Not on being black. Not on being female. Not on being an athlete. On being a black female athlete. Because being female has its challenges… but being black and female and can lead to a different athletic experience.
By Jessy Deroneth
I have been dreading writing this for ages now. I know that this trifecta is uncommon in the triathlon world and I knew soon or later someone or something was going to make me write this. And this was the killing of black runner Ahmaud along with the recent festivities of Haitian flag day (May 18th) reflecting on what it means to be Haitian in Canada.
But for the longest time, I did not know what to say: see, even as a first generation Haitian born in Canada, I have quite a few privileges. For one I was not born in Haiti like many of my cousins and therefore I have lot more opportunities to lead my life the way that I do. As I entered the life of an athlete, I soon noticed something greater than race, gender, ability (and maybe it is the environment lead by MultiSport Canada which is quite all inclusive): as the athletes that we are and pushing ourselves to the extremes, the racing experience transcend all external labels.
But outside of the race course, I live an experience that is slightly different. But every black male or female live a different experience despite all being rooted in the colour of their skin.
One thing I am grateful is that, despite living in a primarily white community, I enjoy privileges of working and living in the same community: and so, I usually get hand waves on my daily run and rides. I feel safe. And yet we’ve seen safety being denied from female runners along with black runners.
I enjoy privileges that comes from looking like I train a lot. But the challenges of society’s expectations of what an athlete looks like can make a runner experience as a larger black female runner (read Tia’s story here) quite different.
But when Caster Semenya was in the spotlight, I was asked if as a black female athlete, I produced more testosterone (the irony being that I suffer from estrogen dominant conditions).
I often am confronted with the struggles of putting my helmet on and keep my natural crown looking healthy which is a reality that is specific to black women hence why many do not participate cycling and especially swimming events.
The socio economics of living as a black family in Montreal made it that my family did not have the funds, the time, the means to explore what could have been an early talent and took on this sport later in life as a personal (and yet expensive) hobby. I look at team Kenya at the ITU World Championship and their reality is not far from what my family knows in Haiti and how having a slightly heavier bike can cost their athletes seconds away from the podium on international level.
And there is simply the lack of representation. I just joined ROUVY and I am going to assume there isn’t enough black female cyclist registered to justify creating an avatar that even resembles slightly like me (and no, I do not have long straight dark blond hair). But lack of participation explains lack of representation which explains lack of participation which then contributes to… okay, we can go very far with this.
I take these experiences as being part of my learning curve. For many, however these experiences are microaggressions that discourage them. For many more, their experiences makes training dangerous. Many suffer greatly and as we seen with Ahmaud, many have and will lose their lives over it.
My personal life is full of experiences about being black. On the race course however, I am just me in my raw true form which I have MSC to thank for. I am, however, aware that I was given a voice that many black women wish they had and so I am torn between enjoying racing and simply be human and the responsibility to bring those experiences forward.
I don’t have answers. I don’t know what I can bring to the table. But maybe, talking about it is better than pretending that it is not happening.
A few interesting links:
This Hit Different. 2/23 I try to remain detached from the mainstream news. I am aware of the things that happen, and…