I purposely titled this essay to highlight Gabby Douglas’ leadership of the USA Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Team, which she led to victory yesterday, by capturing 33% or 1/3 of the total points the team received.
You heard right. This kid, who commentators continue to suggest is “unable to handle the pressure,” was the only member to compete in all four events — vault, bars, beam, and floor.
So though she’s only 1/5 of the team, she did 100% of the events, and captured 1/3 of the points.
Of course she didn’t get 33% of the coverage, or even a quarter of the love her teammates got.
During the medal ceremony the camera panned to and stayed with Jordyn, ofttimes obscuring Gabby’s face. Commentators were exultant about Jordyn’s gold medal. “Jordyn’s gold.” As though there were a medal with her name already engraved on it or something.
The Olympics trades in Gold Medals, not Gold Stars! Put another way, there are no “A’s for effort.”
I want to be clear. I have nothing but love for Jordyn. She’s the reigning world champ. She’s mega talented, and she showed up for Team USA in a major way yesterday. I do not want to diminish her accomplishments in any way in this post.
But I take serious issue with the media’s coverage of her accomplishments and the sense of white entitlement that permeates that coverage. The coverage magnifies Jordyn’s victories, while minimizing Gabby’s. And it isn’t right. Not to mention that it is classic passive aggressive white racism. (Yeah, I said it.) The kind that injures not by heaping insults but by failing to grant recognition, when it has power to do so.
Gabby didn’t receive the low score in any of her four events, and she received the highest score in two of them (beam and bars). (See all scores here. Click on the plus out to the side for individual scores in each event.) Gabby outscored Jordyn on each of the three events they competed in yesterday, and she outscored Aly in one of two events. She didn’t put up one score less than a 15.066 in any event.
The first to do floor, Gabby’s performance received a score of 15.066. Solid. I literally waited on the commentators to find anything good to say about the routine. *Crickets* They said virtually nothing. And then Jordyn performed. They were glowing with accolades and affirmations for her, in a routine that was technically less difficult than Gabby’s. When the scores came back, Jordyn had a 15.000. And you could almost hear the disappointment, not at Jordyn’s solid score, but that it was lower than Gabby’s.
I guess I should be happy that at least this time, the media found it appropriate to actually pan to some shots of Gabby’s family watching in the audience. But unlike her counterparts, they never said who those three Black people were. I guess we could just Match them up based on skin tone. Contrast that with the fact that every time they panned to Aly’s or Jordyn’s parents, there would be some commentary about their reactions.
I am extremely proud of team USA. I hope that is clear. I watched the Magnificent 7 win Gold in 1996. Most of these girls were barely toddlers then! After the interview, they talked about the 2004 Olympics as their most memorable one. Made me feel O.L.D. So it was truly awesome to watch us return to that former glory. And these girls deserve every bit of shine they get.
And I am determined at least in this space that Gabby will get her just due.
Because let’s be clear.
Gabby showed up for her team in each and every event, and in Black vernacular, she showed out! But that reminds me of some more ol’ school Black wisdom, too– “you have to be twice as good, to get half as far.” Every Black kid hears this at some point in her lifetime. It still rings true. And what our parents don’t say is that even then, you still might be invisible. Invisible, that is, in your accomplishments. Your flaws won’t be treated half so graciously.
Anyway, brush your shoulders off, Gabby. (Check her doing just that at the 1:02 mark!)
They may not see you coming, Gabby. But know this. We see you! We SEE you! And we are cheering you on! #yougotthis