"Misogynoir" Exemplified in the Degradation of Black Women AthletesRoundup
tags: sports, African American history, womens history, sexism, Misogynoir
Donald Earl Collins is Visiting Professor of African American History with Loyola University, Maryland and the author of Fear of a "Black" America: Multiculturalism and the African American Experience (2004).
This is a world of anti-Blackness, one where the contributions of African people and of the African diaspora are erased, stolen, or undervalued. This is doubly so for Black women across the globe and it is quite apparent in the way Black women athletes are treated. Their achievements cannot be celebrated without a hypercriticism of their athletic flaws, or without an extensive critique of their looks or their alleged lack of femininity.
The imprisonment of American basketball player Brittney Griner is one recent example. Her six-foot-nine frame (206 centimetres tall), her queerness, and her Blackness already stood against her in an anti-Black, anti-queer, and misogynistic world. As an all-time-great in the WNBA, she earned just $250,000 a year so she had to travel to Russia – where racism and homophobia abound – to play in a local basketball team for an additional $1.5m.
In February, just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities imprisoned her to use her as a political pawn in their conflict with the West, without regard to her physical, psychological, or spiritual health. The US hasn’t valued Griner as a person either, missing scheduled telephone calls and infrequently checking in on her. That President Joe Biden finally met with her wife, Cherelle Griner, in mid-September does not negate the lack of value placed on her mental health, career, and life in the serious game of geopolitical posturing.
This isn’t just the problem of one uniquely gifted Black athlete. The misogynoir that women athletes face the world over devalues their successes, the difficulties they have experienced, and the hard work they have put in to compete domestically and internationally.
I became aware of the underappreciation of Black women as athletes growing up in the 1980s. I did not learn of my mother’s time as a successful high school basketball player in Jim Crow Arkansas until I was almost 16 years old. “Yeah Donald, I played,” she said nonchalantly during a call with her brothers and parents on Thanksgiving Day in 1985.
Even with that, I still wouldn’t learn until I was 23 that she helped lead her team to the 1965 segregated state quarter-finals. She undervalued her scoring 30 points in some of these games, she undervalued her team, and she undervalued the impact that learning this at five or 13 would have had on me as an athlete or as a Black person.
My mom downplayed her athleticism and achievements as if they didn’t matter because, in a Jim Crow world of white racism and Black patriarchy, to so many, they didn’t matter. That lesson has stuck with me in the 37 years since I first learned about my mom’s athletic success and has framed how I think of the devaluing of Black women athletes in all sports.