Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Protect Your Peace

Simone Biles doesn't need to hear any advice from me because she is the one teaching the master class right now. Same for Naomi Osaka, Sha'Carri Richardson, Alison Felix, and every other female athlete out there--protect your peace. And that's not just for athletes, but for anyone who feels challenged by the cares of a world that will  never show an ounce of genuine compassion for you.

Yesterday, I was watching the TODAY show when the announcement was made that Biles would withdraw from the competition. The reason given at that time was a possible medical injury, but by mid-morning, the full story came out, with Biles even giving an interview with her teammates to Hoda Kotb. For the rest of the day, I saw the debate on social media, and I posted an initial reaction on the Facebook page. Later that night, I watched the competition with my six year old daughter (who is, of course, super-hyped and already flipping in her sleep). We also watched the competition together the first night, and she asked, "Mommy, is Simone Biles okay" when we saw her almost fall off the mat after a vault. After the medals were distributed last night, I saw that the debate was still going on with a noticeable trend in the reactions.

Most of the women were supportive of Biles, and there were a fair number of men who seemed equally understanding of her predicament. Of course in these polarized times, plenty of people felt that Biles had let down her teammates, and I noted that the majority of those opinions were expressed by older men. I'm sure there is a term to describe that, but I won't worry about using it because the point is that most of the people who are offering criticism aren't gymnasts, aren't women, and generally aren't human. 

Protect your peace, young sister, because this world will chew you up and spit you out and then grind its dirty boots into you as it moves on to the next phenom to exploit. When you said that you wanted to compete in these Games for yourself, that isn't earned that right. You don't owe your body or your soul to any of these armchair keyboard activists and basement podcasters. YOU trained and survived sexual assault and still rose to become the top gymnast in the world. And these folks who are out here talking shit about your right to choose whether to compete when you know your limitations did what...?

They turned on the TV or scrolled past a headline. They pulled no muscles, exerted no energy, not even dropped a bead of sweat in daring to cast judgment on you. Girl, these are the mind games they play. This is straight from the playbook page entitled "tell her she ain't all that" so that your confidence gets shaken. They do this to men too, but for women, they know how much more effective it is because we already second-guess our greatness. Most of the great female athletes that preceded you faced this same kind of jeering from a bunch of dudes that could never do half of what you've already accomplished. Backwards.

So fuck you, Ben Shapiro, Clay Travis, Spray Tan Barbie, Bela Karolyi, and whomever else thinks it is appropriate to drag Kerri Strug's name into this. We will no longer normalize women killing themselves in order to earn approval from predatory men. This ain't GLOW, so no one will get the satisfaction of fantasizing what it would be like to see Biles and Strug face off in competition. Y'all are sick for even thinking that it is cool for a young woman to be forced to do something so harmful and life-threatening for the sake of a gold medal and endorsements. Some of these men sound like pimps...

Now that I have a daughter, I am taking notes from this younger generation of athletes who have demanded the agency to speak up for themselves. It isn't weak or selfish to admit that you are having a bad day, especially when everyone saw it. It is courageous because it is a lesson that is applicable in all areas of life. Know when to say when.

I am old enough to remember Muhammad Ali's last fights, particularly when he fought Larry Holmes in 1980. I was my daughter's age, so I have no recollection of Ali in his prime, but I recall that my Dad and my Uncles talked about him on a regular basis, and he was a hero to my older male cousins. At this point in his life, he was more of a celebrity than a boxer, which was still a major sport that produced memorable men like Holmes and Ali, but also George Foreman, Michael Spinks, Joe Frazier, Marvin Hagler, and Sugar Ray Leonard. Ali was the biggest name in sports at that time, so his comeback was a HUGE deal. But it was a disaster, and he lost. I thought that was his last fight (there was one more), but the damage had been done. A few years later, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and he became a different kind of sports icon. 

The iconic image of Ali standing triumphantly over a prone Sonny Liston is how most people prefer to idolize him, but I always think of that moment when he lit the 1996 Olympic caldron in Atlanta. To me, it burnishes his legacy as a GOAT because that is the honor of a lifetime. You see, these aardvarks (yes, I am trying not to rely on too much profanity) would have you to believe that there was something shameful about the Champ standing there with a visibly trembling hand in front of the world. They would suggest that a man incapacitated by age and a disease that would eventually render him mute isn't the image of American strength and fortitude.

And they are wrong. Ali's life is not just another cautionary tale that athletes should listen to their bodies. He is a symbol of greatness because of his storied career, a life lived on his own terms, and the courage he demonstrated in facing the indignity of a debilitating disease. Our bodies and our lives all follow the same arc that peaks in youthful triumph to wane in a long decline. In his prime, Ali was The Greatest, even when he lost his title and public adulation for his personal politics. He was chosen to embody the Olympic spirit in 1996 because through it all, he had endured.

Therefore, in spite of this setback, in spite of what the haters say, Biles has already done us all proud. This ain't her first Olympics, but if it is to be her last, she earned ALL of her hardware and the admiration of millions. She has the torch, and no one can douse that flame.

