As alluring as the athleticism displayed throughout each and every competition is, one of the more fascinating portions of the Olympic Games for me is watching nations that are not particularly loving to Black people magically muster up an affinity for Black folks on the world stage. Nationalism is the root of this, but it is nonetheless quite the ironic sight to see every four years. Social media, as it does with most things, only makes what’s already present more pronounced.
So, it is not at all surprising to see that while many Americans of every hue champion Olympic competitors like Gabby Douglas, there is a small but very vocal faction of the population actively reminding us that racism is still an American pastime.
After just completing her last routine and final post-competition interview of her career as an Olympian, Douglas was asked about the wave of criticism she received from some in the U.S. Tears began to fall down her face before she explained to ESPN: "I tried to stay off the internet because there's just so much negativity. Either it was about my hair or my hand not over my heart [on the medal podium] or I look depressed. ... It was hurtful. It was hurtful. It was. It's been kind of a lot to deal with."
It’s unfortunate that Douglas’ critics have been given this much power. I’ve wondered whether or not people responding to Douglas’ critics were louder than the critics themselves—which only magnified the influence of contemptuous fools. Mariah Carey once offered advice on how to deal with this sort of problem when she sang on “Ain’t gon’ feed ya/I’mma let ya starve” on “Obsessed.”
Then again, Douglas’ Instagram alone was filled with comments like “nigger” and “flying nigger” over the weekend. Perhaps many jumped ahead of the problem because they knew what was on the horizon. At this point, though, whether or not her critics were given too much attention no longer matters. By now, we’ve come to see that Douglas has been indeed hurt by the remarks. Her mother, Natalie Hawkins, has described Douglas as being “heartbroken.”
"She's had to deal with people criticizing her hair, or people accusing her of bleaching her skin,” said Hawkins in an interview with Reuters. “They said she had breast enhancements, they said she wasn't smiling enough, she's unpatriotic. Then it went to not supporting your teammates. Now you're ‘Crabby Gabby.’"
“What did she ever do to anyone?” Hawkins asked.
Essentially, the answer of her question is being Black, being a woman, and not fitting the definition of either as defined by racist and sexist morons.
"Did I choose my hair texture? No,” Douglas has noted. “I'm grateful for having this hair on my head. When you read that hurtful stuff you're like 'OK, wow.'"
What some still fail to grasp is that when competing, aesthetics are not what matters, athletics are. What a few don’t seem to get is that when you subject a woman to unrealistic standards of beauty—i.e. while doing their job—you are deep diving into classic sexism. Likewise, what the more sophomoric sect of society can’t manage to get a handle on is that patriotism is not the same for everyone.
It’s awful that Douglas has been subjected to so much projection from insufferable, miserable people who feign perfection from the luxury of their cell phones, desktops, and ivory towers. In response, actress Leslie Jones, who faced similar racist trolls recently, started the hashtag #Love4GabbyUSA to offer Douglas support. It’s a sweet, endearing effort, though as she moves forward from this and we we move forward from this, a few things out to be made clear.
No matter how vocal some racists and sexists have been, there have been more cheers for her than jeers. There are more people caring about Douglas as a gymnast than there have been folks acting as if she needs to look like the cover of Hype Hair magazine while competing. It’s moving to see so many rush to Douglas’ defense especially now that she’s made clear that she was impacted. I hope Gabby comes to see in time that the few who came to her with ill intentions were not the majority. It just seemed that way.
Unfortunately, there will always be those kind of people, but they don’t have to matter anymore than they’re allowed to.