORTS ARE NOT FAIR. This discourse has done so much damage to so many marginalized people in ways I cannot begin to enumerate. It is again being used as a weapon against marginalized people. Even if these women have decided that fairness is based on bone density and lung capacity and testosterone, they have not ideologically committed to that. Because if they had, they would be advocating to abolish gender categories and create sports categories on the basis of those factors. But that's not the umbrella they have opened. Why? Because advantage--even if we look only at biological advantage and not economic and sociopolitical and cultural--is complicated and not reduceable to neat categorization. They refuse to acknowledge this messiness because it might mean having to ditch the umbrella and reconceptualize sports. 

person in green coat in rain and wind holding tightly to inverted umbrella