Commentary: Being Comfortable With Gabby Douglas’ Backflips and Buckshots

If you can't stand your own Blackness, don't criticize someone else's kitchen.

Posted: 08/02/2012 08:45 AM EDT

Sometimes bad edges happen to good people.


When 16-year-old gymnastics phenom Gabby Douglas catapulted into the international spotlight at the London Olympics, helping the U.S. women's team win its first team gold medal since 1996, Black people across the country beamed with pride — and then they ridiculed her for her hair.


“Gabby Douglas need to tame the beady beads in the back of her hair lol,” one Twitter user wrote, adding to the overwhelming chorus of comments about her hair.


In the aftermath of the win and the barrage of “beady bead” commentary, however, the general chorus of voices online are standing up for Gabby, noting that an Olympic champion simply doesn’t have the time to stress over such matters. Although the edge-defenders are certainly correct, somebody was having a good time roasting the poor girl Tuesday night and I don’t think we are all being truthful about which side of the gel jar we all stood when Douglas first flipped across our television screens.


Let’s face it. As Black women, we judge each other by the backs of our necks. Even those of us who are “natural” don’t escape the sideways glances of our fellow black women when we show up to the office and our locs don’t have a few centimeters of shiny scalp showing between them or our twist-out has been hanging on a few days past its expiration date.


So, beyond Douglas “not having time” to “fix” her hair and even beyond the straight-hair versus natural debate, our discomfort with Douglas is really about our self image and definition of Black womanhood — which I hope is about more than having your hair “laid.” The debate about her edges gets right to the core of all our feelings of unworthiness and just plain old shame and guilt for not “taming” our Blackness before stepping into the public eye. It’s the same sentiment that makes us uncomfortable when we hear that "DayJohnNay Johnson" is coming in to interview with our white peers or when we forget to switch back into our “professional” voice after getting off the phone with family.


While in an all-white yoga class the other day, I felt strong in my body and clear in my mind until I folded over for the first time and saw a pair of the powderiest, ashiest ankles I’d ever seen. They were mine and after I noticed them, I could hardly focus on what my body was doing. I began weighing how disruptive it would be if I just ran over to my bag and got some lotion for my situation. Irrational as it sounds, the feeling of “Oh no! I’m ashy!” was like an unseen Black tribunal of all the great leaders and my grandmother was standing on my shoulder saying, “Now we know we taught you better.”


So while Douglas is on the balance beam in her highly anticipated Women's Individual All-Around event Thursday, I hope she isn't distracted by whether her edges are laid properly. And I hope she never is.



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