Black people….everything is NOT about you…….

Yeah, I said it.

Let me start off by making this, as Rick James would put it, publicly clear: I’m Black. Don’t let the name fool you. I am proud to be Black and while I am a bit idealistic, I am not so foolish as to not know that racism is still alive and rampant in our society. And I will vigorously fight against it where it exists—but we as a people get fired up over some stupid stuff.

All of it tends to revolve around our image—how we are seen, how we are portrayed, how we see ourselves and how others see us. And three glaringly visible examples presented themselves in the course of the first week of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England.

Photo by: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

Gabrielle Douglas’s hair
A highly talented 16 year old gymnast took her talents to the XXX (that’s 30th) Olympic Games and helped elevate her team to the gold medal podium, the first for the USA women’s gymnastics team since 1996 and the Magnificent Seven. Not satisfied by being only the second African-American (or black woman of any nationality, to my knowledge) to wear Olympic Gold, she performed at such a high caliber to snag an individual gold medal as an all-around gymnast—the fourth in America’s history at the Games, but the first of color EVER. With these major accomplishments out in the atmosphere, you would think the social media airwaves would be abuzz with this major feat and a sense of pride as a community. And to some degree, there were a lot of congratulatory posts and tweets. But an unnecessarily large number of them were about….wait for it….Gabrielle Douglas’s hair. TWO gold medals, history made and all people could do was complain that her hair wasn’t on point.

Now I did notice her hair at the beginning of the rounds, but my only passing thought about it was whether or not it met competitive standards. I’m not too familiar with gymnastics protocol (and it’s been a long while since I’ve actively watched, so a lot of the scoring particulars have changed as well), but I do know in dance competitions the team is usually encouraged, if not required, to have everyone with the same neat, uniform hairstyle—usually a bun or ponytail if the length of hair permits. I know certain judges in dance can be persnickety if one hair falls out of place, and can deduct points from performance scores on something that minute. So my concern was that for all of the talent and skill Gabby was displaying, the ends of her ponytail sticking askew would cost her unnecessarily. But as I continued to watch I noticed many other gymnasts’ style being less than perfect from all of the tumbling, flipping and balancing, and the coaches didn’t seem concerned in the least—so I put it out of my mind and watched the routines with awe and amazement.

Clearly, as many of the post-uproar memes have stated, Gabby was more concerned with gold medals than gold highlights. Gymnastics is WORK. When you are doing physical activity of that intense a nature, you are going to sweat, your hair is not going to stay in place, and you are not going to look model perfect. But guess what? You get to focus on the job at hand. Not to mention, when you’ve finished putting in the work and achieving your goals, when you’ve got some down time, you get to relax and enjoy. And, if you want to, go to the salon.

The “Flying Squirrel” nickname
Apparently animal nicknames are taboo (so all of you with babies you call Mutt or Chipmunk need to stop now—and don’t even think about greeting your homeboys with a friendly “dawg”)—Gabby’s coaches gave her the nickname “flying squirrel” because she is small, nimble and quick like the aforementioned critter. However, being identified with a rodent seems to sit badly with folks from comedienne Marsha Warfield to former gymnast/commentator Dominique Dawes, who refused to use that particular moniker. Commentators had no trouble labeling Shaun White as the “Flying Tomato” because of his red hair—though the main reason that name died is because Shaun himself didn’t like it and squashed it himself. Gabby has yet to complain about it…but some claim that it’s still demeaning and it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t mind the name. This reminds me of the communication breakdown in an episode of the Ice Cube social experiment Black. White. In an effort to communicate their impressions of each other, the wife of the white family used the word “creature” in the description of the black wife—who proceeded to take great offense, thinking the other woman was referencing the ghouls of the “Creature Feature” horror movies, rather that what she really meant.

–anything created, whether animate or inanimate.
–person; human being: She is a charming creature. The driver of a bus is sometimes an irritable creature.
–an animate being.

It saddens me that there has been so much antagonistic language and personifications between races and cultures that we can’t determine the true intentions behind what others are trying to say.

