The essay Afraid of Ourselves by Diana L. Eck reveals through aspect of religion that being different contributes a lot to the fears that people have towards each other. She illustrates how this manifests in society by the statement, “In all these cases looking different may sometimes trigger uneasiness and even fear– the fear that we do not know who they are or perhaps that we do not know who we are. As Americans, we are literally afraid of ourselves” (Gary, Robert and Bonnie 696).
This fear of people different from what is the “norm” is universal and it manifests in different parts of the world in pretty much the same way. This essay seeks to illustrate how the fear of different people manifests in society. To this end, a recent case of classical discrimination against different-looking people as presented in the sporting world will serve as a guide for the essay.
The issue of gender orientation and sexuality has the tendency of eliciting varied response from different quarters of the public. In some regions especially in developing countries such as Africa, matters of sexuality are not discussed in society. This was revealed to the world recently by the attention surrounding South African Caster Semenya; the 800m gold winner 2009 World Championships in Athletics in the women’s category.
According to Alan Abrahamson of Universal Sports magazine “Semenya and her competitors barely had time to walk off the bright blue track before questions were raised in the mixed zone, the area below the stadium where athletes interact with members of the media. Those questions continued outside the competition arena. Was South Africa trying to pull a fast one by sending a man to compete in women’s events?” (25).
The controversies that later emerged following that win proved that as a people, the entire world is generally afraid of people who are different from them and more so if the differences are more pronounced in the physical aspects. From her boyish looks and character, the other contenders in the race concluded that she was a man and this brought out a huge outcry from different sporting entities.
While her mother country South Africa received her as a heroine and sought to protect her privacy the rest of the world went at her like she was a criminal. Sporting organizations subjected her to gender tests with an aim of proving that she was not qualified to take part in the championships.
It was later revealed that even in her own country she had time and again suffered discrimination especially whenever she took part in any competitive activities against girls her age. In some instances, she was forced to go to the locker rooms with other girls and pulled down her pants just to confirm that she was indeed a girl.
Though the gender tests were inconclusive, it was agreed that she had more testosterone in her body than other women. This is the kind of information that organizers of sporting events want to use to discredit her performance last year. Critics who argue for Semenya’s case have used Shaquile O’Neal as a comparison.
They say that the extra height of O’Neal over the average basketball player has never been an issue to bar him from playing in leagues with ‘normal’ people. These critics can therefore not see the reason as to why Semenya’s extra testosterone over the quantities that average women have should be used as a reason to lock her out of the sport. This leaves her with only two options.
She can join the men’s races; though she will be extremely disadvantaged because her testosterone levels are not quite enough to make her a man. The second option is to abandon the sport that she loves altogether. This option is however inconceivable as she holds the promise of pulling her family out of poverty.
Semenya’s case is not the only sexuality issue that has plagued the world. Homosexuality has always been a forefront issue that has generally elicited heated debates particularly in the media. Coming from Africa again, reports of homophobic attacks have in recent times been highlighted in international media such as the CNN. Cases of homosexuals being stoned to death in Uganda and some Southern Africa countries such as Namibia clearly illustrate how the human race is completely scared of people that are different from them.
In his book Hungochani: the history of a dissident sexuality in south Africa, Marc Epprecht says, “From a gay rights perspective, the absurdity of fears of contagion (or recruitment of heterosexuals to a gay way lifestyle) is even more pronounced given the prevalence of homophobic attitudes in society today” (185).
In these developing countries the prevalence of same sex relationships is very low and whenever one presents it brings confusion in the family affected. In some cases, parents think that this is a phase that would come to pass. In Africa brute force is used to deal with the issue; almost as if this is a condition that can be beaten out of the person.
This had been the case in the developed countries a few years ago with individuals who elicited gay tendencies being ostracized from society. It is only by the individuals on the receiving end coming out and speaking for themselves that countries such as the united states have come to substantially reduce instances of the homophobia.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that it is in the human nature to hold some reservations when dealing with people who are differently from them. In most cases, once individuals get to spend time with these different individuals it becomes easier to appreciate and understand them.
However, and this again is influenced by the nature of human beings, people would rather judge other people from a distance. This essay has shown how sexuality particularly in Africa is an issue that has for a long time served to propagate the fear of different people.
Abrahamson, Alan “Caster Semenya’s present and future”. Universal Sports. 20 August 2009: 17-23. Print.
Epprecht, Marc. Hungochani: The history of a dissident sexuality in southern Africa. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 2004. Print.
Gary, Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.