It takes nothing to get on people’s bad side these days. This is especially true when you’re a gifted and successful Black man or woman.
I was reminded of this after hearing about the alleged uproar Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas caused yesterday. The Olympian didn’t put her hand on her heart during the playing of the National Anthem as the Fab Five took part in their medal ceremony. While her teammates stood with their hands on their hearts, Douglas just stood at attention. And if the missing hand wasn’t enough, people on Twitter felt like the girl could have at least sung the song as it played to show some patriotism.
Of course, Douglas was in the dark about the controversy, seeing as she had just won another gold medal alongside her friends and teammates. But after being alerted to the faux outrage, she apologized for causing any offense.
— Gabrielle Douglas (@gabrielledoug) August 10, 2016
But as some people pointed out, Douglas is not the first person to opt out of putting their hand on their heart while their colleagues choose to do so during the playing of the national anthem at the Olympics.
— Fairy Jane Paul (@writelikeryan) August 10, 2016
And as Cindy Boren of the Washington Post put it, again, this was the national anthem, not the Pledge of Allegiance:
The national anthem is not the Pledge of Allegiance, but the U.S. Code for conduct during the playing of it stipulates that “all present except those in uniform stand at attention facing the flat [sic] with the right hand over the heart.” However, anyone who has been to, say, a Major League Baseball game, will tell you that that isn’t always followed.
Do those men get the same criticism? I didn’t think so. So, as always, much ado about nothing.
But this whole situation left quite the bad taste in my mouth. For one, I feel like despite the fact that these talented people have worked their asses off to go for gold, an incredibly difficult feat, too many people like to come up with a whole host of distractions to take the attention away from their success. Whether it’s the alleged drug habits of parents, focusing on husbands/coaches as the root of a female Olympian’s success and just looking for the rose that grew out of concrete story in order to relate and celebrate, some individuals love to focus on the wrong things.
But I’m most bothered by the fact that folks have been telling Douglas how she needs to look and act ever since she stepped into the spotlight. When she was 16, at her first Olympics, people were telling her that her hair was a mess, focused more so on beauty standards than her incomparable talent. They went in on her dance moves. And even as an adult, people have criticized her face for not appearing happy enough to have obtained a coveted position on the U.S. gymnastics team. They say she should smile more like her teammates, ecstatic to have received a “second chance” from coach Martha Karolyi. She was questioned about her disappointment at missing out on the chance to compete in the individual all-around competition to defend her title; asked how she felt about her friends Aly Raisman and Simone Biles getting to do so, expected to crack on camera. She’s been compared to Biles and treated like the Black Joan Crawford to Biles’s Bette Davis.
I even saw criticisms of her decision to do reality TV before the Olympics with her Oxygen show Douglas Family Gold. There have also been random claims that she’s only still doing gymnastics to support her family, who have been characterized as money-hungry people by complete strangers. And now this bull about not putting her hand on her heart. This, despite the fact that she’s standing there wearing the colors of the U.S.A. flag, smiling as probably a bevy of thoughts run through her head. And considering that a vast majority of us will never get to stand on a podium and be celebrated with a gold medal at the Olympics, such criticism should stop. We can’t say what should have run through her head during that moment or what she should have done with her hand during the ceremony because we likely wouldn’t have lived up to our own expectations.
And yet, the girl can’t catch a break. Regardless of all the bullsh-t, Douglas is asked to apologize, to keep smiling, to grin and bear the criticism. It’s the same thing we, as Black women, are often told to do. Keep up a smile through the stress in school, at work, in the home, and even just walking down the street in order to succeed and not be harmed. It’s always been tired, but it’s especially irksome to watch a person who should be applauded for their feats have to go through this when they should only be focusing on sticking their landings.
To think, this is the thanks a young woman gets for setting aside years of her life to train to compete for our country. So much for patriotism.