An Open Letter to South Africa’s Caster Semenya


South African athlete caster Semenya has been globally brutalized by a public that thrives off scandals

South African athlete caster Semenya has been globally brutalized by a public that thrives off scandals

On this day that many of us will say “good morning” several times, I am deeply troubled. I am troubled by the reality of the space and communities in which we live, where I can wake up to tweets and facebook statuses ranting about the apology and protection we should be demanding for a country pop star, who one person (as ignorant in his behavior that he may have been) did not find should have been named the most popular for the year. I am troubled because for the last month our daughter and our sister has been globally brutalized, yet the tweets and statuses demanding her protection and respect of her humanity have been far and few between. Thus, I wake up this morning in an effort to make it a “good” one with a public letter to Caster Semenya. If you agree, this will be the email that you circulate throughout your “friends database” today. If you believe in globally protecting the humanity of black women’s bodies, then you can number and add your name to the count.

Be and live well,

Stephany R. Spaulding, Ph. D.
American Studies
Literature & Critical Race Theory

September 14, 2009

Dear Caster,

My heart breaks and bosom aches for the shock of inhumanity you are being forced to see in this moment. If I could right now, I would gently pull you into my arms and cradle you as my child. I would blanket you in the comfort of knowing that you are of a people who are fearfully and wonderfully made. Fearful in that when other’s epistemologies are too minimalistic to understand our existence, they have sought to devalue and diminish it. Yet wonderful we are, for we live knowing it has never been about us, but an obsession with validating irrationally supercilious ideologies.

If I could, I would bend your chin and connect with your eyes and beg you to allow me to make amends for the things I have let my memory erase. I would bathe you in a wash tub of tears as the century of years return unto me—remembering the persisting global attacks on black women’s bodies.

I would kneel down with you and cry out libations for Saartjie and offer humble apologies for all the time expended before we could finally give her rest. I would mourn all the names that cannot be recalled, lost to the hypocrisy of Western medicine vested in white supremacy, for as slaves stripped of human dignity we were sacrificed upon the alter of modern gynecology.

If I could, right now I would hold on to you for dear life and reassure you that you do not have to choose to do anything other than live. No one could ever strip you of the victories you have and will continue to win, for our glory is not of man. In the short time of your living, you are teaching of the deep sense of courage, honor, and dignity that is our legacy.

With love that is all powerful, patient and kind, I would rescue you from this diabolical global attack. I would show you how wrong many are in believing it takes the presence of ovaries to be a daughter, “normalized” levels of estrogen to be a sister, or the opening of a womb to be a mother.

But Caster, most importantly, I earnestly plead that you allow me to shoulder this cross with you because I can. From across the ocean and spanning global miles, I reach out to you for the daughter you are and for all of our daughters to come.


1. Me (Stephany Rose)


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13 comments on “An Open Letter to South Africa’s Caster Semenya

  1. Wonderfully put! There have been similar cases with athletes like that of Caster Semenya’s that have been left out of the public eye but with this system of course they choose to publicly humiliate this talented African Woman! Know thy self & never let this superficial system destroy the esteem of a QUEEN!!!!!

  2. I support Caster Semenya, and am appalled by her global humilation. May we, in the postmodern moment, reach a point of true enlightenment in our need to classify & quantify and how we treat one another. One in the struggle.

  3. I’m failing to see the “outrage” and loss of human dignity for simply trying to get to the truth. The Bible says, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Caster wasn’t pulled out of her home while living a quiet life to be questioned. She CHOSE to enter the very public sports arena of the olympics and compete as one. No one questions random tests for performance-inhancing drugs. Yet, when a woman, who looks like a man (let’s be honest),with the physical proportions and deep voice of a man, enters and breaks records in races previously unhead of…no one should question it. I would find it far more illogical not to seek answers to prove all is as it should be. It’s not like gender alterations for wealth and fame have never occured.

  4. I doubt there would be such outrage if this was a hermaphrodite Russian or Chinese Runner taking medals away from female American, German, Jamaican athletes, etc… What a completely stupid column. So are you saying that any ‘man’ can race as a woman regardless of testosterone levels as long as he is black? Please- Total and complete hypocrisy.

  5. My heart is breaking as I think of the inhumane acts in the name of “sports fairness”. Where is the care adn concern for the person? Black women have all too often bee relegated to a position of “less than”. I remember asking why there were not any white women with bared breasts in National Geographic and my instructor said that would be barbaric but it was for the sake of science that women of color experienced the intrusion of a camera to “record” their every move. We often speak of the Tuskegee experiment on Black men for the testing of syphillus, what about the black women with whom they shared their lives?
    This young sister does nto deserve the intrusion into her life that has been handled so badly with such a careless attitude. I applaud her father who has openly defended her and stood for her as a father should. Where are the rest of us? Black people, she is ours and we should feel outraged! I have written about this and tweetered but still feel that it was not enough. We must have a ground swell of concern and direct it to the right people so that they understand that this is not acceptable. Caster Semenya, we support you my sister.

  6. The very first time I saw the news “flash” about this young sister, I was appalled and stunned at the invasion of her privacy. This outrage is unforgivable. I have three daughters, all now adults, but would have been writing and calling every source at my disposal had this happened to one of them.

  7. People forget there was another black woman in that race. How would allowing Caster to compete if – through no fault of her own – she has an unfair advantage help that sister? Caster has been treated badly by almost everyone, not just the IAAF but also Athletics South Africa, sundry bandwagon jumping politicians, including the odious Zuma, who is one of the last men who should comment on gender, given his record and the media, not least the South African magazine that ran a makeover feature. I hope young Caster, who appears mentally strong and enjoys the support of a loving family and community, emerges on the other side of this sorry episode without lasting damage. However, the athletes against whom she competes – not least the black women – deserve fair treatment too.

  8. The silence surrounding Caster’s mistreatment may partially be accounted for by an expanding capacity for public cruelty via shock jocks, bloggers and other unfettered media outlets (in the name of freedom of speech).

    Outrageous treament of individuals and groups is not new, but for the generations born “post -blatant acceptalble” cruelty, these incidents are a wake up call to the power of technology and real time communications. We just didn’t get to hear as much as soon before the computer age transformed everything! Our sensitivities are understandably outraged, but it is naive to think that the hostility is new…especially in matters of sexuality, choice, difference and non-conformity. As much as I sympathize with Caster’s plight, I wonder if lifting the veil on all our assumptions may not be the better route, rather, the ONLY route to a real analysis of the power of media forces. Until publicly branded a “socialist” plot, the health care crisis was stymied. Amidst the cruel and fallatious accusations have come a more examined explanation of what socialism is and isn’t. Personal assaults are actually opening closed minds in a perverse way.

    The call for a new discourse may be evolving, it is sorely needed, but like so many horses out of the barn, such transformed thinking will come with heavy costs. it really has never been any other way.

  9. Pingback: An Open Letter to South Africa’s Caster Semenya | Happily Natural

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