Very few of these dudes that are calling Biles a quitter have ever dealt with the pressure of maintaining or carrying the tremendous load borne by athletes at the elite level of competition. No one knows what is going through anyone's head at any given moment, or how any stray thoughts or doubts can affect one's performance. Some guy on Facebook commented that this kind of decision by a quarterback in the Super Bowl would be unacceptable, and in part, I agree because most athletes don't make this kind of decision for themselves when the stakes are this high. The star quarterback does not lace up and then get nervous in the tunnel on his way to the field. Neither did Biles. She went out there and completed a jump that ended badly. It happens, just as quarterbacks throw incompletes and get sacked. The difference is that she assessed her performance and determined that a Team USA win was more attainable without her. Take one for the team meant to take a seat, and in this case, it gave the others the chance to rally for the silver medal. 

The model that most of us are used to is relying on a coach or a manager to make that kind of call. In football, the coach would decide to substitute the quarterback when he isn't playing at his best. In baseball, the manager will retire a pitcher when he's no longer striking out batters. That coaches and managers are typically former players who have transitioned from the field to the sidelines gives them the advantage of knowing the complexities and nuances of the sport. And arguably, they understand the talent and potential of each person on the team. But no one is a mind reader. Who can know that until she spoke up whether the coaches would have made that same call?

And to be clear, Superman is an alien, Wonder Woman is a goddess, Spiderman is genetically modified, Storm is a mutant, and Iron Man is robotically enhanced. Our desire for superhuman grit and resolve tends to result in inhumane expectations and consequences: concussions, broken limbs, paralysis, doping, PTSD, or death. 

This is why the Kerri Strug comparison is so dangerous. She was coached to push herself beyond the brink, and yes, she has a gold medal instead of a silver. But until this week, most people hadn't thought about her in years. Not because she wasn't great, but we had moved on to other young gymnasts, including Biles. We do that in every sport. Once Ali retired, we had Mike Tyson and then whomever came after him. Michael Jordan was the GOAT until he tried his hand at management (yeah, I'm still a salty Wizard's fan). I could probably offer a comprehensive trip, but I don't have to do that because the point isn't about identifying or ranking athletes, it is that there are always new kids on the block.

And Biles had the presence of mind to know that her younger teammates could do a better job on the floor than she could. We should trust her to know when she had done enough. We shouldn't expect her to go on like Ali and take an unnecessary loss. That her ego is strong enough to take the high pitch of criticism that she has endured these last 48 hours proves just how imperative it is to allow athletes to determine their own limits. Some of you are sadists. You have more empathy for circus elephants than your fellow humans.

Or is it that you get triggered when women speak up for themselves? Because no, Doug Gottlieb, there is no double standard. LeBron James gets called a loser every time his team doesn't make the NBA finals. Biles got penalized for WINNING competitions and heightening the stakes for other gymnasts. So it is noteworthy how sexist commentators get when it comes to comparing the achievements of men and women in sports. Women rarely make the front of the sports page, but now Biles is a weak, spoiled, national disgrace? What in the Lance Armstrong...

And somebody needs to get Charlie Kirk a mirror and a thesaurus!

The revelation that Biles' reported having the twisties, which is a condition recognized by other gymnasts to be life-threatening only became persuasive when it was described and analogized to other disorienting maladies (yips, punch drunk, mental blocks) that can impact peak athletic performance. This is quite an interesting thread on the matter, and yes, it offers a much need perspective in this debate. It also indicates how certain aspects of this society refuse to believe Black women, even when we cry out in pain, but that is another commentary for another day.

To echo what my daughter said last night, I really hope Biles is okay. But not for my sake or for the sake of another medal. I hope she is okay to do whatever she needs to do for herself at this moment, and that includes walking away. For all of the tough talk about how a male athlete would have handled this situation differently, need I remind folks that Michael Jordan quit basketball and played Minor League Baseball for a year after he lost his father. Michael Phelps, another Olympic GOAT of the modern era who was infamously busted for hitting a bong has been very open in discussing his own mental health issues. Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia has been spilling some major tea about his drinking and the pressures he faced as one of a handful of Black players in baseball in his new memoir Till the End. Have you seen Sammy Sosa lately? One last name to drop here: Caitlyn Jenner. For every professional athlete that has dealt with substance abuse, depression, anger management, compulsive behaviors, or had some identity crisis, can you imagine what it must be like to be one of the guys that didn't make the cut?

Protect your peace Sis. Unburden yourself from the weight of the world. The good thing about being declared a GOAT is that you don't really relinquish the title. No matter what comes next, you are the flame that will inspire others to follow, and like Muhammad Ali in 1996, the day will come for you to pass the torch. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

An Attitude of Gratitude

Now that the Olympics are underway, I fully expect to see daily demonstrations of over-emotional American patriotism on display. This is not a critique, because I can only imagine the intense swell of emotion in that moment when one is being awarded an Olympic medal. And that adrenaline rush must be heightened if you happen to win gold and get to stand atop the medal platform while the Star Spangled Banner is played...yeah, the tears are gonna flow. 

