That said, I did want to take one moment to share one thought about the Olympics. During our time off, I spent a good deal of time riveted to the Olympics, and particularly to the spectacular performances of some of the black women athletes. But two of those great performances were overshadowed by some commentator and social media absurdity.
There was Serena Williams who became only the second woman in history to win a tennis Golden Slam – titles in all four Grand Slam tournaments, plus an Olympic Gold medal in singles. As she achieved her victory she broke into a post-match celebratory dance, a dance known as the C-walk, created by the Crips gang in the 1970s.
Among some commentators, the dance ended up getting more attention than the win. Listen, I don’t support the glorification of gang violence, but I also don’t support the unnecessary vilification of someone from Compton doing a dance that has cultural resonance for her that is vastly different meaning from its origins. I was disgusted to watch as some commentators allowed the dance to overshadow such an important career accomplishment, and such an important national win.
But more than any other athlete, I couldn’t tear myself away from Gabrielle Douglas. This 16-year-old phenom had me screaming with joy and pride. I was so honored to interview Olympian Dominique Dawes on the show just two weeks before the Olympics. I asked her what she expected from our women’s team this year. Dawes predicted gold, and she was right! Even beyond her history-making performances, Gabby’s spectacular athleticism, grace and joyous self-possession were a shining light of these games.
Which is why I could not believe it when some in social media, most of them other African American women, actually seemed more interested in denigrating her hair style than in cheering for her medals. (Not that she seemed to mind.) Dozens of smart commentators have already placed the hair angst in its historic, cultural, racial and gender context. One of my favorite Gabby blogs comes from Friend of #nerdland Dave Zirin:
Anyone watching women’s gymnastics sees that many of the contestants look like hostages to screaming parents, rage-aholic coaches and their own unhappiness. Gabby Douglas actually looks happy to be there and through force of personality is congenitally unable to be invisible. This also has political repercussions, powerful enough that the largely sheltered 16-year-old seems to sense what she could mean.
As she said to the New York Times in June, “I have an advantage because I’m the underdog and I’m black and no one thinks I’d ever win. Well, I’m going to inspire so many people. Everybody will be talking about, how did she come up so fast? But I’m ready to shine.” Shine she did.
I thought of one other way we can honor Gabby and allow her to inspire us long after the closing ceremonies. Let’s strike a pose!
After the death of Trayvon Martin, supporters donned hoodies in a sign of solidarity with the slain teen and with all the young men he represents. Why don’t we take a page from that book – but this time with the joy of one of young people?
The next time you are feeling particularly accomplished, have finished something you started, achieved a goal you set, or are just feeling good about yourself. Say to yourself, “I am Gabby Douglas.” Maybe even take the time to update your Facebook or your Twitter profile with yourself in your Gabby pose. And hey, sometimes you might even need to do a dance to celebrate you.
Welcome back to #nerdland.