*Last week was a beautiful week to be an “American.” Particularly in black America.
Black people won medals in err’thing we wasn’t supposed to do, or be good at; gymnastics, swimming, tennis, shot put…black athletes are breaking stereotypes all over the “world stage.” And it’s causing some heartache, with the same people who always had a problem accepting our presence, or our equality, beyond it being a simple accommodation. But we saw some things, last week. Commentary for the Olympics when beyond biased and it got on black people’s nerves.
It started with the women’s all-around gymnastics final. They, and I don’t have to tell you who “they” are, were still mad as hell because the all-around world champion and 2012 Olympic poster child, Jordan Wieber, didn’t make the Olympic finals. It was supposed to be Wieber and Aly Raisman. Instead, it was Raisman and Gabby Douglas. Wieber and the NBC Commentators couldn’t hide their disappointment. Wieber cried like a baby…probably because all the endorsements went out the window. Raisman suddenly became America’s “best shot.” The Russians most certainly were poised to win the gold. Only they forgot to tell Gabby.
Gabby Douglas led from start to final. Every time she went up, every move was about to be a mistake because she “had difficulty with it in practice.” Well, isn’t that what practice is for? And as it became more obvious that Douglas wasn’t giving up the lead, particularly when the Russians crumpled under the pressure, it then became about Wieber. Had she made the finals, it would’ve been her gold medal. Wieber’s name was mentioned over 20 times during Douglas’ last routine. You almost had to ask yourself, “Damn, who’s performing?” Then there were the fake hugs and fake “congrats when she did win. I could hear Vesta’s “Congratulations (It Should Have Been Me)” in my head. Okay, maybe I’m jus trippin … next night, Cullen Jones, wins the silver medal. The commentators couldn’t say he won the silver medal, they framed it as him losing the gold medal. Michael Phelps lost two gold medals and they never said that. They said who ever beat him wins the gold, Phelps wins the silver. Okay, now I’m fuming (behind the comfort of my computer). I start documentin’ … in commentary, of course.
Then I have to hear all the fallout over Serena Williams “guaranteeing” that she would win the gold medal the next day. The commentators talked about how “unsportly” that was. Oh really … okay, now I’m sick of me some white folk … but I’ma see how far they gonna take it. Then, up steps Serena Williams. I should say, Olympic Gold Champion, Serena Williams, with the “the most memorable moment” of the 2012 Olympics. And it wasn’t in the heat of competition.
Sometimes, we have to straight up “get defiant” on em. When we act “appropriate,” they want talk about us, in code, or by omission. Sometimes, it’s not what they say about us … it’s what they don’t say about us—when they should say something nice. When they should say something complimentary, they say nothing at all or they insult our intelligence with some “off the cuff” slight. They do that a lot with President Obama too. But you kinda get tired of people insulting your intelligence and assaulting your dignity. There was much dignity in Gabby Douglas becoming the first African American (man or woman) to win an Olympic gymnastics gold medal.
There appears to be an attempt to strip some of the shine off the accomplishment, and some of the dignity that goes with the accomplishment. But the little sista kept her head up and took on all the insulting questions, like, “Are you surprised you did as well as you did?” Or, “Does it mean anything significant to have won this gold medal?” Instead of looking at em crazy and asking them, “What the f—- do think?” she was kind and polite. The final straw may have been when they pulled out the box of Corn Flakes with her on the cover of the box … now, y’all know who eats Corns Flakes? But the Corn Flakes box, while nice, is not the Olympic tradition.
The Olympic tradition is that the Olympic All-around champion goes on the cover of the “Breakfast of Champions,” the Wheaties Box—every since Mary Lou Retton in 1984. Now I’m not calling Wheaties racist or anything, because they did feature Dominique Dawes on the cover in 1996. They just bet on the wrong horse. Wieber was ready to become a spokesperson for Wheaties coming into the Olympics and the deal was, All-Round Champion gets the cover. That was code for, “The cover’s yours, Jordan.” Word was the boxes were already printed and ready for shipping. Douglas wins, and Wheaties (General Mills) doesn’t know what to do. Kellogg’s comes in, swoops up Douglas and the Wheaties box is out … for now. Black people have always had to settle for Corn Flakes (Wheaties was too expensive and Mom wasn’t hearin’ it, hell—y’all know). Kellogg’s more than made up for it with a multi million dollars endorsement deal (than will be worth upwards of $90 million by 2016), but that didn’t stop the yaking about Douglas, and of course, black people piled on talking about her hair. So much so that the little sista had to respond. She’s in the middle of the Olympics at the highpoint of her life and she goes on line to read what she thought was going to be congratulatory statements and reads nonsense instead.
Some of us just can’t help it. Hateration is in the blood … and ignorance is in the mind.
Serena, the reigning Wimbledon Singles Champion, knew what to do though. She knew they was waiting on her. Serena and her sister, Venus, been through the hair conversation. The “cocky” conversation was next up. Serena turned the channel on em. She said, “Y’all wanna talk about something? Talk about this…” She made a political statement on the Royal Court of Wimbledon—the most famous tennis court in the world, during the Olympic stage—the most famous athletic event in the world. The most powerful statement since John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists and got kicked out of the 1968 Olympics for “doing them” instead of boycotting like Kareem (then Lew Alcindor) and other black athletes had done.
Don’t think, for a second, Serena Williams didn’t know what she was doing—she’s too smart not to know. Serena and Venus live in a world of sports etiquette and social protocols. And they’re talked about—all the time. Don’t think Serena hadn’t been following the conversation going over in gymnastics and at the swimming pool. Her statement was simple … “This is where I’m from. Don’t forget it. Now talk about THAT!!!” If that wasn’t a “Fight the Power” move, I don’t know what is? Every major paper and blog covered Serena’s “gangster move.” The world talked about it the next day. And the Olympics had its first “black protest” moment in 44 years.
Some people were embarrassed by the move, including some blacks, while others didn’t understand. Most white media didn’t even know it was an issue until black people Facebooked and tweeted it. Then they over-reported it, trying to play “catch-up.” But those of us who have been paying attention understood exactly what that was. That was a 21st Century “fist in the air, I’m tired of this subtle racism bulsh#t” moment. Take that establishment … and the media. Wimbledon AND Olympic gold medalist, what they gonna do to her? Say she could say what Gabby and Cullen couldn’t. Her and Venus won the doubles gold medal the next day, and celebration went without incident. Newspaper headlines? “No crip walk for the doubles gold.”
They still don’t get it.
Serena had made her point. The fist in the air only has to go up one time …
Now if we only could do something about the track and field runners, and those weaves looking like hats flappin’ in the wind. That was a statement too. They got some of us … but they don’t have all of us. Serena Williams “represented” for the hood.
They gonna quit messin’ with black people in a minute … don’t wanna let us do you?
We do know how to “do us.” And retain our dignity…
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.