Gabby Douglas, the decorated gold medalist gymnast who made her first national appearance to the world at the 2012 London Olympics melted the hearts of many Americans in her venture to gold. Douglas’ charismatic spunk made it impossible for most watchers to not be drawn to her. However, others had difficulty looking past her character and outstanding athletic abilities. The backlash that she had received during the 2012 Olympics carried into her journey at the 2016 Rio Olympics, however, the criticism even harsher than before. These attacks consisted of remarks on her hair, not placing her hand over her heart during the national anthem, and appearing to look angry while cheering for her teammates. Despite all odds, Douglas’ perseverance pushed her to become the first African American woman in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion. Thesis.
During ancient Greek times, particularly during the time of the Olympics, acceptable sports for women were viewed as gymnastics, figuring skating, and other “grace and beauty” sports. However, Douglas has been harassed while performing a sport that is seen to be acceptable by American society for females. Thus, Americans have found a way to use racism and sexism to undermine her athletic abilities. Thus, the gender ideology for sports has been respected, so Douglas competing as a gymnast is not what Americans felt conflicted about. Instead, it is the ideology of what women, especially women of color, can and cannot do. Douglas worked so hard to represent her country- the same country that worked so hard to steal her joy of being at the Olympics.
After the team’s gold medal win, Douglas’ hair became one of the subjects of ridicule. Gabby Douglas is an athlete, a black one at that, meaning that her hair cannot be tamed at all times while competing. So why are Americans so bothered by Douglas’ hair becoming messy during competition but not her fellow teammates? They are bothered because Douglas refuses to conform to the socially-imposed behavior and appearance standards for Black women, which in result outrages her watchers. Accordingly, due to white supremacy, her fellow teammates’ hair will never reflect badly upon them because they are compromising to the image of the standard white woman. It is impossible to escape scrutiny as a black woman in the public eye, especially when women refuse to deny their blackness.
Despite the majority of Americans criticizing Douglas’ hair, she also received hate comments from the black community as well- specifically black men. Black men have also been contorted into the social norms of society, thus, making it seem that white women are the most desirable rather than a woman of their own race. Black men attempt to strip a part of their identity in order to be accepted in society. Even most black women discipline themselves to mimic society’s standards of beauty (the white woman) in hope that whites will fail to see them as otherwise. Therefore, this makes the goal of the perfect appearance to make blackness itself invisible. The result of black men shaming Douglas’ hair outraged black women, due to the lack of insensitivity towards a subject that should be aware of. Experiencing the same injustices in society, this is a situation where the Black community should grow even stronger rather than turning against each other.
Douglas also fell under scrutiny for not placing her hand over heart during the national anthem. The same year at the Olympics, during Michael Phelps’ medal ceremony for his win in the 200-meter butterfly, he began cracking up laughing. No surprise, Americans took this lightheartedly and saw it as endearing. So why did no one accuse Phelps of hating America? Douglas and Phelps are two phenomenal athletes who represent the United States with distinct honor. However, both athletes had different responses to the national anthem. Neither acts were a display of disrespect of some kind of American defiance. But some people are talking about how one is an endearing American hero and how the other, is an unpatriotic disgrace. Peggy McIntosh, states in White Privilege and Male Privilege, a personal account of her experiences a white woman that, “Whiteness protected me from many kinds of hostility, distress, and violence, which I was being subtly trained to visit in turn upon people of color.” Final sentence.
If the Phelps incident isn’t enough evidence of the gender and racialized mistreatment towards Douglas, fellow American Olympic shot putters, Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs, gold and silver medalists, both did not place their hands over their hearts during the national anthem, and surprise, no outrage was followed. Nobody questioned these athlete’s patriotism. Why? Because they are white men, thus that automatically means to America that their patriotism is in their blood. There is no need for the white man to show the world that he loves America by putting his hand over his heart, because it is merely assumed to be the case.
It may seem as if only white male athletes are getting off the hook, but this is happening to white female athletes as well. At the previous Beijing Olympics, Douglas’ fellow white teammate, McKayla Maroney made a pouting face on the podium while receiving her medal and during the national anthem because the gymnast had not placed as high as she had hoped. Americans saw this captured moment as iconic and hilarious. Thus, making it seem as if it is only acceptable to be respectable during the national if you are white. This goes to show how the womanist theory proves the intersection between gender and racial inequality in society. Although women are less respected in society, it it more acceptable for a white woman to do things than it is the average black women.
