Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Caster Semenya: Praising Your Name

Dear Caster,

How you dey? Congratulations on winning the Gold Medal in the 800 meter at the World Championships! As an African woman, I am so proud of you and all it’s taken for you to get where you are at 18 years old—that is remarkable and more specifically, you are remarkable.

When nothing makes sense

I come to poem

bringing a relentless rhythm trying to make sense of it all

I want to give this poem to you Caster,

handwritten and prayed over,

reverently and with humility.

I want to give this poem to you across the Atlantic Ocean,

across land and sky.

I would like to know what your favorite color is,

the sound of your laugh,

who raised you,

if you have siblings,

what you like to do when you’re not running,

I’d like to share a meal with you

and just talk about your dreams, my dreams,


I’ve read stories about you

heard people talk about you like you’re something less than human

I don’t know if you prefer to be referred to as she, he or just by your name

I won’t make assumptions

I won’t presume to understand you

but something about you

feels familiar to me

that quiet, humble way about Africans who’ve spent their entire lives driven and reaching for a dream that maybe no one sees as possible but you

and, if you’re lucky, your mama.

that day after day struggle, drive, prayer

body drenched in sweat,

your early mornings & late nights

striving and reaching and believing

sometimes doubting but never giving up

never giving up

always reaching to do something bigger than you,

to leave a mark on the world with your beautiful name on it

I want to give you this poem Caster,

because I am so sorry you are going through all that you are going through

I saw you on the cover of YOU magazine yesterday

looking like the kind of girly this world finds suitable for women

and I wondered where your mind went as the camera clicked your image

capturing you in what I suspect feels like a costume to you

I wonder what you thought as you smiled—did you want to scream? to walk away? to run on some distant track where your nail polish and hair style didn’t matter?

you too fly Caster

they can’t believe you so fly

so fast

so gifted

so they want to strip you of your gender

of your humanity

they want to strip you of you.

your gender is your business

your body is your business

the world is dissecting your sex, your gender, your skills,

trying to figure out whether you can keep the title

you sweated your whole life for,

they dissect you

with scrutiny and callousness they could not endure themselves

I’m angry

but mostly sad.

Dearest Caster

I wanna sit on the couch and talk shit with you,

just laugh & laugh with you.

please do not crumble or stop believing or give into other people’s narrow definition of you,

your soul is bigger than all this

and you are strong enough to survive this

I don’t know if this will offer any comfort at all

but it hurts to be a visionary sometimes, to be brilliant, to be excellent

sometimes it hurts in ways we could never have imagined,

the trailblazers often get yelled at,

misunderstood and demonized—

from Jesus to Tupac

Audre Lorde to you, Caster,

anyone who is different or exceptional

feels the brunt of unexpected pain & criticism.

the children of your critics

will praise your name,

rock t-shirts with your face on it,

have posters of you on their walls to inspire them to be great.

I remember being home in Nigeria

and the entire market stopped to stare at me

because of my Zulu warrior frohawk hair.

that was one market on one day in one village in Nigeria,

the entire world has their eyes on you & I can’t imagine how you feel.

please know that all over the world we love you,

those of us who have never fit neatly into gender boxes, sexuality boxes, racial boxes,

many of us come to your defense, with a quick passionate solidarity that I hope you feel in your heart and in your soul.

I will burn a candle for you tonight & say a prayer for your peace of mind.

I offer you this poem

with fierceness as relentless & beautiful

as you.


Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene

“In the 2009 African Junior Championships she won both the 800 m and 1500 m races with the times of 1:56.72 and 4:08.01 respectively. With that race Semenya improved her 800 m personal best by seven seconds in less than nine months, including four seconds in that race alone. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) asked Semenya to undergo a gender test after the win. The IAAF says it was ‘obliged to investigate’ after she made improvements of 25 seconds at 1500m and eight seconds at 800m – ‘the sort of dramatic breakthroughs that usually arouse suspicion of drug use.’ The IAAF ceased compulsory tests in 1992 but retains the right to test athletes.



z.bediako said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
z.bediako said...

very beautiful
and necessary

maMsukwini said...

I'm in tears. Moved. Well written. Meaning:full.

Aciid Purpl3ite said...

This was great. It is important to emphasize that she is a person. She worked hard and she won. Now people want to work hard to discredit her.

Anonymous said...

very very beautiful and moving. I am so moved by your poem I hope it has reached Caster. thanks the beauty that lies in your poetry

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