Racist/sexist imagery a ‘tough reality’ for Black female athletes

Conclusion of a three-part column

Black women athletes as stereotyped on Twitter

Black female athletes too often must deal with negative images, a new Morgan State University study states. Many women see these stereotypes as an obstacle they must overcome to achieve their goals.

A joint research paper published last year by Morgan State Global Journalism and Communication School and ESPN’s The Undefeated, “Beating Opponents, Battling Belittlement…” examined how racist and sexist behavior demeans Black female athletes and their accomplishments.

“Black women athletes across a spectrum of sports have employed unique ways to continue to compete in a society that alternately praises and scorns them,” the study reported, adding that Black female athletes must navigate a “treacherous terrain” in combating both racism and sexism, more so than their fellow female counterparts.

The Undefeated in a companion article last year said that there’s “a strong link between racist ideologies and sports media messages” along with “the application of the 24/7 social media landscape.”

“That was a daily reality for me,” confirmed Prairie View A&M’s Assistant Professor Alikah Carter-Francique in an MSR phone interview. “I was a track and field athlete [at the University of Houston]. The clothing that we wore or didn’t wear becomes a day-to-day experience with being a female athlete first and foremost.”

Akilah Carter-Francique

Carter-Francique, the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport president-elect, co-founded in 2015 the Francique Sport and Education Consulting, a mentoring group for Black females.

Longstanding stereotypes do exist, she stated. “We’re often seen as Jezebels — very promiscuous. When you’re a Black woman in basketball, it comes with [being] racialized and a sexual orientation that goes with it.

“Our representation of womanhood comes from a dominant perception on what a White woman embodies. We know that Black women don’t fit [that]. Latino women don’t fit. Asian women don’t fit. We are fighting some segments of society trying to force [women of color] into that box.

“Being a student-athlete was a great time in my life,” Carter-Francique recalled, but added that there is also the double-whammy she and other Black female athletes often faced. “It’s an unfortunate reality of experiences being likened to a man or a Mack truck, or likened to a gorilla,” she said. “It’s a tough reality.”

Dayna La-Force

Rising above negativity

“I haven’t faced any situation when I felt my race was a disadvantage,” Dayna La-Force told the MSR after a Gopher women’s basketball game last month. A 1995 Georgetown graduate who played basketball there, La-Force later earned a master’s degree in school psychology from LIU-Brooklyn in 2000.

She has been coaching since 1995 and is the first woman of color head coach in any sport in University of Rhode Island’s history. She has been head women’s basketball coach there since 2014. “I’ve coached for over 20 years, and I’ve never felt that I was at a disadvantage based on my race or people’s perceptions,” La-Force said when asked about the Morgan State report.

“One of the things that was told to me is that ‘I play like a man.’ I took that as a very big compliment,” Augsburg Women’s Basketball Assistant Coach Jennifer Phillips said. She played three sports at Benilde-St. Margaret and was a two-sport athlete at the University of St. Thomas.

Phillips has been inducted into the hall of fame at both schools. “You have to rise above [the negativity]. We will have to deal with [it] no matter what,” he said. “I was one of the few [female players of color] that played in [the MIAC]. It was very difficult, but it didn’t stop me.”

Carter-Francique said that the Morgan State study is important for the public to know about.

“I’m happy to see that people are writing about it.”