Race tactics: The racialised athletic body
Hokowhitu, Brendan (2003) Race tactics: The racialised athletic body. Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue (1: Body). pp. 21-34. ISSN ISSN 1-877139-65-3
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In the nineteenth century, the savage was an instance of the primordial primitive, a living fossil signifying past imperfection healed by time in the emerging evolution. In the twentieth century, the savage was no longer even primitive. She was only data and evidence. In the twenty-first century, the savage Other is still an allegorical figure that represents what the civilised Self is not. However, in mainstream Western culture at least, racism no longer has the overt brutality of its predecessor, the twentieth century. Today racism tends to be veiled within positively framed cultural clichés that enable a global Western culture, which preaches freedom for all, to maintain its façade. One of the most significant sites where this neo-racism exists is in images of the racialised athletic body. The image of the coloured body soaring above adversity into the echelons of sporting success is a powerful symbol of freedom and hope, but ironically, it shackles people of colour to the physical realm and prevents them from being self-determining. We should question those ‘terminal truths’ that make it natural for people to think of the person of colour as inherently good at sport. This article employs poststructuralism to deconstruct the bodies of athletes of colour, which are viewed as genealogical representations of power that have their roots in eighteenth and nineteenth century bio-racist discourses. The central premise of this article is that over time, the body of the athlete of colour has consistently corresponded with the dominant discourse on race by transformation or mutation, enabling it to provide an allegorical juxtaposition for the transitory Self. I begin by describing the debate regarding the predominant success of athletes of colour as largely apolitical, situated within the tenets of modernism and, hence, from a poststructural perspective, merely a buttress for the subjugation of people of colour. I then reframe the debate within a political and poststructural paradigm, suggesting that the racialised athletic body functions to Otherise people of colour. The discussion that follows describes a discursive genealogical representation of the coloured body as inherently physical and one that is steeped in Social Darwinism. Sport is then shown to be a contemporary conduit of this genealogical representation. The constructed body of the athlete of colour is depicted as a neo-racist representation because it is an optimistic portrayal of empowerment that ironically serves to further limit people of colour to their embodied physicality and limited intelligence.
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