So the perspective I bring today is to remind those who would argue that American citizens of color, particularly Black athletes, are insufficiently patriotic to stuff it. Button up and don't say another word for the next two weeks. As a matter of fact, you can keep your racist hypocrisy to yourself forever since we all know that a good third of the medals that will adorn American necks will be earned by athletes of color.

Of course you won't keep your feelings and opinions to yourself. What gives me, some uppity Busy Black Woman the right to...

Exactly. I have no more right to demand that you shut the fuck up any more than you have the right to deport, silence, or police the actions of American athletes whose political ideologies you oppose. While it is annoying, you have the right to express your wrong opinions, even from the safety of your mother's basement. So what makes an athlete different? For that matter, what gives you the right to narrowly define love for one's country in the form of a particular gesture, the cut and fit of flag decorated attire, or whether one sings the anthem on key? 

There are answers to those rhetorical questions, but that isn't the point of this rant either. I'm not here to argue over the flag, the anthem, Ralph Lauren, or any other superficial ground that I've covered in the past. I'm here to make a more salient case against substituting your judgment for someone else's.

If the past week is any guide, patriotism is a moving target. On Thursday night, a second Member of Congress was arrested for loitering in the Senate Office Buildings because he was protesting against the Senate filibuster being used to subvert a voting rights bill. Earlier that same day, one of the main instigators of the January 6th insurrection got suspended from Twitter for 12 hours while another one of her co-conspirators whinged that he should have been allowed to sit on the investigative committee to determine the cause of said insurrection that he supported and probably abetted. I know, make it make sense...

Make it make sense that there are obviously rules that apply to some people and not to others. I am incensed that the first conviction of a participant in the Capitol insurrection resulted in an eight month sentence while a Black woman in Texas who thought she could vote got five years--a "felony" plea deal for violence versus a felony for making an unarmed mistake that literally could have been tossed in the trash. But if I complain about the discrepancy, I need to move to another country? Because even when confronted by such an obvious miscarriage of justice, I am supposed to be grateful not to be in her shoes. I am compelled to demonstrate my appreciation in a pre-approved gesture of patriotic genuflections that sufficiently satisfies Karen and John and Chad and Becky and Megyn Jesus-is-white-and-Santa-too Kelly, lest I forfeit my right to call myself an American?

Make it make sense that in a span of ten days, two billionaires took joy rides into outer space, spending millions of their own money (in an effort to win government contracts funded by taxpayers), but some folks here on terra ferma are offended that there are poor people who own Smartphones while living in subsidized public housing. The lap of luxury it ain't, but the cost of living on the taxpayer dime is that we're reassured that the recipients are sufficiently chastened by their squalid conditions. No poor person needs to be eating brie or drinking Evian when government cheese and lead-contaminated drinking water is free. There is no dignity in being poor, so depravation and suffering are our taxpayer receipts. No one consulted me if I prefer for my purchases on Amazon (which get taxed by the way) to fund vanity projects instead of worker salaries and health care. Therefore as a consumer, if I don't have a say in how Bozo and Briney spend their fortunes, then as a taxpayer, no I am not offended that some hourly wage worker who needs food stamps to feed her children has a Virgin mobile phone. As an American citizen, I care that she lives in a food desert and that her neighborhood isn't safe, even with over-policing. 

As such, I will continue to speak up against injustice and cheer on Team USA. That's right, I said cheer for Team USA even if the athletes kneel during the anthem, happy dance, raise a black gloved fist, ugly cry, make faces, or wrap themselves in the flag while taking a victory lap. I will celebrate their excellence and then get right back to marching in these streets.

Miss me with your conditional patriotism that criticizes athletes for using their platforms to advocate for social justice instead of selling shit nobody needs. The fact that some of the most vocal mofos out here on these Twitter streets that are hating on Megan Rapinoe for kneeling have also supported the Big Lie tells me everything I need to know about their values. Not that I am at all surprised, but what I expected over the course of the next two weeks was that we are all on Team USA. That we would suspend some of these disagreements because all that matters are the accumulation of medals. We all love America, but some of y'all only love this country when things work to your advantage. So does that mean you will spend the next two weeks curled up in your American flag blankets betting against the United States? If so, then your cheers are personal, not patriotic. 

And what's worse is that you would contrast athletes like Rapinoe and LeBron James with someone whom you deem more humble and admirable as more worthy of your admiration. Last week an old photo resurfaced of Sadio Mane, the Senegalese-born soccer player seen walking around with a broken phone. His explanation that he doesn't need flashy cars and stuff  because he chooses to spend his earnings to serve the needs of his community hit all the right notes with you self-righteous flag-wavers. Never mind that James opened a whole school in his hometown...

