G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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At Slate, Aisha Harris, who is black, takes a principled stand on Gabby Douglas’ gold medal gymnastics win:
I don’t usually throw my support blindly behind anyone of color, whether they’re athletes or politicians or business owners. In fact, I consciously avoid it since that can lead to ill-informed and naïve decisions. But seeing a young black girl perform such amazing feats in a sport where black faces are so rare has been nothing short of exhilarating, and it makes me throw aside my worries about having a racial bias towards a specific athlete.
It’s cliche to suggest that we flip the race of the author and the athlete in an article to see how that would play out. If a white writer celebrated a white person winning a sport dominated by blacks (track, for instance), we all know what would happen.
While the entire U.S. gymnastics team faced the intense scrutiny of the media as they tried to win gold, Gabby has to deal with the additional burden of being the only black athlete on the team. In a country where whiteness is dominant but leaves room for other defining characteristics, black Americans more often have to contend with monolithic representations. Black people are this, and black people are that. And black people are not gymnasts. (emphasis mine)
Yeah, I’m sure Douglas was just fretting away over this. Though the father of Douglas’ teammate Kyla Ross is half black so that might assuage some of Harris’ concerns that Gabby faced such a burden all by her lonesome. Or maybe the burden, if it existed, arose from the undue pressure placed on Douglas’ shoulders by people like Harris who wanted to make the gymnast a political hero.
Douglas’ performance was great. She won a gold medal for herself and her country. As much as I can be proud of someone I don’t know and who competes in a sport I care nothing about, I’m proud of Douglas’ achievement. And it is perfectly fine for Harris to favor Douglas simply because they share the same skin color and genetic background. But, first, remember that next time a white person favors other whites – for whatever reason. But also, such bias is only celebrated when the champion is of minority status. Blacks who vote almost unanimously for Barack Obama are doing the right thing while whites who stack towards conservative candidates are racist.