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Cody Perkins
Cody Perkins

I am Ph.D. candidate in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia in the final year of writing my dissertation. My project explores the ways in which Coloured South African men, conventionally defined as “mixed race,” responded to popular stereotypes that portrayed them as morally degenerate, physically inferior, and lacking of the civic values of full citizenship. I argue that Coloured men developed a discourse of respectable masculinity demonstrated through membership in political and sporting organizations, promotion of education and boys’ clubs, and service in the Cape Corps.

Abstract

Colored Champions: Wrestling with the Color Bar and Competing Ideals of Masculinity in South African Athletics, 1936-1960

 This paper demonstrates the ways in which coloured South African athletes sought acceptance as worthy opponents and respectable men relative to their White compatriots. Previous histories of coloured South Africans underlined marginalizing notions of inferiority complexes that shaped coloured political protests. This paper highlights competition and achievement as strategies through which coloured men triumphantly asserted their masculinities and respectability. Beginning in the 1930s, colored teachers and sportsmen encouraged programs of athletic training and physical culture for young coloureds. These activities aimed to overcome popular White assumptions of coloured men as athletically inferior and physically weak. Coloured South Africans also drew inspiration from world-famous Black athletes like Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Jesse Owens specifically because of those athletes’ successes competing against Whites in meetings promoted as contests between the races. Whenever Coloured (or Black) athletes achieved success in interracial competitions, the coloured press and sporting periodicals often responded with editorials attacking White claims of championship and exceptionalism. In the years following the Second World War, Coloured assertions of athletic ability and even superiority over White athletes became more common. The exclusion of Coloureds by the South African Olympic Games Association became a focal point of Coloured criticisms in the 1950s, especially when potential Coloured Olympians were compelled to compete under the British flag or not at all. Coloureds, already faced with the early implementation of apartheid classification and segregation, portrayed sporting achievements as contradictions to practices that increasingly stripped Coloureds of their claims to masculine citizenship and membership in respectable society. Coloured protests against segregationist sporting policies within the country coincided with international calls for South Africa to drop the colour bar, ultimately resulting in the isolation of South Africa’s White national teams and
Olympians in the 1960s.

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