But let's take a moment to asses that disconnect for a moment, because some of you have overlooked the various layers of irony at play. Mane plays professionally in England and gets paid big money that he sends back home to Senegal. (Remember, one of the sh*thole countries as described by the DESPOTUS; feel free to learn a few facts here.) Mane played for Senegal in the 2012 Olympics, a country that sent a total of nine (9) athletes to Tokyo. Senegal will be the first African nation to host the Youth Olympic Games in 2026

So yes, his largesse is indeed laudable...any introspection as to why that might be? Perchance, the conditions in his home country are similar to what motivates Black athletes in this country to share their newfound wealth in their old neighborhoods? And due to these impoverished conditions, which are the manifestation of colonialism and apartheid, or the legacy of racial segregation in America, it is incumbent on athletes like Mane to overcome them. He pulled himself up by his sneaker laces. His success exempts the colonizers from responsibility; no different than how individual American success exempts the racists, the sexists, and the homophobes. American athletes choose to give and floss--they earned it, just like Bezos and his billion dollar space dick.

(And lest anyone gets it twisted, there are racial issues across the pond in the UK too, which they protested by kneeling on the field, received backlash for, along with the racist taunts that mirror much of the same faux patriotic sentiments.)

Yet, the issue is not about humility or charitable impulses, but ideology. Because Americans don't care enough about soccer or Africa or the hood, but let somebody say Black Lives Matter and y'all get triggered. If you really knew more about Sadio Mane, would he still be deserving of your approval? Or does the narrative of his selflessness affirm your worldview that Black athletes ought to be grateful for these opportunities, not that they are talented, disciplined, or hardworking? Show more humility, because we could have just left you in the door to that poor mother with the cheap Smartphone and three kids whom we resent. 

You people ought to be more gracious that we allow you to represent our country. You too Megan Rapinoe, because the same applies to the gays. Be grateful that we tolerate your homosexuality because your job is to entertain us. Your successes affirm American hegemony, which is contradicted if you call us out on our hypocrisy. Why can't you be a Patriot Buccaneer like Tom Brady and listen and learn from your teammates while you grift the American taxpayers...

That last sentence may go over a lot of heads, but it's fine that you don't get the irony or the point. Perhaps it is me that doesn't get that patriotism is personal, especially to hard-working Americans (or Brits) who just want their country their way. Some of us just want it to be a more inclusive, tolerant, equitable, and free (as in land of) society. 

I digress, because I need to get back to watching these Games. I want to reminisce to when my brothers and I wanted to become track stars so we practiced long-jumping across the cracks in the sidewalk. I remember how exciting it was to watch Mary Lou Retton* stick that landing and accept her gold medal. It was equally inspiring to watch Dominique Dawes, Gabby Douglass, and now to watch Simone Biles. When we took swimming lessons one summer and my brother seemed to take to it like a fish, we joked that he could make the US team. As I try to recall what I did with all of my Olympic souvenirs from the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the fond memories include getting blessed with tickets to see the American women play basketball (and how their success begat the WNBA). I was also thinking of how I need to pay attention to who might be giving us some real competition in these Olympic streets. I've got a few pennies to drop some on a couple of jerseys for my nieces and nephews, because there is a whole world of sport heroes to emulate. 

I love the Olympics and every two years I look forward to cheering on Team USA. But everyday, I wake up determined to pursue the work of improving this nation because patriotism must mean more than just knee-jerk love for one's country in spite of its flaws. It is that kind of love that challenges us to strive to always do better each time we jump into the pool, take to the field, hit the track, or set our sights on reaching the stars. 

* Edit, it was Kerri Strug (1996), not Mary Lou Retton (1984), who limped up to the medal stand. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

High Value Nonsense

Please tell me, that in this year of our Lord 2021, we are not still dealing with the ashy opinions of folks who make their living advising others how to achieve relationship goals on social media. Especially if that person has no legitimate counseling expertise and s/he is dispensing advice from the front seat of their car or a poorly lit bedroom.

I don't know any of their names. I scroll on by as soon as I see somebody looking straight into their camera phone without blinking. Because that is the first clue--someone who is on camera solo, sitting in their driveway or parked outside in some parking lot (wearing a seat belt) to record some cell phone video. Do their partners ever make cameo appearances or do you just assume it is the person displayed in that picture frame on the bookshelf in the background? And why do many of the videos begin with this disclaimer: Look, I don't have much time to talk, but I just wanted to say...(and then go on to post for 10 minutes)!

Mind you, there are exceptions to this rule. The comedian Kev On Stage used to deliver daily commentary from his car, and look at him now! Guest starring on A Black Girl's Sketch Show and issuing disavowals in support of Black women being mistreated on his social media. And of course there is Tabitha Brown, who has been smiling, making avocado toast, and reminding us all that nice Southern ladies use their words, not shanks, to inflict bodily harm.

But generally, y'all need to be more discerning.

