Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Olympics in Black and White

I love the Olympics.

I have loved the Olympics since I vividly remember watching Nadia Comenichi in the gymnastics competition in 1976 score Perfect 10s.

The pagentry of the Opening Ceremonies, each with the country twist.  The Parade of Nations reminding us of this big world and that we are only a small part of it.  The colors and costumes.

People in every shade imaginable from the whitest Swede to the blackest Kenyan.  The world in full view.

It was this love that brought me once again to my two favorite sports to watch, the gymnastics competition and the track and field competition.

Little Gabby Douglas.  Just 16 years old.  Truly a flying phoneme, a princess. A girl any mother would want as a daughter, an athlete any coach would move mountains to train.  An Olympian.

This girl barely got any press before the games, her color the darker end of the American color spectrum.  She didn't look like the other gymnasts, though, clearly better, having won Gold in the All Around.  Better than the "media darling" that was hyped and barely made the team,  Gabby, the only black girl on the team.

Then Lolo Jones, a self-promoted, 100m hurdler.  A self-proclaimed virgin.  "Exotic" as the media dubed her because of her bi-racial heritage that gave her the "luck" of the gene pool to barely have any of her black heritage evident.  She received much in interviews, press, coverage.  She, too, barely made the team.

Dawn Harper, a 100m hurdler from East St. Louis.  An athlete any coach would want to train, she, already a Gold Medalist from the 2008 China games.  No press coverage.  She, a darker hue of chocolate, clearly wearing her proud black heritage.

Each of these women had family that sacrificed for their training, some working three jobs like Gabby's mom, some with an ex-husband in prison and the family in a shelter like Lolo's mom, some from the racially segregated St. Louis metro area, the hardscrabble east side in Illinois where getting out is barely possible.  Each of these women, along with the thousands of others who came to London had a story of injury, sacrifice, fear, determination, blows to their confidence, and family issues.  They each had life.

What made it different?

The media. Plain and simple.

We are in a precarious time in our nation, an election year, a white super wealthy candidate running against a black (bi-racial) President who has been obstructed from day one.  The racial divide that to rival the Civil Rights Era.

And the media wanted a great white hope, someone to please the "American people" in their eyes.  The gymnast they hyped, failed, the hurdler they hyped, failed.

So then they attacked the black girls.  Gabby's hair wasn't "European enough" and that was from misguided black women.  Gabby's mom had to file Chapter 13 to save her home so Gabby could continue to train over 1000 miles away.  Gabby's parents were divorcing, they kept filing story after story, WHILE THIS LITTLE GIRL WAS STILL PREPARING FOR TWO MORE COMPETITIONS.  She is a child, barely 16, and the pressure was too much. She did not win a medal on her signature apparatus, the uneven bars.  She fell off the balance beam.

Lolo Jones walked away when she came in fourth.  She didn't congratulate her countrymen, fellow black women, who each medaled in the event.  She was self-promoting while she was in London when she should have been training, and it showed. She lost.

Will the track stars like Sanya Richards-Ross who barely got a mention, and oh, by the way, is bringing home not one but two medals for her country, get any press? Or what about the other darker skinned black track star who had twin boys and her husband there? Also a winner.

I do not like the way the color lines were drawn, further exposing the ugliness of American race and colorism.

Cuba had a beautiful, deeply black female athlete competing in the long jump.  She was Cuban and celebrated with her countrywomen.  Nothing about her race.  The same for the multi-hued Dominicans, and they are known for some of their skin color issues, none of them walked off the field, they all supported each other.

We, who sit at home, me, in the bed recovering from surgery, could not do what these elite athletes did.  The twitter banter about hair and personal issues were distracting and taking away from the games of peace.

I did not like the commentary of Bob Costas, playing to what he thought was just a white audience.  We are Americans, we were celebrating for all the sports featuring our countrymen, regardless of color, why couldn't the media do that? Why did they have to divide and conquer, the age old strategy the slaveholders used to control during chattal slavery?

In the end, the athletes will go home.  Frustrated Americans will find something else to complain about.  Lolo Jones will use her looks to gain exposure another way, perhaps that coveted date she wants with Tim Tebow.  Dawn Harper will enter the region hall of fame like fellow medalist from East St. Louis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee. She will inspire more young women.  Lolo will also inspire more young women, hopefully to not use their "sex-appeal" to mask what is lacking in person, preparation, and performance.  Gabby will recover and celebrate her two gold medals and $90MM endorsement deals.  We will see her older, wiser, stronger, and still flying in 2016 in Rio.

It is 2012.  I had hoped the colors of the world would be celebrated, not used as a tool to measure worth and "appeal."  

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