Search results for 'olympics 2012'

Olympics Oppression?: Gabby Douglas and Smile Politics

30 Jul

I tune in to  the Summer Olympics every four years primarily for one sport: Women’s Gymnastics. I like basketball, women’s tennis, track and field, and men’s diving, too. But Gymnastics is my bread and butter.

I had the privilege of falling in love with gymnastics in the early 1990s, the golden era of Team USA. All coached by the great Bela Karolyi, the 1992 and 1996 teams featured the likes of Kim Zmeskal, Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, and Dominique Moceanu, just a few of my faves from back in the day. And my all time favorite moment is when Kerri Strug perfectly stuck that vault landing with an injured ankle at the ’96 Olympics. I’ve never seen more heart. It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

So I was mad excited to tune in to see this year’s team of five girls, the favorite Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, McKalya Maroney, Kyla Ross, and Gabby Douglas.

Gabby, Aly, Kyla, Jordyn, and McKayla

I’m cheering for all of them, but I have a soft spot for the girls of color on the team, including African American Gabby Douglas, and Kyla Ross, who is of African-American, Japanese, Puerto Rican, and Dominican  (Correction: Filipina) descent.

As with most sports coverage though, every time a Black girl participates in a sport traditionally dominated by white women, you can count on the commentators to show their asses. And they did not disappoint yesterday.

17 year old, reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber failed to qualify to compete for the individual all-around finals. As shocking as it was for all of us, it must be truly tough to have your life long dream dashed before a watching world. And I agree with Bela Karolyi that the top 24 girls regardless of country should compete in the all arounds, rather than the top 2 from each country. 

Be that as it may,  Jordyn’s best friend and teammate Aly Raisman will compete for gold along with Gabby Douglas. But Jordyn’s understandable disappointment in no way justifies the uneven and downright biased coverage that Gabby received for her performance.

First, during floor exercises, Gabby stepped out of bounds with both feet, resulting in several tenths of a point deduction in her score. That’s not an insignificant error for sure, but the rest of her routine was almost flawlessly executed.

You wouldn’t know it to listen to the sportscasters chomping at the bit, talking about how absolutely terrible it was, what a HUGE mistake she’d made, how low her score was going to be. And on. AND ON.

Never mind that Jordyn had a bad day. She gaffed on her balance beam routine and almost fell, but the commentators focused on how she recovered and pulled it off, by sheer strength of will. And a monster toe grip. I’m not tossing any shade to Jordyn. It was a beautiful routine.

But the sportscasters are far, FAR from impartial.

For instance, peep this coverage about Jordyn Wieber’s upsetting finish. Around the 1:22 mark, you’ll notice that they show an individual picture of every team member EXCEPT Gabby!

Aly and Gabby advanced to the all-arounds, coaches and teammates hugged and congratulated Aby. They comforted and consoled Jordyn. But they said not a word to Gabby. There were no hi-fives, congratulations (not on any coverage I saw), no celebration. Just total disappointment on Jordyn’s behalf, and the overwhelming sense at least among the sportscasters who talked about Jordyn’s dashed hopes and dreams that Gabby didn’t really deserve it, that she’d taken a spot that didn’t belong to her. 

Why celebrate Aly and not Gabby?

In the immediate interviews afterward, Aly got asked questions about how excited she was, how she felt about her friend, but ultimately what this meant for her dreams. Gabby on the other hand got three questions about her shortcomings — her mistakes during the floor exercise, the belief among the coaching staff that she couldn’t handle the pressure, and her feelings about coming in ahead of her teammate (who presumably) deserved it more. The fourth and final question asked her how she felt to be there, and like Black girls used to this kind of passive aggressive white hostility are so deft at doing, she responded with an affirmation of confidence in herself.

And then she gave that big beautiful smile that everyone keeps focusing on.

Her smile is beautiful to be sure. And a world in which Black girls smile, giddy from the joy of being able to pursue their dreams, is a world I want more of.

But after having read Toni Morrison’s analysis of Clarence Thomas’ nomination hearings for the Supreme Court, and the copious amount of times that Congressmen referred to his great smile and jovial personality (rather than his record of legal scholarship and groundbreaking rulings), I am suspicious of these kinds of smile politics.