A few weeks ago, someone posted a video* in a Facebook group that featured some guy who was debating a woman about her dating prospects. Midway through the argument he threw out the term "high value man", and then I think I went deaf and possibly blinded by rage. He made a few other erroneous claims about women not taking on intellectual or physically demanding jobs, so naturally I was done listening, but then a few youngins' in the group chimed in to co-sign on that foolishness. And I could not just scroll by and let that ignorance go unchallenged. 

* not the actual video, but a spoof

I do not understand this stubborn strain of modern chauvinism that y'all have adopted, so what the entire huh? Who is raising you and are they proud of you? By the way, I am not exclusively addressing that question to men since there are plenty of women who agree with this booshay. At first I thought it was just that one thread, but come to find out there is an entire YouTube congregation of believers that follow this mindset. And they appear to be actively recruiting more sheep into the fold.

(Caveat: I read various takes on the "high value man", and need to emphasize that I am calling out the specific trash take that comes for Black women. Another thread I saw made a list of qualities that had less to do with earnings and more to do with personal character, so there are multiple perspectives.)  

After one sister addressed the ashyness of the high value misogynoir cult on Twitter, it reminded me that I have already written a PSA about these man-babies y'all need to avoid, but I guess the time has come for me to offer a broader warning. Because I don't care if the person is my Sister-Soror on a perpetual pro-patriarchy crusade or some dude dressed in a three-piece suit or some brother in a dashiki and a kente kufi or Wendy Williams still bitter from her divorce, you cannot take relationship advice from everybody. As one of my friends said, if the person who is offering the advice claims to be anything other than a therapist, an image consultant for example, that could mean that they work at the Men's Warehouse. They know how to package a brother to look like good, but so does an undertaker.

Therefore, if I ever start spouting off what you should or should not do in order to attract or keep a man, you know that I am either writing under duress or my Kid is playing with my phone. Sure, I am confident enough in my years of married wisdom to tell you that there are certain red flags you might need to avoid, and I have been known to give solicited one-on-one personal advice. But I know my lane and what is in my bank account. So short of me urging you to start a bail fund, that's all I got. Therefore, in the form of a disclaimer, what follows are my personal opinions.

The concept of people being of high value begs the question of whether there are people of low value. I assume that is the image consultant way of describing people with wealth, but also of more worth. As in, if they call themselves a person of high value, then they must think of their lives as being worth more, and as such, they are a superior human being. They don't do things for others unless it is worth something to them. They don't associate with people who cannot improve their standing. All of their human interactions are transactional. They have children who probably hate them, but they want Mom/Dad's money so they feign love and respect. Their partner is someone who doesn't complain because they don't wish to be replaced.  

Perhaps he fancies himself as some reincarnated Hugh Hefner. But more than likely, he is some under-employed slickster living a double life which is why he is shooting this video from the car. He is waiting for the midweek girlfriend to come home from work, or for one of his baby mamas to arrive with the kids for a weekend hand-off in the fast food parking lot. He knows all the tricks of the trade because this is his latest hustle. Or perhaps she aspires to be one of the vapid women who makes her living by keeping up appearances on reality television. It certainly looks like a glamorous life, living with a self-proclaimed high value man who never comes home. She is an expert on reinventing herself because she aspires to be a Proverbs 31/Book of Ruth/woman at the well who faithfully waited for her Boaz or Jabez or whomever his azz is, and all she has to do is put up with his bullshit and smile.

Look, life is imperfect. So are people. There is no formula. What worked for your grandparents who were married for 50/11 years did not work for your parents who got divorced. And that isn't because women are more independent or some of the other sexist nonsense you've heard. Everybody gets to choose the life they want nowadays, and that means different things to different people. Marriage is not for everyone, nor is the single-minded pursuit of wealth and success. We need to normalize the idea that happiness can come in a variety of forms, and that those old rules and expectations didn't just limit the rights of women; they also put constraints on men.

In the video I watched, the image consultant was telling a woman how she needed to stay in her rightful place, and then offered his opinion where that was. Then I checked the date to see when this had been recorded because the notion that women should walk several paces behind men seems more like the brand of retro masculinity that claims high value men can't fix their own plates at the barbecue. But they can take out the trash and kill spiders, so help me understand how being submissive wins me that kind of prize? Tell me how adhering to the same fixed gender roles that were written to maintain racism, sexism, and homophobia have benefitted our families and communities...

While you think about that, allow me to offer my independent womanist assessment: there will be times when the man will take the lead, and alternatively when the woman will take the lead. That has very little to do with biological predestination, but everything to do with knowing which person is better suited for the job at hand. There are men who are happy to live with a woman who makes more money, not because they are lazy or weak, but because her earnings afford them amenities like better healthcare and the ability to save money for the future. There are women who want to stay at home with their children because many jobs are not flexible enough to accommodate the needs of all families. I assume that in same-gender loving couples, these issues are already understood. Single unmarried people are out here living their best lives, and there are married couples who spent the last 16 months getting reacquainted. So can y'all stop coveting what you see going on in someone else's yard and learn to bloom where you have been planted?  