“Monkeygate” (the ill-timed NBC promo)
Alright, then is no question that this was incredibly bad timing and has all the appearances of racist commentary. It’s very easy to raise an eyebrow, but calling it intentional is reaching a bit. As any network will do when it has a nearly guaranteed mega-audience and a whole slate of new shows to pitch, they will do their best to come up with promos that tie in with the theme of the prevailing broadcast. We’ve seen this in promotions during the Superbowl and the World Series, so similar spots during the two-week run of The Olympics should be no surprise. One of the shows being pitched is called Animal Practice, a new sitcom about a veterinary practice that has some trained animals in the cast. The series of promos revolved around the animals daydreaming about being Olympic athletes and then showing them and their human cohorts watching the events on television and discussing it. The unintentionally offending promo centered around gymnastics—and featured a monkey performing on the still rings. A pretty benign spot on its own; however, this spot played as the first element of the break immediately following Gabby Douglas’s win in the individual all-around competition. Having seen quite a few portrayals of black people as monkeys, I can understand the initial suspicions. But the ad didn’t even mention Gabby—not one gym leotard, no makeup or wigs on the monkey to make it look female, nothing of any nature to equate the monkey to a specific human being. But a lot of people have accused NBC of intentionally programming the spot there and trying to diminish Gabby’s accomplishments. Well, they’re half-right: NBC probably did intentionally place that promo in that spot. THREE DAYS BEFORE. Because it was GYMNASTIC-THEMED. Who knew for certain several days before the event which gymnast was going to take the gold medal three days in advance? All of the gymnasts present were considered the best their respective countries had to offer, so it could have been any one of the young ladies on the floor. Hell, most of the projections for American hopes were pinned on McKayla Maroney. I have the feeling that I wouldn’t even be talking about this had she, or either of the Russian medalists, had gotten gold instead. But this PC-hypersensitive culture that has everybody on eggshells about what they say has people so agitated to the point where NBC HAD to issue an apology just to quell the uproar—over a spot that had been running in the gymnastics broadcast for days.

Now I realize that I just made a whole bunch of people mad with everything I just said. Good. Stay mad. But make sure you direct that anger somewhere positive. Direct it at the lack of rehabilitation programs for our incarcerated black men. Direct it at the continued denigration of women, particularly that asinine division between light-skinned and dark-skinned black women that is most rampant in our own community. Direct it at the quiet installation of roadblocks to our ease of ability to vote—and a lot of our community’s apathy towards voting and political involvement. Hell, direct it at the lack of knowledge and discernment some of our young people possess, and the lack of pride and respect THEY have for themselves.

But spending perfectly good outrage on the Hangover monkey in a spot nobody noticed before or will remember in a few months….I’m sure there’s a better outlet than that you can find to focus your indignation.

(I realize this is perfect fodder for a “Dumbass Diaries” entry, but I don’t want to be accused of called my people jackasses. It might come off wrong.)


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kushite Prince
    Aug 06, 2012 @ 12:18:20

    You made a lot of good points. But I think the stupid comments made towards gabby stems from black self-hatred. Black people need to stop bashing each other. It’s bad enough we still live under white supremacy. But it’s compounded when we belittle and degrade each other. It’s the Willie Lynch syndrome all over again. It’s a damns shame!


  2. lakitac
    Aug 06, 2012 @ 09:43:40

    black people did nothing but turn some negative tweets (and, let’s face it, there are a THOUSAND negative tweets about everybody and everything on twitter) into a week-long, blown-out-of-proportion, mega-discussed saga about black hair/self-hate ridiculousness that the media picked up and ran with!! i would have never known about this foolery had people just dismissed it early on as the opinions of a few. we all know that black hair is serious to (some) black people and the gymnasts hair was “different” this time. i said it! i noticed it! a lot of people noticed it. it doesn’t take away from their accomplishments; it doesn’t mean we don’t love them; i don’t wear weave; my daughter has natural hair; etc. white folks talk about phelps’ and other white athlete’s physical attributes but nobody seems to be outraged about that. you know why? they know it’s just opinion/comedy and they don’t embrace it and blow it out of proportion. we have done more damage to gabby than the initial tweets. she probably knows she needs a hot comb on those kitchens!


    • dramaqueen1913
      Aug 06, 2012 @ 09:49:56

      Girl, Gabby herself said, “I’m wearing my hair like this for bars and balance beam, so you might as well stop talking about it.” Shows where her focus and priorities are….


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