The Olympics and other racist traditions

Thursday, August 02, 2012

by Tavae Samuelu

There is three days worth of Olympic coverage sitting on my DVR at home. I have no doubt sat glued to the television watching multiple swim trials, Gabby Douglas, and the beach volleyball dominance of Kerri Walsh and Misty May. After soaking in copious amounts of capitalist marketing and still not mustering up much nationalist fervor, I'm left thinking, "This is some racist and sexist bullshit." Especially, the most recent drug smearing campaign against Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen.

Put simply, Ye Shiwen did something better than a white man. She swam faster in the last leg of her race than all-American boy Ryan Lochte. She captured a gold medal for the feat and instead of shaking her hand in congratulation like decent human beings and anyone who learned good sportsmanship in kindergarten, people are crying foul. Swimmers and swimming officials alike have danced around calling Ye a cheater euphemisically lauding her performance as, "unbelievable" and "interesting." Journalist June Thomas from Slate highlights the top three fallacious arguments:
The first is the 'gotcha' element of her better-than-Lochte split time—how is it possible that a clean female swimmer could go faster than the best man in the world? But this selective editing of Ye’s 400 IM leaves out the fact that she was in fifth place after the race’s first leg, the butterfly. (She swam that leg seven seconds slower than Lochte did, for what it’s worth.) She also didn’t hold the lead in the 400 IM at any split until the 350-meter mark. One of the reasons Ye was so strong at the end, it seems, was that she was weak in the beginning. (That pacing, the Science of Sport’s Ross Tucker says, could mean that Ye has the ability to go much faster.)

Ye has also drawn suspicion because she doesn’t look like she should be swimming so fast. She 'is known for her large hands and feet,' the AP reports, 'but otherwise she’s smaller than other swimmers at 5 feet 7 inches and 141 pounds.' But the biggest reason these doping accusations are so prevalent is that Ye is from China, a country with a history of doping in swimming; a highly regimented, state-run sports system; and a recent, paranoia-inducing dominance of the medal table. Toronto’s Globe and Mail pointed out that 'Chinese athletes—and their respected Australian coaches—are insisting that this isn't the same China that was a disgrace in the 1990s, when ripped, drug-fuelled swimmers emerged from nowhere to beat the world.' The obvious subtext here: Why should we believe them?"
I wholeheartedly congratulate Ye Shiwen, not just for her gold medal, but for excelling in a space that people continue to point out wasn't made for her. As a womyn of color, I have spent my life doing things better than privileged white men. I don't call it cheating; I call it survival. For the full Slate article click here.