Perhaps, focusing on her smile makes Gabby seem non-threatening. And make no mistake–she’s in it to win it.

It remains unclear to me why Kyla Ross is not subjected to similar kinds of coverage, but I think that she is exoticized a bit on the one hand, and on the other, while she is a strong part of the team, she hasn’t presented herself as a threat to any of the individual goals set by the white girls on the team. But Gabby’s ambitions and her ability to achieve them are clear.

I guess I should be used to this kind of shamtastery in the sports commentating after years of watching the Williams Sisters dominate women’s tennis. But it still irks me. Even so, I’m cheering on Team USA, and I’m #teamGabby all the way!

Feel free to weigh in:

Are y’all watching the Olympics?

What are your fave sports/athletes?

Have y’all noticed this differential coverage in the Olympics?

Advertisements

Beat to Quarters*: An argument to register

5 Oct

Guest Post by Pat Hussain

Download your own We All Count sticker to personalize!

The 2012 elections will culminate with President Obama being reelected or replaced as President.  Some people have decided to vote in this election; others not to vote.  Whatever your decision I urge everyone who is eligible to register to vote by the October 9th deadline.

Every citizenship right we have has come after a protracted struggle: Pressure created by direct action and mass movement organizing provided the momentum for a successful vote in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, or polling places across the country. Not registering to vote feels like speaking passionately on the issues at hand; but on Election Day, placing our hands over our mouths.

After the Civil War the struggle for equality moved from the battlefield to the ballot box, as centuries old violence and intimidation tactics against Black people continued.  During Reconstruction, in 1866, the Radical Republicans took control of Congress.  Before the War ended, Rev. George F. Noyes had expressed his support of them, and restraint of former Confederates, during a sermon to the Union Army in 1862:

“When a man puts a knife at my throat, and I succeed in conquering and hand-cuffing him, shall I be so foolish as at once to restore him to his former position, knife and all? Let every man’s own common sense answer this question. The idea with some even at the North is that the South is to be acknowledged as an equal nation if triumphant, while, if she is subdued after the great and fearful struggle, she is at once to be invited into a front seat, and at once admitted to all her old privileges.”

In 1867, Congress replaced Southern civilian government with military districts, and enforced the enfranchisement of Freedmen.  Of the 22 Black members of Congress, elected during Reconstruction, 13 were Freedmen; all were Republican.  Of the 1st 20 elected as Congressmen, five were denied their seats.  Others had their terms interrupted or delayed.

At the 1888 Republican Convention, a new faction emerged within their party. Norris Wright Cuney named this group, the Lily-White Movement: An anti-civil rights response to African-American political and economic gains.  Their goal was to eliminate Black progress and get white voters back from the Democrats.  As it grew to an organized nationwide effort, most Blacks were prevented from seeking office.  Democrats and Republicans erected legislative barriers for Black voters: In the form of poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses.  George White was the last African-American in Congress for 28 years when he delivered his final speech in the House on January 29, 1901:

“This is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress, but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised and bleeding, but God-fearing people; faithful, industrious, loyal, rising people – full of potential force.”

That drought was ended with the election of Oscar De Priest: the first African-American of the modern era and the last Black Republican representative for 56 years.

The 20th Century civil rights movement built on work begun during Reconstruction. Direct action changed and engaged our national conscience as we the people gathered and shone a light on unjust laws, rogue municipalities, and flaws in our Union. Our votes sent those we elected to represent us into the rooms where laws are made and changed.

African-American voting strength blossomed across the South from 1960-1966: in Mississippi – from 22,000 registered Blacks to 175,000, in South Carolina – from 58,000 to 191,000; and in Alabama – from 66,000 to 250,000. The number of Blacks in Congress doubled from five to ten as the 1960s drew to a close. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) emerged from that fertile ground in 1971, followed by the 1976 arrival of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. For the first time in this century, a presidential veto on foreign policy was overridden. When the CBC joined others in opposition to President Reagan, they helped bring about the extinction of South African Apartheid.

