Gabby Douglas faces the double wrath of racism and sexism in the 2016 Olympics
During the Rio 2016 Olympics, the women’s gymnastics team, coined the “Final 5,” was given a lot of notice, like women’s gymnastics are every summer Olympics. Two members of the Olympic team this year were on the London team, the “Fab Five,” in 2012,” Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. Gabby Douglas has received immeasurable scrutiny by the media; her Olympic talents were reduced to a collection of memes. Douglas was criticized on everything from her hair, being “salty,” and when it came down to the medal ceremony, during the national anthem Douglas’s hand was not on her heart. This resulted in an all time peak of criticism, and critics on Twitter referring to Douglas as unpatriotic.
It’s hard to ignore that Gabby Douglas faces more pressure than her two-time teammate Aly Raisman. I doubt that the conversation would have been the same had Aly Raisman forgot to put her hand on heart. The conversation was not the same, Shaun King Points out in his article “Three Olympic national anthems, no hands over hearts — but only Gabby Douglas draws outrage” when two days later athletes two athletes, Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs, during a medal ceremony forgot to put their hands over their hearts. These athletes were not trending on Twitter or Facebook the next day; in fact, I didn’t even know who they were until I read King’s article. These are two caucasian athletes, and that is why we are not talking about them, because forgetting to put your hand on your heart during the national anthem does not mean you are unamerican — if you’re a Caucasian male, anyway.
There is already an immense amount of pressure on these gymnasts, who from their late teens to early twenties are expected to perform gracefully on the world stage, and stick it. These girls risk their lives on floor, beams, vault and bars when they do these elaborate routines — but that is what they love to do. Unfortunately, because they are female gymnasts they are expected to do all of this while looking sparkly, beautiful, peppy, outgoing and of course, smiling. Not only are these girls experiencing a once in a lifetime moment, but the whole world is analyzing the way they react to a win: Are they happy enough? Are they disappointed? While they all face an immense amount of pressure, some face more than others, and this year Douglas took the heat. Being a female athlete is already an immense amount of pressure, but being a female and African American gymnast adds more pressure.
“When they talk about my hair or me not putting my hand up on my heart or me being very salty in the stands, they’re really criticizing me, and it doesn’t really feel good,” Douglas stated at an event. “It was a little bit hurtful.”
While Douglas has every right to be hurt, and feel like the criticism is unfair, because it is, she also has to do something else.She has to apologize. In order to avoid being perceived as an “angry black woman” Douglass has to apologize for things her teammates wouldn’t, she has to apologize for what isn’t true but for what others think is fact. She has to apologize for not seeming happy enough for her teammates. Douglas can’t be upset or appear competitive when she doesn’t do her best, at least not on camera: she has to smile.
When Mckayla Maroney made an unimpressed expression on the podium while winning silver, she was an internet sensation, celebrities redid the face and it became a lighthearted joke.
“I didn’t want people to think of me as someone who wasn’t impressed with a silver medal, because obviously that’s a huge accomplishment, and I was so happy,” Maroney said. “It was more about me just being not impressed with falling at the Olympics in my last event.”
While Maroney is allowed to be unhappy when she doesn’t compete at her best, when Douglass didn’t seem happy cheering her teammates on the bench for an event she came so close to qualifying for, she is seen as salty and unpatriotic. The difference in treatment is so blatant that it is impossible to ignore.
While Douglas apologized for not having her hand on her chest during the ceremony, and explained it was not intentional, Douglas also may have reason not to want to put her hand on her chest and appear patriotic. In 2015 more than 100 unarmed black men were killed; this summer more unarmed black men were killed for being black, and yet nothing has severely changed in our police system. America has not put black lives at the forefront, it has not yet truly showed what we know to be true: that Black lives matter.
While Douglas cares enough to apologize to her critics, and reassure people that she is not anti american, I wouldn’t blame her if she was. The media coverage on Douglas was not just bullying; it was racist.
Tatiana Jorio is a sophomore film, photography and visual art major who is done with double standards. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.