Gabrielle Douglas and why we need the hyphenation at this time

It seems the Olympics are in full swing, if it weren’t for the fact that I am a social media junkie I would be totally clueless about these happenings. Remember I am the anti-sports gal. Hell, it takes a certain level of skill to fail gym at least one semester every year of high school! Most people could pass physical education, but not me. Needless to say I avoid sports in any and all forms, don’t want to play em, and don’t want to watch em.

However I noticed that the name Gabrielle Douglas kept coming up in all my social media feeds, so naturally being a curious gal, I had to find out what the hubbub was all about. Oh my! That girl has skills, skills and more skills. Such talent, such poise, only 16 years old and she is African American!

I did some further looking around and discovered that Gabrielle’s whole damn family is amazing! As a mother I am in awe of her mother Natalie, it takes a lot of trust and faith to let your 14 year old daughter move to Iowa to pursue her passion and dreams especially when it involves living with people you don’t really know. There is also the fact that Gabrielle is a very Black girl and Iowa is a pretty white state and the host family was also white, yet Gabrielle clearly is passionate about gymnastics.

In further reading today, this piece in the Times, gave me the impression that while Gabrielle always believed in her dreams, others didn’t. “Just five months ago, Martha Karolyi, the coordinator of the women’s national team, did not think Douglas had what it took to be an Olympian. She lacked confidence and focus, Karolyi said, even as recently as a few weeks ago.” I think it’s safe to say that we are all glad that Gabrielle wasn’t hearing that noise.

Anyway now that Americans old and young, black and white are giddy about Gabrielle’s wins seems a few folks have questioned why the need to refer to Gabrielle as African-American, why can’t she just be an American? Sorry folks, Gabby is an American but she is also an African-American and at this point in time that distinction needs to be made. For starters as the Times reported “By winning the Olympic all-around title, she became the first black woman to do so. She also became the fourth American woman to win the all-around, following Mary Lou Retton in 1984, Carly Patterson in 2004 and Nastia Liukin in 2008.”

When you are the first to break in, that accomplishment needs to be noted. When we have at least four Gabby’s we can stop talking about that pesky difference that makes some feel uncomfortable. There is also the fact that gymnastics is not a sport generally for the working class or those of color, it takes a lot of time and a lot of cash. Considering that Natalie Hawkins, Gabby’s mom is a debt collector and she has other kids, I am sure time and spare cash weren’t something she was just rolling in. Gymnastics is also a very white activity, so I can only imagine what Gabby went through when it became clear that gymnastics wasn’t simply time filler after school but something with real promise. I imagine even at 16 she has had to endure snide comments and questioning looks by people who should be allies and supporters.

So no, at this time Gabrielle Douglas is an African American Olympian and if that troubles you, then you need to ask yourself why.

Congratulations Gabby!

1 thought on “Gabrielle Douglas and why we need the hyphenation at this time”

  1. Congrats to her! We should ALL be proud. Her victory demonstrates the strength of the human will, especially in one so young and one who is blazing a trail for little brown girls to follow!

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