2016 has entered the record books as one of the greatest years for sports of all time. The Olympics is the summer’s pinnacle–this year, particularly for black America.
After controversy in the semifinals, the women’s 4×100 relay stamped their ticket to the final. They added 100m Silver medalist Tori Bowie as the anchor. Bowie, who clocked in 10.83 seconds in that final has had a tremendous season. I saw her in the trials and expected her to have an impact on Team USA’s quest for gold one more time in the relay.
Watching how far of a gap the USA women’s relay team had between them and the rest of the world was astonishing, but not surprising.
The pure domination that black women exuded from the beginning of the Olympics was undeniable and exhilarating to witness.
The Rio games commenced amidst concerns regarding the health of athletes as well as the social instability of Rio. The city, which had a bevy of problems ranging from Zika and toxic water to unsafe infrastructure in parts of Olympic village, surely isn’t an anomaly in terms of host cities. However, there appeared to be so much apprehension around these Olympics that not as many people would be fully invested in the early events as they had been in previous years.
And then the night of the Simones happened.
I watched the trials and I still don’t understand how scoring works in gymnastics. But I know for sure that what Simone Biles can do is as close to superhuman as one can physically get. Biles defies laws of gravity and physics in way that leave you speechless. As Usain Bolt naturally gallops on land, Biles takes flight as if it’s where she belongs. Her presence in the world of gymnastics is ubiquitous enough that she even has a signature move named after her.
I’d never heard of Simone Manuel prior to her race in the 100m freestyle. Always root for the black person, though; regardless of what the competition or race is. The historical and personal significance of Manuel’s win (and also her teammate, Lia Neal) was brilliantly covered by The Undefeated‘s Jesse Washington However, what that night reminded me about via the Twitter conglomerate is how the Olympics represents the ultimate dichotomy in which black athletes exist.
As a community, we relish these moments. We see ourselves, our children, and our children’s children in these moments. The tears that poured out of Simone Manuel’s eyes expressed the magnitude of what she’d just accomplished. For the times that black children weren’t allowed to swim in pools. For the children who were terrified of water above their ankles. For the adults who experienced a trauma that prevents them enjoying the beach. Simone Manuel standing on that podium donning a gold medal means everything to the black experience in America. As did every single one of the women who won medals in their respective events. Yet, America wants them to set aside their blackness for the Olympics.
America often expects black athletes to forget the skin they live in to focus on patriotism. White America, simply stated, wants us to emphasize the American-ness of these black women’s excellence and occupy the space in which we’re celebrating their achievement as black women, while ignoring all the beautiful melanin.
Sorry, but black girl magic took center stage at the Olympics. The competition wasn’t even close. You’re welcome, America!
For generations, black women have been ignored, battered, abused, and silenced. Even with the iteration of Title IX, majority of the top 25 college programs for female sports aren’t adequately funded nor are they given enough attention to offer athletes viable professional playing opportunities thereafter. We live in a world where Anna Kournikova–a woman who repeatedly lost to Serena Williams–was the top earning female athlete annually.
In recent years, the media has denounced victimhood to black women when it came to gun violence: Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna, Renisha McBride, and most recently Korryn Gaines were somehow to blame for their deaths. The mothers of those left behind have been politicized as “Mothers of the Movement”. Their strength and resilience is to be admired and respected. However, it’s upsetting that their tragedies have become a part of a narrative that at times feel like a prop. For everything that starts with black women, America finds some way to snatch it away under the guise of “inclusion”.
Nah, bruh, not this time.
Black women accounted for 27 US individual medals won out of 34 total individual medals. Of that 27, 16 of them were gold. Now more than ever, Black women are visible forces on their own merit. In fact, aside from Michael Phelps, the men of Team USA have been
rightfully overlooked both in the media and in general conversation.
Black people cheered for Katie Ledecky. We’ve watched in awe for over a decade as Phelps became the greatest swimmer alive. We root for white athletes all the time in the spirit of pride. So the fact that why white people don’t understand the gravity of these Olympic victories to us is on par for their myopic arrogance.
When Simone Biles and Simone Manuel and Tori Bowie and Michelle Carter and Brianna Rollins and Ibtihaj Muhammad all return home, they’ll be welcomed with parades, news cameras, and all of the fanfare.
But when that fades, they’re women who will always remember that they blazed a trail for a generation of little black girls and continued to inspire black women who may have once thought their dreams were out of reach.