History reveals that laws enacted to create justice do not make justice happen. And that political party support, at best, is transient. Further struggle is required to make existing laws function – for example: penalties, criminal charges, and sanctions for noncompliance or violations. The thunder of feet marching and ballots dropping on Election Day; oars pulling together as our boat presses forward. Knowing that our need for justice is immediate, it is frustrating that our progress tends to be incremental. That is why I urge you to register to vote. We need you.

The nautical term is, “All hands on deck.” Something that you say when everyone’s help is needed, especially to do a lot of work in a short amount of time. If you have ever changed your mind, reconsidered a decision, or just like to keep your options open; consider registering. If you do register, you can still decide not to vote.  The decision of whether to vote or not just moves to 7:00 pm, November 6th when the polls close. But if you don’t register, that option, that oar, is left behind.

Rough waters and big waves have kept us from the shores of full equality and have tried to swamp our boat, relentlessly. It has required every tactic at our disposal, some created on the journey, to keep us afloat. Pack both oars: Direct action and the vote. Those who never had the right and those who lost it have needed us to pull that oar for them.

Election Day will mark our progress, lull, or decline; but not the end of our journey. Tsunamis of regressive, racist, mean-spirited political candidates and policies have raised the call for, “all hands on deck.” We need all who are able to give a two-fisted pull toward equality and our own visions of a just world. In the tradition of our struggle, join us.

*Prepare for battle (beat = beat the drum to signal the need for battle preparation).

Pat Hussain is a part of the We All Count campaign and participated in the Southern Movement Assembly two weeks ago in Lowndes County, Alabama. The Assembly brought together 25 delegations from over 40 organizations around the South. Pat is a beloved movement elder and one of six founders of SONG, Southerners On New Ground, an LGBTQ organization working for racial and economic justice. In 1996, Pat co-founded Olympics Out of Cobb County to bring attention to a resolution the city passed in 1993 condemning LGBTQ people. The successful organizing forced the Olympic Committee to remove all officially sanctioned events from the county.

Claressa Explains It All

24 Aug

Claressa Shields wins Gold as the ref holds up her hand in victory!

I’ve always been ambivalent and maybe even a little skittish about sports. They seem violent and remind me of The Hunger Games, particularly with the amount of POC presence and the injuries athletes incur. I wasn’t invested in the Olympics until my tumblr friends started pointing out the racism, sexism and nationalism in NBC’s coverage and Cruntastic’s two pieces about the ill treatment of Gabby Douglas.

Now the games are over and Gabby’s on a cereal box, a mural in VA beach and has appearances on fancy shows. I’m super excited for her but as I got caught up in the Olympic fever, there were other athletes who I want to see on TV. In particular, I wonder why there hasn’t been the same level of love and adoration for Claressa Shields.

Her story is ultra compelling, a hard knock life, a survivor, just 17 and she’d only been defeated once in her entire boxing career before the Olympics! She won gold, defeating someone much older than her! She even got in trouble for repeatedly sticking her tongue out at her opponents (na na, na na na). In her own words, “she’s bad!” But how come Claressa can’t be in the spotlight with or like Gabby?

First, Gabby and Claressa’s sports are different. Gymnastics is elite and elegant. It’s appropriately feminine too. People have a different idea about boxing, and women’s boxing at that. Claressa is already de-feminized by the sport she plays. The way that the sports are classed also maps on to the way both Gabby and Claressa speak. Claressa’s Flint inflects her every word.

For all the talk of Gabby’s hair, Claressa’s showed the wear of the work she put into getting her gold. Gabby can be a black girl hero, someone to aspire to, someone whose hair matters in sub plots of black respectability and heteronormative desirability. Claressa gets a pat on the head and a good job. She’s not a credit to the race or gender, not someone we want our daughters to look up to and emulate.

