The events of the Olympics are a big change from what people of Colour, including athletes, have historically been forced to do: pursue a road of stoic fortitude to perform.

Pandemic aside, the Tokyo Olympic Games were unlike any we’ve seen before. It was the first where athletes — particularly women of Colour — reclaimed their bodies from the subtle objectification of a sports industry that makes unending demands on their physical and emotional wellbeing.

From Naomi Osaka lighting the torch to Simone Biles taking time out to focus on her wellbeing, women of Colour in the spotlight are displaying a new kind of bravery. The bravery to say my body is mine, not yours. The bravery to not do what they're told. The bravery to say no. 

This is unprecedented.

Unsurprisingly, some right-wing commentators are against this, seeing these women’s display of needing boundaries as an act of disrespect to the Olympics or even disloyalty to the country.

On the Ben Shapiro Show, the host suggested our modern notions of bravery and success get shifted to accommodate who we do and don’t like. 

But the language of winning at all costs has a long and cliched place in our rhetoric on victors and champions. To go against this rhetoric takes courage. Knowing when to stop takes humility. Doing this knowing the full weight of judgment the global media has for perceived “weakness” takes a sense of purpose and alignment.

More so, I can’t help but feel there are racist and misogynistic undertones to much of the reactions. Women’s bodies are still treated as objects for judgment by society. People of Colour are often fetishised for their physicality. Combine the two, and there is a deep-rooted (and often subconscious) ‘misogynoir’.

Matthew Hughey, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, notes that at the turn of the century, when people of Colour started to be recognised in professional sports, many commentators started to emphasise white cognitive superiority in contrast to the supposedly savage physical superiority of people of Colour.

This fetishisation and judgement haven’t gone away. Adam Waytz and Kelly Marie Hoffman of Northwestern University and the University of Virginia report the result of several studies showing that when many white internet users were shown a series of faces, it was the black faces that were suspected to have superhuman speed, strength or height of jump. This unconscious bias is, I believe, what drives pundits like Piers Morgan to say that Biles “let down her country,” and Charlie Kirk to brand her a “national embarrassment.” 

To rest is to be human. If you are superhuman, well…  

The events of the Olympics are a big change from what people of Colour, including athletes, have historically been forced to do: pursue a road of stoic fortitude to perform.

Too many people of Colour in sports are defined by problematic tropes, and it is them who suffer the consequences. Whether it be Tiger Woods being “worn out physically, mentally and emotionally” or Muhammed Ali who famously complained after winning a gold medal for his country, that he “wasn’t allowed to work in America, and he wasn’t allowed to leave America.” 

Stars like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles show that perhaps the tide is changing. That their strength includes both their strength and softness. That they are human first, and the athletes we love second. 

My hope is their self-care is restorative enough for the physical, emotional, and mental toll their work requires and that women of Colour in particular will continue to claim their right to compete or withdraw, to speak or be silent, to appear or disappear.

Perhaps this is the real legacy of the Tokyo Olympics, and one that we can look forward to shifting how we relate to athletes in Paris four years from now.

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Source: TRT World