BY OLIVIA HOUSE, AUGSBURG WOMEN’S SOCCER
What role does intersectionality play in your athletic experience? It’s impossible to be a sports fan and not be aware of the politics currently encompassing the national anthem. While everyone seems to know the name Colin Kaepernick, only a select few recognize Megan Rapinoe, the USWNT soccer star who was the first to join Kapernick’s protest while fighting her own fight – equality for women. On their own, these battles are complex, but for a black female athlete, they only scratch the surface of the complexities I navigate in athletics.
Being a black woman in America is a difficult position: we are a part of two marginalized groups. At any given time, we are forced to fight for feminism and then turn around and fight for our rights as people of color. Not only are we fighting two different fights, but we do not always receive the same support from the people for whom we are fighting. The very same women we walked alongside with at the Women’s March are not showing up at Black Lives Matter events. And the very men we are fighting so hard for don’t show up for us when the subject of feminism is brought up.
As a female athlete, this struggle doesn’t stop; I am fighting so hard for being granted the same rights as my male counterparts: equal pay, equal visibility and being taken just as seriously. As I’m fighting for these rights as a female athlete, I’m simultaneously working to use my platform to bring awareness to the social injustices of people of color in America.
Intersectionality comes into play with my teammates noticing and understanding that, as a black female athlete, my identity and struggle is different from theirs. It’s working to understand the identities of your fellow sister. We are all women, and as women, we are all fighting the fight. But there isn’t just one single fight.
It is interesting how progressive and intersectional some sports are compared to others. I have played basketball all my life, and there was not a single team I played on that was not a mix of different races and that was not inclusive of everyone. Soccer, on the other hand, has been the complete opposite. Until this year, I had never played with another person of color. I played on suburban teams, recreational teams, city teams and high-level club teams, and there was not a single girl who looked like me.
Until the past year or so, even the U.S. Women’s National team had almost no representation of women of color. Now, one of the primary reasons for this is due to socioeconomic factors, but putting that aside, it’s because of the culture around women’s soccer. On these teams, girls have never played with someone who doesn’t look like them, and this is uncomfortable. I get it; we go with what we know, but as teammates, we are supposed to be family, and family does not mean isolating one of your sisters.
Intersectional feminism is important because when I take a knee for the national anthem, my teammates and coaches need to work to fully understand the two battles I am fighting. This does not mean kneeling with me, this means understanding why I kneel and supporting that decision. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a program that allows me to express myself this way without any repercussions, but I know many other programs wouldn’t be this way.
Sports teams are supposed to be families, a place where you feel safe and accepted, even if the rest of the world doesn’t feel the same way. You should look around, notice the lack of diversity and work to change that. There are so many identities that need to be embraced, celebrated and understood, which is why intersectional feminism is so important. Maybe I won’t change the world, but I will start the conversation.
This article first appeared in the Friday, September 29, 2017, Edition of The Echo.