by William P. Muhammad
The Olympics, an international celebration of national pride and athleticism, has long been a platform upon which various competitors make both themselves and their countries known through sportsmanship, perseverance and the spirit of competition.
With the recent gold medal performances of two Black American athletes, Gabby Douglas, for women’s gymnastics, and Serena Williams, for women’s tennis, two fields traditionally considered the domain of whites, the doubt over Douglas’ ability prior to her win and the anger over Williams’ celebratory victory dance, after defeating Russian superstar Maria Sharapova, anti-Black racism has once again colored “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” in international sports.
Comments and criticisms over Ms. Douglas’ hair and Ms. Williams’ so-called post-victory “Crip Walk,” not only have taken away from their stunning displays of athletic discipline and mental preparation, but these have also raised questions on race not seen since Mexico City’s 1968 Olympics where Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised gloved fists in non-violent defiance of white supremacy.
While it is doubtful the female athletes sought to provoke controversies, with either a hair style or a victory dance, white commentators, sporting officials and some white and European audiences have nevertheless revealed a beneath the surface disappointment, if not contempt, over two Black women mastering two sports traditionally dominated by the white elite. Proving their abilities before the world, these women have not only shown they are the best at their games, but they have also proven to others that Black people are capable of rising from the low expectations placed upon us by self and others.
Where Smith’s and Carlos’ gold and bronze medal victories required the same wherewithal regarding competition and tenacity, the controversy over confronting white supremacy, with the raised fist in 1968, has now been replaced by defeating the white elite at their own games in 2012. As Black excellence overturns perceptions of Black inferiority, regardless of the barbs and insults, by creating their own reality, Williams and Douglas leveled the playing field without begging others to do for them what they were capable of doing for themselves.
Applying this dynamic universally, leaders, teachers and preachers in our communities can empower our youth to embrace that which will make them successful not only in sports, but also in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. To eventually place ourselves at the top of civilization, as our Black athletes have done, we must also become proactive rather than reactive and decide to rise to the challenges of our time.
Qualifying ourselves for positions awaiting us, in a global market oriented world, where technology and innovation will determine our collective success or failure, knowing self, respecting self and advancing the interests of self, regardless of whom or what, will require self-examination, self-analysis and self-correction among those wishing to rise. In much the same way our athletes prepare themselves for international competition, we too must take the responsibility to start training our people at an early age.
After identifying our children’s gifts, cultivating their abilities and expecting nothing less than excellence from them, not only will we produce gymnasts, tennis players and track and field stars, but also we will produce the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who will take society to the next level of progress and advancement. No longer bound by the mental chains of white supremacy and Black inferiority, low expectations will be banished, insults will be dismissed and our idiosyncrasies, whether a hair style or a dance, will be chalked up as nothing more than a unique and individual expression of contentment.
Serena Williams and Gabby Douglas should not have to apologize for anything. They have proven on the field of equal and fair competition that they are respectively among the world’s best tennis players and gymnasts. Breaking the illusion of white supremacy in their individual sport, like others before them, they have shown to the world that Black people will continue to rise when afforded the opportunity. By hard work, continuous training and self-confidence developed through dedication, beyond the symbol of defiance, they have actually defied those who believed not in their success, but in their failure.
As the Olympics gives each nation the opportunity to rise and shine, these games revealed that members of the Black family can and will continue to rise to the top when given the chance to try. Whether dismissed in advance or criticized after the fact, Black excellence has indeed proven that the fallacy of Black inferiority is as false today as it was centuries ago. The only question is when will the rest of us step up to the plate regardless of the naysayers and the envier when he envies?