by Kirsten West Savali (news one)
In the frenzied days since Dominique Dawes, the first African-American gymnast to win a gold medal in Olympics history, cried a river of deep emotion over the record-shattering wins of 16-year-old Gabrielle Douglas at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the conversation in America — specifically in Black America — has entered interesting territory.
Yes, apparently in the mind of the Neo-Negro, it is segregationism to acknowledge the race of a sister or a brother because mainstream media doesn’t do the same. If they are American, the Neo-Negro claims, then that is all that matters.
Dawes, thankfully, disagrees.
“Us gymnasts are usually so composed,” she said, contagiously sobbing through an interview with FOX Sports. “I am so thrilled for Gabby … I’m so thrilled to change my website and take down the fact that I was the only African American with a gold medal.”
Well, according to the word on Assimilation Street, Dawes shouldn’t be excited at all. The people that live there argue that what Gabby has accomplished transcends her Blackness to the point of making it a mere footnote, and to place special emphasis on her race is to diminish her global achievement.
There have been racist White websites that wasted no time questioning her win. According to them, Russia’s Viktoria Komova was the more skilled performer. There have been chuckles that Gabby was handed an “affirmation action” win that she really didn’t deserve; yet, some of us, like puppets on a string, are willing to deny the rockiness of her road to success — yes, based on race — because we still want to fit into the dominant culture instead of standing out and inviting scrutiny of our Blackness.
In January, a fact sheet released by the National Women’s Law Center reported that less than two-thirds of African-American and Hispanic girls play sports, while more than three-quarters of Caucasian girls do. And a 2007 diversity study commissioned by USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport in the U.S., said that just 6.61 percent of the participants in American gymnastics programs were black (10.67 percent are Asian and 74.46 percent are Caucasian). Members of USA Gymnastics—coaches, judges or athletes who participate in its sanctioned events—responded to (and within) the survey in a variety of ways, many of them unsympathetic: “This is just another example of political correctness gone CRAZY!” Said another: “As a middle class, white Christian male, is the NBA doing any “reach out” programs to me and my family?” And another advised: “Start programs in low income areas. Once people understand you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to teach and coach gymnastics, it will flourish. We are too elitist to appeal to the masses.”
It is a study in ignorance for Black people to ignore those facts, especially when in favor of mainstream America’s need to own Gabrielle’s victory as its own with no strings of Blackness attached.
Sadly, our sisters aren’t celebrated enough, even by other Black people. People of color, with societal forces often playing a role and by sheer virtue of numbers, often have a more narrow road to global success. Many of us are proud to acknowledge the disciplined will and level of excellence this kind of achievement takes. These history making performances motivate others — regardless of race, ethnicity or class — to do the same and that is something for which we all can be proud.
It’s a funny thing about Neo-Negroes. They bemoan the state of the hood and “Black-on-Black” crime. They are first in line to cast judgement on the Black teenage mother, the Black high school drop-out and the Black deadbeat father. But when it comes to simply acknowledging the journey to excellence, and the special circumstances that many Black people go through to achieve it, all of sudden it’s not “Black” achievement — it’s everyone’s achievement.
I don’t know about you, but something isn’t adding up — and that something says quite a bit about how some of us internalize negative stereotypes and prejudiced definitions of “Blackness.”
This Olympic Games I have been beyond proud of Usain Bolt of Jamaica, Gabrielle Douglas, Venus Williams, Serena Williams of the United States, Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia, and Sally Kipyego and Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya. My pride for them extends beyond the Red, White and Blue and deep down into that space that recognizes, understands and applauds the racial roadblocks in their personal journey that they have overcome. They are Black members of humanity, and acknowledging one shouldn’t cancel out the other.