#BlackGirlMagic, White Privilege, And An American Legacy: The 2016 Olympics In Rio

The 2016 Olympics may have physically ended with the Closing Ceremony, but the talk has yet to die down about several infamous incidents.

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The powerful young black women who participated in the Olympics reminded the world just how magical black girls are. Simone Biles – who made history for herself as well as the U.S gymnastics team- carried the U.S flag for the team in the Closing Ceremony.

Simone Biles gave an almost perfect performance in the vault. (source)

Simone Biles gave an almost perfect performance in the vault. (source)

Biles won four gold medals and one bronze – the first American woman to do so in the course of one Olympic Games – quickly making her the breakout star of this year’s games. She is also the first American woman to win a gold medal on the vault.

Simone Manuel made history with her record score in the 100 meter swim. (source)

Simone Manuel made history with her record score in the 100-meter swim. (source)

Simone Manuel made history as the first black woman to receive an individual gold medal. She swam the 100-meter freestyle in just 52.70 seconds! In total, she took home four medals: gold in the women’s 100-meter freestyle and 4 x 100-meter medley relay; silver in the women’s 50m freestyle and 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay.

Gabby Douglas did phenomenally on her bar routine. (source)

Gabby Douglas did phenomenally on her bar routine. (source)

Gabby Douglas, who received a lot of social media backlash because of her presence in a second consecutive Olympics, made an impressive showing for the U.S. team. In spite of being criticized for almost everything she did, the 20-year-old still added another gold medal to the total U.S. count.

Michelle Carter was a rockstar in the shot put competition. (source)

Michelle Carter was a rockstar in the shot put competition. (source)

Michelle Carter is the first American woman to win a gold medal in the shot put. Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, and Kristi Castlin were the first Olympians from one nation to take first, second, and third place in the 100-meter hurdles.

Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, and Kirsti Castlin came in consecutively in their race. (source)

Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, and Kirsti Castlin came in consecutively in their race. (source)

It’s no surprise, though, that in the face of so much black excellence the cloud of white privilege still lingers. Ryan Lochte – a 32-year-old U.S swimmer – made headlines when he claimed that he and several teammates had been robbed at gunpoint at a Rio de Janeiro gas station.

However, all physical evidence contradicted this story. NPR reports that Lochte and his friends were seen vandalizing the gas station bathroom. When they were asked to pay up for their crimes, they allegedly got quite angry.

Olympics communications director Mario Andrada defended Lochte’s actions: “Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret. They are magnificent athletes.

“Lochte is one of the best swimmers of all times. They had fun. They made a mistake. It’s part of life. Life goes on. Let’s go.”

In much the same way that many tried to cloak Manuel’s success as an American woman behind her success as a black woman, no one was fooled by Andrada’s code-switching. In spite of earnest attempts to sweep #LochteGate under the rug, few can deny that this scenario would have played out very differently if Lochte were black.

Lochte’s apparent ‘childishness’ is especially disheartening when one considers how Douglas – a black athlete – was slammed for comparatively benign actions. As HuffPost editor, Emma Gray says, “”Douglas, who is just 20 years old, failed to put her hand on her heart during the national anthem and did not style her hair and face to every individual’s liking.

“For those ‘crimes,’ she was widely criticized for being ‘disrespectful,’ ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘un-American,’ and called words that we’d rather not repeat in this piece. Lochte and friends reportedly defiled a gas station restroom, fought with a security officer, lied to national news sources, and may have filed a false police report.

“And the four of them get to be framed as talented ‘kids’ (reminder: Lochte is 32) having one debaucherous night of fun.

“The vast gap between these two public perceptions has everything to do with the identities of the people involved. Lochte is a straight, white man, who has long been beloved for his pretty face, doofy personality and charmingly slow demeanor during interviews.

“Douglas is a young, black woman who has battled racialized critiques of her appearance and attitude for years, despite winning three Olympic gold medals.”

#LochteGate emphasizes why we need to praise the Black Girl Magic that stole the show this year. The significance of little black girls being able to look up to young women like Biles and Manuel cannot be underestimated. Moreover, the success of all of these women has contributed enormously to the larger body of iconic American history.

Usain Bolt took gold in his final Olympic races. (source)

Usain Bolt took gold in his final Olympic races. (source)

In the vein of other noteworthy undertakings, Usain Bolt obtained his ninth Olympic medal in the last race of his Olympic career. Similarly, Michael Phelps nixed his 2012 resignation – when he then had accumulated 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold – to add more bling to his collection.

Michael Phelps swims in a men's 200-meter butterfly. (source)

Michael Phelps swims in a men’s 200-meter butterfly. (source)

He definitely came to win! He racked up a total of six medals: gold in the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay, 200-meter butterfly, 4 x 100-meter medley relay, 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay, and 200-meter individual medley; and silver in the 100-meter butterfly.

All-in-all, the 2016 Olympics represented brilliant comebacks and explosive new talent. #LochteGate may still be sour in our mouths, but the inspiring dose of Black Girl Magic given to us by so many strong athletes is incomparably sweet.

Photo source.


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