In The Face Of Racism, Rafaela Silva Won Brazil’s First Gold At Rio

This badass judo Olympic champion overcame more than just her competitors.

By Jazzi Johnson

Rafaela Silva contemplated quitting the world of judo completely in 2012 because of the racism she endured in her own country. Fast forward to this year's Olympic games, she became the first Brazilian to win a gold in Rio '16 -- and certainly the only Afro-Brazilian -- and it means way more than gold.

Silva grew up in the famed neighborhood known from the movie City of God, Cidade de Deus of Rio de Janeiro. Not only did she grow up poor, but she grew up black (in a growing anti-black society) and a girl in a city known for its crime and violence. “Judo has rules, the street doesn’t," her sister told the New York Times. Her childhood was riddled with a long list of fights and expulsions, but she was equally known for her love and appetite for soccer and martial arts. Her family enrolled her and her sister into judo at the age of 5.

It became the guiding grace of her life. By 2012, she had made such a name for herself that she qualified to try out for the London Olympics. The turning point came when she was disqualified for an illegal leg grab. 24 at the time, she was bombarded with endless racial epithets and classist taunting.

Silva admitted that she considered quitting. “I was very sad because I had lost the fight,” Silva recalled about 2012. “So I walked to my room, I found all those insults on social media, they were criticizing me, calling me monkey, so I got really, really upset. I thought about leaving judo.”

But she didn't. And this year she beat out everyone else in women's judo for the gold. Brazil is lucky to have such a representative.


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