The importance of being you: recognising race in society and sport

Shaunagh Brown has lived quite the life. From representing her country at the hammer throw in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, to being a firefighter and a diver, the now international rugby union player has a list of achievements longer than most.

She inspires so many, yet in a recent revealing interview, she admitted she only feels like herself in her own home. The reason behind this is many individuals, over the years, claiming to her that they fail to see or recognise her race due to how she looks.

Growing up, I myself have often heard the notion thrown around that we should not see race, for this allows us to see people just as people. The logic behind this is that an idyllic world will form, where race does not provoke controversy and everyone can live harmoniously as fellow human beings. The idea, therefore, sounds harmless on the face of it.

However, if you delve deeper, you begin to realise that this is not at all useful in real life and is certainly not a helpful phrase to say to others in society. Yes, we should not judge by race, nor is it the be-all and end-all of someone’s character, but we should certainly recognise it. For Shaunagh Brown, being mixed race is a significant part of her identity and she is not alone in this belief.

It is important that we as a society can shake these misconceptions, for only by recognising different races and cultures can we truly celebrate the diversity that society has to offer. Further, we must educate ourselves that people of certain races do not all conform to stereotypes popularised through the media.

Brown, the Harlequins prop, was previously told by someone that they did not see her as Black. To this, she remarked:

“Do you want me to say wha gwaan all the time and wear my pants down my bum? What is black to you?”

We should take note of Brown’s interview and use it to recognise that we, as a society, still have progress to make.

At a time where acceptance and recognition of the right of those in the LGBTQ+ community to self-identify however they please is forever growing, we still have much to learn of the importance of acknowledging those who identify by their race.

The BLM movement has done much to educate society on racial issues such as this. However, the experiences of those such as Brown illustrate that the work on this has only just begun.


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Luke Saward

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October 2021
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