Best of 2012 | Blade Running White Jesusby Chipa Gazi / 25.12.2012
Originally published 26 march 2012
I was at a braai with my boys and we were talking about the usual, you know: Chapelle, Archer and old times – when this white guy comes up and tries to fit in. He wanted to talk about “issues” like we were a test group he could flex his ideas on. It was awkward for him. You could see by his body language the situation made him uncomfortable. Later, high on primo cheese (the good hydro at R150 a gram), I realised the white guy at the braai only wanted, harmlessly, to fit in but he was betrayed by his own body – the socially-assigned “colour” of it turned out to be a disadvantage for once. He reminded me of another white guy who just wants to fit in despite the burden of his ‘different’ body, our beloved Paralympian, number 1 on Heat’s Hot 100 celebs list, the handsome face of Thierry Mugler perfume, Oscar Pistorius.
Oscar, who was born without fibula bones and had both legs amputated below the knee as a baby, wants to compete in the ‘able-bodied’ category of athletes eligible to run the 400m at the upcoming London Olympics in July. He’s training maniacally at Pretoria University to do so. He may make over a million dollars a year in endorsements, more than enough to live well, but he’s really had to struggle to be in a position to compete with the able-bodied. He was banned from doing so by the International Athletics Federation (IAF) and got himself back in the running after contesting the ruling. A cloud still hangs over his participation. Is he cheating? Does he belong? What exactly is he, an athlete or robot? It can’t be helping the guy as he prepares for the freaking Olympics. He’s walked out of interviews over such questions. And he’s right to do so. They aren’t for him to answer. Oscar’s job is to run as fast as his signature Cheetah flex blades allow him. That’s all. Besides, he’s used to adversity. His is a life lived literally chopped off at the knees. The guy’s a marvel. A superhero. A genuine inspiration in a cynical era.
But let’s enjoy for a moment the irony of a white South African athlete having to justify their eligibility to compete simply on the basis of their embodiment, the arbitrary fact of the kind of body they have. Thanks to post-liberation race quotas in sport, a generation of black sportspeople have had to play in an atmosphere of intense suspicion over their eligibility, one that automatically demeans their talent, commitment and training. How many potential greats have crumpled under that unnecessary pressure and become accountants or shitty deejays?
This may be the cheese talking but think of Oscar as Jesus. The broken body of the Son of Man is the price of dying for our sins. The broken body of Oscar Pistorius never stops reminding whites of the wound of transformation, the price of past sins. Pistorius excels, yes, but suspiciously, in a qualified way. Victory is tainted by illegitimacy. Whites have experienced power loss in government and in most social spheres. The loss of authority, the sting of compromise, over almost two decades, continues to be played out in daily little demands of tolerance and understanding. They didn’t have to consider other races as equals before. Now the whole society is held together, after Mandela, by an ideological belief in rainbows. No wonder white complaint floods our media.
Oscar Pistorius is supposedly the number one celebrity in the country not only because he is a true hero and an incredible human being, but because, like whites who are held automatically accountable for the sins of Apartheid, he’s wounded by a harmful inheritance, an absence of fibula bones in his case, and one, significantly, he had no control over. White people can relate.
Perceptions beyond his control, big questions about fairness and what constitutes unenhanced human ability, threaten to disqualify Oscar’s broken body from achieving what he wants, Olympic glory. Inheriting Apartheid sin, that whole body of damning evidence, sins of compliance and silence, exclusive skilling and exploitative capital formation, and so on, disqualifies whites from the moral high ground: no matter how accurate their analysis of the failures of the ANC regime may be. Oscar’s broken body symbolises the condition of whites in this country today.
That’s why, though seeing Bladerunner run and win and compete despite life-long physical impediments is a universal joy, all humanity can identify with his fighting spirit, identifying with him is ambiguous for whites. He is not whole but he’s performing as if he is. He’s still getting results but do they count? He’s not able-bodied but he’s competing in that category. Should he be allowed to? Whites, who once ruled, are in the same boat now. What is their status in the national order? What role should they play? Do they belong here?
Inadvertently, Pistorious shares the unspoken concerns of whites, concerns that go to the heart of their uneasy presence in this country. “I really wanted to find out,” he told the New York Times, discussing why he hired a scrum of expensive lawyers to (successfully) contest the IAF’s ruling that his signature Cheetah Flex-blades give him an unfair advantage, “do I have an advantage? Because I don’t want to be competing in a sport where I feel that I’m here not on my talent and my hard work but because of a piece of equipment.”
Replace ‘piece of equipment’ with the unfair advantage of white privilege and you have the question all whites must face: Do I really have an advantage? How they answer, or even bother to ask, this question determines how comfortable they will be remaining here. It is surely the first step to ensuring they can live a good life free of guilt or whatever.
In the court case with the IAF, Pistorius’ lawyers relentlessly explored the ambiguity of the term “advantage”. What does it mean in his case? How did it apply? How do you quantify it? I imagine Pistorius sitting there listening to the legalese zinging back and forth. The future of his career hanging in the balance. I bet he felt like a lot of white people do in this country: if I’m advantaged, artificially enhanced and supplemented in an unfair way, it sure doesn’t feel like it. Let’s wrap this up with: Oscar for the win in 2012! Go Bladerunner go, you gorgeous young white Jesus you.