The 2016 Rio Summer Olympics has been an event packed with suspense, intrigue and drama. Anticipation about the games had been intense even before the competition began. One thing can be said for certain, the athletic competition did not disappoint as there was hardly a dull moment.
The U.S. Women’s gymnastic and swim teams made many Americans proud with their overwhelming domination at the games. Millions of Americans of all races, religions, ethnic groups and sexual orientations cheered as Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Michelle Carter, Claressa Shields, Brianna Rollins, Simone Manuel and other women of color broke records and performed admirably with classic and powerful precision. Fellow gymnast Aly Raisman demonstrated formidable skill as she managed to secure a number of silver medals. It was a glorious sight to witness.
Unfortunately, there was another more disturbing element that overshadowed (some would argue dominated) the 2016 Olympic games: racism. Yes, race reared its perverse and divisive attitude and occasionally saturated the often positive spirit of the games.
NBA great LeBron James received racial backlash and criticism for his loving shout outs to Simone Biles and Simone Manuel, praising them for their masterful performances. LeBron was taken to task by many bloggers chastising him for supposedly “making” race an issue.
Gabby Douglas was continually attacked for her hairstyle choices (really, it is about her hair!?) as well as seemingly failing to place her hand over her heart and smile during the playing of the national anthem. Track and field gold medalist Rollins was called out for having the “audacity” to proudly state that “Black Girls Rock” after wining her competition.
On the other hand, numerous internet users (mostly White men) were making outlandish excuses for the behavior of U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte and his band of swimmers who from all recent evidence and news reports apparently lied about being pulled over and robbed at gunpoint in Rio. The three other swimmers were detained by Brazilian authorities. For the record, Lochte did issue a tepid, if not forthright, apology.
What is ironic, although not all that surprising for anyone who is attuned to racial politics particularly as they relate to the history of American race relations, is the fact that many of these critics who attacked LeBron James for his support of two fellow African-Americans have had no problem in making ridiculous (one could argue pathetic) excuses for Lochte, who has been dropped by several major corporate sponsors, and the inexcusable antics of his fellow swimmers—Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen. Such defenses ranged from “they were just having fun,” “they just got caught up in the moment,” “boys will be boys,” (Lochte is 32 years old and all the other men were in their late 20s/early 30s) to the, get this, “I can understand why they did what they did,” and so on.
One can only imagine what the outcry would be if a group of Black athletes had gotten drunk, fabricated a story about being held up, lied to the police and had their hoax uncovered. Social media would have been filled with phony self-righteous indignation demanding that the athletes in question forfeit their medals as well as the other almost certain hostile racial commentary that would follow.
On the contrary, many of the same apologists have viciously attacked Gabby Douglas. She has been raked over the coals, called every disrespectful name under the sun and has had her character assassinated in the court of public opinion. It is a disgraceful, racial double standard. It is the intersection of White arrogance and privilege at its most perverse. Despite the debate that has engulfed some quarters about Lochte’s Cuban American background versus White, etc., he identifies as White and there are many Hispanics who are White. One thing is for certain, the media has certainly classified him and awarded him White male status.
The more insulting, in fact hypocritical factor that has arisen from this situation is that many of these same commentators who have targeted fellow bloggers who dare invoke racial solidarity and pride in their praise of fellow Black athletes are the same people who, more than often, look at life through a sharply impermeable racial prism. Whether they are willing to acknowledge or deny this hard truth, a large number of people, in particular White people, do indeed make many decisions that are based on race:
- Where to live
- Who to be friends with
- Who to marry
- Where to send their kids to school
- Who to hire for more desired types of jobs
- Where to worship
- Who to do business with
- What politicians to support or vote for (most of the time)
While many of these same supposedly color blind, racially liberated folks may see themselves as such, the truth is that they are often anything but. To these men and women, race does indeed matter. Such intellectual dishonesty personifies the height of hypocrisy. Racism, double standards, White denial and racial resistance are real facts of everyday life. However, for most people of color, we did not need the 2016 Olympic Games to shed light on such a grim and truthful reality.