If you think high value individuals are more content with their lives, read the news. Rich white men who own everything under the sun on earth are now trying to conquer space. High value couples aren't happier than the rest of us, but if you disagree, you might want to chat with Melinda Gates or Mackenzie Scott (or their ex-husbands once the settlements are finalized). Their grass may have been greener, but somebody else was getting paid to tend it...or you were fooled by the astro-turf. 

Furthermore, life is too short to spend it staring at yourself in the mirror. This is just another justification for narcissism. Very few people who focus on making big names for themselves leave the world any better off for having been here. Sure, we can all cite the names of the big-time philanthropists who built museum collections and endowed university libraries, but they also killed plenty of "low value" people in the process. The last self-described high value man who got too much power and attention nearly destroyed this country, while his wife stood behind him and squinted alluringly into the camera. They are not relationship goals.

I know, you don't emulate them, but if the Obamas or the Carters are your ideal, then you need to look more closely at the nature of those relationships. I assure you that Michelle Obama stands next to her husband, as she did when she earned more money while he was organizing the community. Beyonce works as anyone who has ever attended one of her shows can attest, while Jay does the shopping (he calls it investing). If you thought I was referring to the former President and his wife, yeah, she just chooses not to speak up that much in public and you need to believe rule #1. So don't let some image consultant fool you into thinking that those partnerships are based on old school patriarchy--ain't nobody arguing over who got served first at Thanksgiving and why they ran out of forks.

And so that everyone is clear, the women that preach this same crap are just as harmful and wrong, and it is my Busy Black duty to call them out too. Don't believe anyone who is out here saying that your grandmother liked being mistreated and that she put up with it because of her faith in Kirk Cameron's Jesus. The Devil is a liar--the narrative of the ever-steadfast Black Big Mama who never complained or stood up for herself has perpetuated too much suffering and abuse, which is why so many of us are broken. Not because families were physically broken apart, but because there were so many spiritually broken people trying to maintain the veneer of family unity amid dysfunction. 

Some of y'all need to realize that Soul Food was a story told from the perspective of a child. Uncle Miles was a high value man who fucked his wife's broke ass cousin.

You can believe me or the image consultant, the front-seat relationship guru, the gossip girl, or some hertep who's out here trying to snag her own high value man...

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Red Beans and Rice: Revisiting A Different World

I recently watched a marathon of episodes from one of my all-time favorite TV sitcoms and (deep sigh) did we allow this show to go on for so long past its prime? I know this is a blasphemous question and it might upset a lot of folks, but why did we let them ruin this show after the third season?

Yeah, I said it! It was a lucky show its first season, a much improved show in its second, and a great show by its third season. It didn't exactly plunge from great to bad in the fourth season, but it did begin to slip to simply good. By the fifth season, which gave us the iconic Gilbert-Wayne wedding finale, it had jumped the shark, only we were too caught up in the excitement to admit it. Which is why the last season is practically unwatchable, even though we tried. 

Now please keep reading, because I promise not to offer a trash take on how various couples were toxic mis-matches or how obvious it was that Byron Douglass III went on to become Eli Pope on Scandal...because no, it is pretty simple. On a show that was supposed to depict life at an HBCU in the late 80s and early 90s, that should have remained its focus. If it had, then I would be much more content about the three hours I spent watching episodes from that fifth season on Saturday morning. Because now I really kinda hate the wedding episode too.

The Hub jokes that Black sitcoms in that era were good for those very special episodes, and that was A Different World ("ADW") in a nutshell. It was the definitive very special show because it highlighted several of the issues that were relevant during that time: date rape, unplanned pregnancy, Apartheid, intimate partner violence, HIV/AIDS, and the debate over the continued relevance of these institutions. All of those issues were covered in those two brilliant seasons, along with racism, campus protests, career choices, work/life balance, moving off campus, and yes, relationship issues (which did take up an inordinate amount of time in real life and on-screen). 

In addition to be topical, the show also gave us archetypes of the different personalities that one would encounter on an HBCU campus. I cannot speak for how these same characters would have fared at a PWI, but most of the people I know from college were composites of characters on ADW. Of course because I went to a woman's college in the deep South, half the women on campus could have been the model for Whitley Gilbert. A fair number of sisters were working class, first-generation over-achievers like Kimberly Reese and Jaleesa Vinson, the non-traditional student with high ambition and hyper-focus (before she married Colonel Taylor and was ruined). There were too many Ron Johnsons, but that could just be my impression of how many brothers walked around trying to be players. There were an equal number of goofy-smart brothers like Dwayne Wayne, as well as many free-spirited bohemians like Freddie Brooks. Although Walter Oakes was technically not a student, there were a number of those older dudes who stuck around for years until a new opportunity to move on finally presented itself. 

That was the classic core group of students, and if they had done a better job of introducing and incorporating the second and third wave that consisted of Terrence, Lena, Gina, Dorian, Terrell, and Charmaine, I would argue that we could have had five very good seasons instead of three. There is no real need to go back to autopsy the first season because we all know that it was a disaster.

Now that we are in this moment of rediscovering HBCUs, of course watching any episode of this show would make me get nostalgic. You already know it doesn't take much for me to take to my soapbox to promote support of HBCUs. And now that we have entered a realignment phase wherein others are lending their voice to the same righteous cause, I welcome that because we need all of the help we can get. Part of the pitch to this next generation will include how popular culture can shape our impressions and relates to our experiences.

Currently, there is a meme circulating on Facebook that asks which fictional HBCU would you attend, and the choices are Mission College (School Daze), Hillman College (A Different World), Atlanta A&M (Drumline), and Truth University (Stomp the Yard). Mind you, all of those shows/movies were filmed in the Atlanta University Center...(and that is my shot across the bow to my Howard University alumni friends reading this :) 

However, the meme does correct a common misconception that ADW was the last noteworthy time an HBCU was prominently featured in popular culture. There was also a short-lived show on BET called The Quad and references to other real-life HBCUs have been incorporated on popular television shows (This Is Us, Blackish, and POSE).  Director Will Packer made sure that we knew that the Flossy Posse from his hit Girls' Trip movie met at his alma mater, Florida A&M University (FAMU). And obviously, there is Madame Vice President Kamala Harris. 

What ADW did was lay the foundation. I know School Daze (1988) was a contemporaneous depiction with several of the series stars featured in prominent roles, but it is safe to say that more people have seen episodes of the TV show than remember that film. (And as much as I love that movie, it is problematic on several levels.) If there had been no ADW, I am unsure if we would have had such a significant pop cultural reference point that inspired so many people to enroll at HBCUs in the 90s.

Therefore, we must start by giving credit to Bill Cosby for making this possible. The first references to Hillman College were made in the first season of The Cosby Show when it was introduced as the alma mater of Heathcliff, Clair, and Grandpa Huxtable. Whether it was intended from the beginning to spin-off another show about an HBCU or whether the concept evolved based on other factors is anyone's guess, since its debut also coincided with the millions Cosby gave away to several institutions at the same time. Neither Cosby nor his real-life wife attended HBCUs, but three of their children did. Whatever motivated this concept, once that ball got rolling, the rest is history.

Okay, so I will offer a few thoughts about the first season of ADW: look closely and you will note that several of the cast regulars and guests appeared together in an iconic blaxploitation parody in 1988 and then in a ground-breaking comedy sketch show that began airing on a renegade new network in 1990. And that is pretty much all that needs to be said... 

Once the show was re-framed around the HBCU experience, it struck gold. By bringing in producer-director Debbie Allen, who attended Howard University, she remade Hillman into an unapologetically Black institution, representative of the times. Her first brilliant move was to introduce younger characters, which is why Kimberly Reese and Freddie Brooks were such strong additions. With Denise Huxtable and Maggie Lauten gone, Freddie offered burgeoning bohemian feminism and naiveté in one character; Kimberly gave us a more relatable Jaleesa without all of the adult baggage. Several of the better very special episodes centered on them. Ron Johnson's transformation from puppy to dog was crucial. Dwayne's maturation provided an interesting foil to Whitley's consistency--she remained a spoiled rich girl, just more likeable once they ditched her first season flunky. Before the show became dependent on the Gilbert-Wayne love story, it had actually been a solid ensemble effort.

College Band Trip c. 1990

Which is how most of us fondly remember our college experience, with our friends. With our friends in the dorms, in the library, in class, on the quad, in the cafeteria, at games, at parties, and everywhere else we went. Those are the fond memories that we relive every Homecoming, every Graduation/Reunion, at dinner parties and brunch, in our Facebook groups, and pretty much every chance we get to reminisce. So part of the frustration with the love story taking over was how it over-shadowed everything else.

Not that our romantic entanglements weren't integral to our college experience, but there was so much more going on. Minus the song and dance number, that episode about the Persian Gulf War mirrored our anxiety on campus about that conflict. The Mammy episode still remains one of the most powerful refutations of colorism (soooo much better than how Spike Lee addressed it in School Daze). Before Freddie hit the Freddiest peak of annoying, one of her best episodes dealt with acquaintance rape. Ron and Dwayne pledging together provided that bittersweet reminder that even best friends often have to follow their own paths. And as disconcerting as the AIDS episode is to watch all of these years later, it is an important reminder of how we once thought of HIV as both a death sentence and a punishment for pre-marital promiscuity.

Of course I was rooting for a Gilbert-Wayne romance to blossom, and possibly rekindle, but not at the expense of the other characters and stories. When Whitley decided to stay in school for another year, it was to take additional classes to prepare for a corporate art buying career that most of us had no idea existed. It was relatable that she spent much of the season finding creative ways to earn money, although not by working for her friends as a maid (because we were all broke). And how ridiculous was it for Dwayne to sell his computer to help her with her tuition? When the campus was abuzz over that book written by Shazza Zulu (perennial undergraduate), did that really need to have a Whitley and Dwayne subplot when the real point was to navigate the minefield of interracial dating at an HBCU? Why was Whitley the director of the campus time capsule video when Freddie should have been the more obvious choice? And so on...I could revisit half of the episodes from that fourth season and point out how the show had lost focus. 