During the same time of Douglas’ being harassed by the media at the Olympics, details about the white Olympic swimmer, Ryan Lochte, had emerged about him destroying property and lying about a robbery at gunpoint. Lochte’s incident goes to show the double standard held in society, where Lochte is portrayed as a “kid” who just deserves “a break” from all the stress he has been put under from training and competing. Whereas, Douglas is victimized for….
After not placing high enough to continue to compete in day two of the Olympics, Douglas was caught with an emotionless gaze upon her face while watching fellow teammates, Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. Douglas was criticized for not being supportive of her teammates and coming off angry. This criticism upholds the racial ideology that Americans place upon black people that we are just aggressive and angry individuals. Male athletes are allowed to not smile and not receive any sorts of backlash for it. However, female athletes aren’t- based on the sexist remarks that Gabby had received while watching her fellow teammates compete. The Olympics are the highest caliber of competition that an athlete can compete in. Although you may be representing your country or a team, you are still working to beat out your teammates. As in the case with Phelps, his anger was celebrated by America and became a worldwide “meme” throughout the summer of 2016. However, due to blatant ignorance, Douglas has been instead stamped with the “angry black woman” stereotype. The strange standard that Douglas has been held to and also expected to apologize for is something that Phelps and similar athletes to him, white, don’t face.
Thus, the problem in America is not how athletes represent our country, it is the double standard held in this country. The 2016 Olympics goes to show how sports are used purely for white entertainment and how athletes are only adored superficially. However, white entertainment can be either mere admiration of an athlete’s abilities or the sole entertainment of terrorizing athletes based upon their race, gender or both. White men are unconsciously given greater protection, greater privilege, and greater latitude. The common denominator of all of these incidents that received zero backlash from the media is that they were white athletes, predominantly male. Peggy McIntosh also continues by defining white privilege as, “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.” Privilege is widely desired, but is not beneficial to society.
Lastly, the whole concept of “feminism” was at its finest during the Olympics, because media worked to pinner her own teammates against her as well. What happened to women supporting women? Gabby received floods of support from fellow black females, however, this support was lacking from both races of males and also white females. Feminism lacks the intersectionality that womanism beholds, therefore will always benefit white women before it will ever benefit women of color. The only way to change this structure and to conform to the ideals of womanism, white feminists need to realize that the struggles of black women and women of color effortlessly comes with intersections that are social, economic, and racial. Due to the inevitable combination of white and male supremacy, it continues to be hard for black women and women of color. White women celebrities have been victims of sexist scrutiny, however, have always been supported by other white feminists.
Duboisian theory and dialectics support this claim in which blacks are pushed down in order to elevate whites. It is supporting a conservative strategy, in which blacks are to blame for their social problems, and how blacks need to enhance them own selves. The conservative theory believes that blacks need to increase themselves in order to liberate oppression. However, when blacks are given the opportunity and platform to do so, they are still undermined using their gender or race.
The criticism that Gabby has faced has always been gendered and racialized.
Most Americans will simply say that they took the colorblind approaching in chastising Douglas. Everyone was so bothered by Douglas’ hair although her fellow teammates had their hair styled the same way. Two of her four teammates included minorities, Hispanic Laurie Hernandez and fellow African American, Simone Biles. So just because Douglas’ hair didn’t lay as flatly or as flowy as her teammates’, Americans assumed that she had no desire to represent her country well, solely based off of her appearance.
The 2016 Rio Olympics suggest that racism is present in U.S. sports today by gendering and racializing its’ athletes. So how is Gabby Douglas portrayed in comparison to her fellow teammates? The predicament that Gabby Douglas ran into is the double standard that Americans held black heavyweight boxers Jack Johnson and Joe Louis too. Jack Johnson was considered to be the “Bad Negro,” whereas Joe Louis was depicted as the “Good Negro.” Although there were other women of color on Douglas’ team, Douglas and Biles were compared and thus distinguished by their upbringings.