No shade to Gabby, but damn it, Claressa is my hero. She don’t take no stuff and chose boxing because she was tired of people seeing black girls as an easy target. Everyone knows a good defense starts with a good offense and she’s got a killer left-handed jab (I know, I’m mixing sports metaphors). Claressa’s prowess can not be understated. Her physical, mental and emotional commitment to her sport have inspired me and have me looking for boxing gyms in my area. Who’s with me?

take a load off family: black women, hair and the olympic stage

7 Aug

The author on the move in Harlem.

I am no athlete. I have not won an individual sports competition since maybe the second grade. I recall Usaining all comers in the 40-yard dash but, as Kasi Lemmons learned us, “memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others indelibly imprinted on the brain” and I might have photoshopped that one.

My middle school basketball team dominated the Seattle Catholic Youth Organization league but that was due to the AAU players on my team: Megan, petite with Chris Paul’s smarts and speed; and June, a Russell Westbrook-esque scorer.

With high school came the freshman basketball team, aka junior varsity cuts. Public school competition and talent defections resulted in us losing every game of the season. Each timeout we, headstrong and skill-poor, loudly militated against the directives of our sweet coach Leo. My dad, a brief overseas basketball pro and former international basketball coach, spent most of my games in laughter and, quite possibly, shame on the loftiest bleacher next to his rugged white bud who my older sister and I affectionately called Mountain Mike. The other Mike, a black Chicagoan, was my dad’s barefoot running friend.

These days, I too am something of a minimalist runner. I have been marathon training since my birthday two years ago and my lightweight racing flats have propelled me to eight and half minute splits on 30 plus miles a week although if 702 shuffles into rotation, I can break seven minutes. Of course, this feeble athleticism does not compare to the kinesthetic genius we are witnessing at the London 2012 Olympiad, particularly in track & field, which commenced Friday, and showcases athletes of the African diaspora. This heightened visibility has called my attention to the hairstyle choices of black women competitors. I know full well that the firestorm that has surrounded teen Gold-medal gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair makes this a sore subject but know that my distress is rooted in love. I’m confused as to how heat-retaining, scalp-suffocating and often weighty weaves lend themselves to peak performance.

My thick hair is hot on a warm day, let alone during a workout, and I can’t imagine sewing in more. I’ve never worn a weave, nor do I desire to, and, excepting about three years of my life, my hair has been relaxer-free. As a result, I have been able to vigorously c-walk (s/o Serena) to my heart’s content with little concern for root reversion. Madame C.J. Walker does occasionally call and on those occasions, I can’t front, I abstain from exertion for a week. You know how it is.

Beyond my skepticism about the practicality of a skull saddled with multiple packages of Indian Remy in elite competition (and a testament to our excellence is that we still slay), I am concerned about the witness it offers of our esteem, the invidiousness of European beauty standards and the message our adaptations to them send young black girls interested in sport. I am saddened that so many of us equate looking our best with extension-assisted styles. Must we weave, wig, braid in extensions before we hit the pitch, track, mat, slough? I don’t buy that the ubiquity of yaki is about convenience. Show me the receipts. Only thing that accounts for our epidemic edge-sacrifice is history. We been making our way up the rough side of the mountain since the middle passage. Let’s have an honest conversation about what we do not because the world is watching but because we are, would-be Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryces and Sanya Richards Rosses. I’m not proposing a ban on sew-ins but having a conversation about our wholescale investment in them even in the most illogical of circumstances.

Tomorrow I’ll greet the sun with my pillow-dented ‘fro. If I’m feeling vain, I’ll spray bottle my hair with water to define the curl, but most mornings I’m not about that life. I’m about the thrill of coming on the Hudson from my Harlem home, arms pumping, legs kicking, neon lime kicks pounding the pavement to the sounds of Lloyd, Azealia Banks and yes, 702. Sweat beads on my scalp and dots my forehead. It feels good to go hard. The wind blowing through my hair feels even better and, as a bonus, gives lionesque body. By mile five, it’s right voluminous.

UPDATE: Gabby Douglas leads Team USA to the Gold

1 Aug

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.

But um…

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!)

bob-costas-talks-to-the-fabulous-five-after-gold.html

They may not see you coming, Gabby. But know this. We see you! We SEE you!  And we are cheering you on! #yougotthis


%d bloggers like this: