My first thought after learning that Gabby Douglas had won the gold medal in the women’s individual all-around, was that my 5-year-old self would have idolized her.
Growing up, I always liked to watch the Olympics sports that required megawatt smiles, tight outfits and copious amounts of hair glitter. This meant that I spent hours marveling at the acrobatic feats of extremely talented white girls.
I don’t begrudge this. (Shannon Miller forever!).
But it was vaguely dispiriting. As someone who can barely touch her toes, I knew a gymnastics career was not in my destiny. But I liked watching the sport and yet, it seemed like something black girls just didn’t do. Black girls did track. White girls did gymnastics. That was the unspoken binary at every Summer Olympic games, at least according to the images that graced our television screens.
It didn’t even matter that this binary wasn’t strictly true. Amy Chow and Dominique Dawes (Asian American and black respectively) were a part of the Magnificent Seven, the 1996 gymnastics team that took gold in Atlanta. Still, no doubt because of the fact that black women tend to be branded as strong and masculine (see: the Williams sisters), the overt femininity of gymnastics seemed off-limits to chocolate girls.
As the first black woman to win an individual gold medal in gymnastics, Douglas is a quiet refutation of that trope. She’s not merely good (for a black gymnast). She’s the best.
Every time I watch Douglas — skin as dark as mine, nose as broad — I feel intensely, irrationally proud.
She’s filling hundreds of black girls all over the country with inspiration, giving them permission to dream.
It’s silly that it matters.
But it does.
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