The Sistah Vegan Project

Gabby Douglas Won Gold: Is Meritocracy finally paying off for deserving non-white USA gymnasts?

(picture source: http://hiphopwired.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/gabby-douglas-flying-high-into-classic-151hjbkm-x-large.jpg)

I don’t watch the Olympics (won’t get too much into it, but not a fan of how it’s been bought out by big capitalist corporations supporting them). I don’t have a tv. But I have been following representations of Gabby Douglas using internet media over the last week and have been anxiously waiting to see what would happen….and I have to say that I’m impressed that meritocracy ruled in the gymnastic competition today for Gabby. I saw the trials at a restaurant the other week, and saw how amazing Gabby was and wondered if racism would rule the judging….I know all too well, having watching the judges over the last 3 decades ( as a figure skating and gymnasts fan) screw over any girl who didn’t act or look ‘white Euro Anglo enough.’ Congrats Gabby on focusing on your goal and not letting certain folk’s racist foolishness detract and distract you.

I felt that I had to say something about Gabby because as I heard about her performance, I began thinking about many things in relation to black women in ‘white’ dominated sports (dominated not necessariy because white racialized subjects are better, but because of racist judging that permeates gymnastics and figure skating).

I remember my white high school teacher being disgusted by Surya Bonaly, the black French figure skater. Bonaly was ‘too masculine’ for her. I knew the judges thought the same.

And then there were mainstream responses to the Williams sisters when they first came onto the scene. Oh brother. Disgusting.

I remember over 10 years ago when Dominique Dawes had to share a gold with Kim Zmeskal, even though it was clear that Dawes was the better performer.

Olympics or World Championship gymnastics and figure skating events are not the only judged situations that are deeply affected by white supremacist value system. Remember the black teen in Arkansas last year who should have been valedictorian but the high school decided it would be too messy to award her that standing, and instead, had her share the #1 spot with a white student. 

Arkansas is not atypical. I have spoken to several close black friends over the years who said that similar happened to them, 15+ years ago when they were ‘outperforming’ white students in their high school. Though I graduated #3 in my high school class of all white students (except my twin black brother), I had struggled with hearing comments by peers talk about their jealousy of me out performing them and wondered how many teachers may have also thought that way and wondered if I was being graded fairly or not.

And what I found even more disturbing were the Tweets by black women, attacking Gabby for her hair being ‘unkempt’ while she was doing her thang. You’ve got to love internalized racism/white supremacist perceptions of beauty by black women. Reminds me that throughout my 17 years of having a natural hairstyle, it has only been BLACK WOMEN (with the except of 1 or 2 white men I worked with in corporate atmosphere) that have said something negative about my hair.  Seriously, the comments, attacking a child, by grown-ass women is pathetic and disgusting.

So yea, thought I’d share my thoughts on this and look forward to seeing how ‘judging’ progresses in the two sports I have loved most (gymnastics and figure skating) since childhood  :-) I’d think that Gabby’s win is too early to believe that meritocracy works for all girls and women who don’t fit the ‘usual look’.

Congrats Gabby.

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5 thoughts on “Gabby Douglas Won Gold: Is Meritocracy finally paying off for deserving non-white USA gymnasts?

  1. It is refreshing to see this talented athlete win regardless of race. I hope to see more diversity in women’s gymnastics as well (and swimming and…etc etc).

    As far as hair and “fitting the mold” one wonders whether Gabby would be so beloved and embraced as the “all american golden girl” if she had her natural hair, whether long and pulled back in an afro puff or gasp! (im saying that sarcastically, of course) short and kinky. My guess is no.

    On another note, it troubles me the way the media needs to run “prom” profiles of these women athletes and “girlify” their physiques with pink and swarovsky crystal leotards (which the young athletes often seem to embrace- a reflection and irony, I think, of the pressures these young athletes feel to conform to ideas of “femininity” when their physiques clearly don’t ; in this regard, the petite Gabby fares better off than the broader Wieber, Raisman, etc). Gabby’s smaller frame, too, might have worked in her favor to “offset” her blackness and up the endearment factor in mainstream america.

    I’m wondering whether Gabby will do the “Got milk?” ad (re:your post on african american lactose intolerance) and whether she will embrace (consciously and unconsciously) corporate girliness for sponsorphip (as Nastia Liukin who made a whole post-athletic career of “pink-ifying,” “blond-ifying” and “high-fashioning” herself).

    The good thing is that, at 16, Gabby is awfully young and still has the option of being a competitive athlete for a few more years which will help her stay focused rather than exclusively vulnerable to corporate and other pressures.These female gymnasts are TRULY YOUNG. I hope that Gabby has a great network that will help her continue her athletic career, navigate her fame and, ultimately, create a satisfying post-athletic career.

    On a side note, did you notice how the husband in her host family in Iowa seems to be of mixed ancestry? Interesting.

    Anyhow, sorry about blabbing and thanks for this post.

    • Okay, I AM overly sensitive, but…you know the spiel. I watched last night for the promised Gabby’s bio and family . How did I miss it, I had NBC tuned from 8-midnight?

      I do not think she received adequate media coverage, until it became patently clear that she was going to win gold.Even then, almost every comment was less than completely complimentary, as if they were apologizing for the Russians or others who didn’t win.Alexandra (Allie) seems to be a cool lady–genuine.

      I saw Dominique Dawes–one shot–at commentators table. She looked great with a fantastic natural hair style. I still recall, with an uncomfortable feeling, the “sisters” who wanted to pay for a visit to the beauty parlor for me when I was a student in NYC–with limited funds– and loved my natural. I eventually gave in. Coward.

  2. Ugh. That word “meritocracy”! Lawd do I hate it!

    Too many POC have been browbeaten with and derailed by that word.
    &
    Too many non-POC think it’s the end all be all!

  3. Alchemist on said:

    Your article reminds me of a post on tumblr called “words never used to describe black women”

    http://moniquill.tumblr.com/post/27274940463/words-never-used-to-describe-black-women

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