News: Is Gender Testing about Race or Races?

September 11, 2009

By Dr. Boyce Watkins

MSNBC’s TheGrio.com

6:20 PM on 09/10/2009

Race was never a factor in track star's gender query

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University 

The world is now talking about Caster Semenya, the South African athlete who has been subjected to gender testing after dominating the field in the 800-meter run at the 2009 World Championships. Recent reports by the Daily Mail of London and the Sydney Morning Herald of Australia state that the test has revealed that Semenya "is a hermaphrodite with no womb or ovaries." Some have argued that Semenya was the target of the investigation because she is black, but I am not sure if I am on board with that presumption.

If the reports are true, I am not surprised. Race issues to the side, I too found myself wondering if I was seeing things, as I watched Semenya thump her chest in victory and speak with a voice that could bring Barry White back from the grave. I was disturbed, but open-minded, for I considered Semenya’s case to be an opportunity to explore cultural variations in gender perception.
Another use of the word "race" applies when analyzing Semenya’s time in her race of choice, the 800-meter run. Not only did this 18-year old come out of nowhere to run a time which instantly dominates the world’s most highly trained 800 meter runners (1:55.45), but her time was nowhere near the world record (1:53.28), set by Jarmila Kratochvilova of Czechoslovakia in 1983. Like Semenya, Kratochvilova could easily be mistaken for a man.

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