August 09, 2012

Oops! Your Africa is Showing

Aside from the unprecedented athletic achievement of Black athletes during this particular Olympiad, there has been one other recurring theme -- a theme that is the source of much water cooler and blogosphere conversation.  Black folks have been sadly critical of black athletes during this 2012 Olympics.  The criticism is not predicated on any lack of athletic vigor or failure on the part of black athletes.  Rather, Black folks have been particularly critical of blackness itself.


Winning the Gold in the overall competition, the charming and talented Gabby Douglas has become a lightening bolt trailblazer for Black women in Gymnastics. Instead of Black women reveling in this accomplishment, they were tweeting and posting their disapproval of Gabby's hair.  As they are wont to do, the mainstream media exploited this peculiarity for all it was worth.  The white mainstream had no cultural context for this kind of absurd discourse.  As a result, many Black women and social critics were forced to analyze the issue (as I do so here).  

Apparently, Gabby has not done a sufficient job of "hiding" her "napps."  Her Afro-textured hair has not been effectively stifled, camouflaged, tied down, gelled up, and chemically beaten into submission.  Because the adorable little Gabby is unambiguously Black (dark skin/African features), complete with Afro-textured hair, she has become an undesirable mirror, a nagging reminder of BLACKNESS to the self-loathing Black women out there.  Gabby reminds them that she is a descendant of Africans, and more importantly, she reminds them that all Black women are descendants of Africans.  Despite their transgenerational identity crises, despite the absurd hair weaves, the colored contact lenses, and all other manner of subterfuge, our Africa is showing.

Sadly, these women have no idea that they are caught up in a complex web of gender and racial paradigms of beauty that they have all internalized.  All women have bought into the patriarchal notion that a woman's worth is found in her aesthetics.  In other words, the sum total of a woman's value is her physical beauty.  And since race often times trumps gender, Black women have been socialized to value white standards of beauty.  This is why there is so much capital in hair weaves and chemical hair straighteners.  And, this is why Black women have been projecting their own self-loathing onto Gabby Douglas' hair.  Sad, but true.

Lost in all of their identity crises chatter is Gabby Douglas' phenomenal accomplishment.  Lost are the historical footprints that Gabby has left for Black women and Black girls all over the world.


Serena Williams' awesomeness has been overshadowed by the absurd criticisms of her victory dance after the slaughter match in which she won the Gold medal for the US.  All Black folks know that the "funny little dance" Serena was doing is called the "crip walk."  Those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s (primarily in the hoods of Los Angeles) or in any urban metropolis in America are well acquainted with crip walkin' at the skating ring, at basement house parties, or any where the mood struck.  However, Black folks (and now others) have been using the dance to hurl accusations of gangsterdom or gangsterism at Serena Williams.  This would be laughable if it weren't so sad.

This accusation is yet another example of Black self-loathing.  Serena's crip walk was too non-mainstream, too counter culture, too hood, too BLACK.  First, Gabby's hair is "too nappy." And now, Serena's crip walking is embarrassing us by making us remember that she is a Black woman from Compton, CA and not a apart of some privileged elite.  The message that Black people are sending to each other and the world is that we are ashamed of our own blackness.

If we don't embrace our blackness and our inclusion in the African diaspora, how can we expect others to do so?  Remember, we show others how to treat us.

We are African American, Black, Negro, and Colored.  Our Africa is always showing.  And we should be proud of it.