Or perhaps it had been decided that in the limited universe of other sitcoms with Black characters in lead roles, ADW had to be more than a show about college. The other Black sitcoms on air that overlapped during that same era (1987-1993) were: The Cosby Show (1984-1992), 227 (1985-1990), What's Happening Now (1985-1988), Amen (1986-1991), Frank's Place (1987-1988), Family Matters (1989-1998), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996), Roc (1991-1994), Martin (1992-1997), and Hangin' With Mr. Cooper (1992-1997). In other words, there were phases during its run when ADW was the only show that was not a goofy family sitcom, lasted longer than one season, and didn't rely on too many of the stereotypical sitcom tropes that had been so frustrating on other shows. 

On a show built around characters who were supposed to exist in a finite time and space, it was necessary to introduce new cast members to the core group each season. The problem was in the transitioning out the older main characters. Part of the point of college is to move on to make space for the new students to have their own very special episodes instead of being relegated to the supporting cast of what essentially became a romantic comedy. Walter Oakes, who had been on the front burner as the dorm director for two seasons languished in the background while Colonel Taylor became the most ubiquitous professor on campus. Oakes' departure came after Colonel Taylor hooked up with Jaleesa, who was also still hanging around campus two years after graduating. Somehow the writers thought she would be useful as a housewife--a prospect she emphatically rejected when it was offered to her with Walter. Then she disappeared, with her newborn without any explanation.

In addition to thinking theirs was the more toxic romantic entanglement, there was the matter of Taylor's son Terrance, who had been introduced as a new student with the promise of his own very special stories to tell. He did get a few, the most significant of which was when he objected to his father being offered membership in an exclusive country club, but the focus was more on Colonel Taylor's decision. Terrence was never fully developed into a more substantial presence (nor was the actor Cory Tyler officially added to the cast). A similar pattern was repeated with Gina Deveaux, who initially appeared as a recurring character with no real introduction, no background, and no major. By the last season when she was included in the new core group, it never made sense to me that an upperclassman would be hanging that tight with a bunch of freshmen...

The Douglass-Gilbert-Wayne love triangle was messy because it was so contrived. Byron Douglass III was old enough to have known better than to get serious with a 24 year old woman three months fresh from a broken engagement, and then expect to marry her six weeks after she slipped up with her ex-fiancé who also worked on his campaign? Or was I the only person who thought that was insane? Furthermore, I always found it frustrating that on the morning of the wedding, Whitley's parents seemed happier about the prospect of her "career" as a future political wife. Was that why they sent her to college for five years? What about the words of the theme song: here's our chance to make it, if we focus on our goals--was it marriage all along? While I definitely appreciate actor Kadeem Hardison's suggested alternative ending, it wouldn't have mattered which man Whitley ended up with because as far as I'm concerned everything for her went down hill from there. And as for these stupid Nick at Nite Hillman College Reunion vignettes, honestly who thought that Dwayne and Whitley were still together?

I've had 30-some years to think through all of this... 

If they did reboot this show (and no, I am not convinced), there is some new ground to cover. One new major issue is the presence of more white students on campus, the very elephant in the dorm room that was IGNORED the entire first season, and that was avoided in the fourth by having Matthew attend another local university. I could think of a few others, including an open LGBTQIA+ relationship, a debate over Black Lives Matter, competing political ideologies on campus post trump, gender equity in athletics, and the consequences of social media abuse. (Or you could just watch Grown-ish and pretend that is an HBCU.) Obviously, a rebooted ADW could also revisit some of the issues that had been raised in the original series and I might tune in for a few episodes. I would need the Aretha Franklin theme song, but with an entirely different opening sequence since that one has been done, redone, overdone... 

However, in spite of everything I just wrote, you do realize this show will forever be one of my favorites, I will always watch the reruns, and I will forever credit it for having inspired my choice to attend an HBCU. One of the great ironic truths that every college alum comes to accept is that our schools were far from perfect, so much like watching a TV series, we never can realistically claim to have loved every show, or every minute of our tenure. It was a brief moment in time, a very special episode of our lives that we get to revisit and remember fondly.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

What Is Your Fourth of July?

My Kid declared the night of July 4th to be the best day ever, and this was after a week spent at her happy place (the beach and the house we have rented for eight years). She said this after she experienced the fireworks and hoodworks in our neighborhood, because they are inescapable. We ventured into an alley not too far from the house where we met the young nephew of a neighbor and they became fast friends, as little kids are adept at doing. They ran relays, tossed two packs of snap pops, and marveled at the flying sparks and colors from competing fireworks on the ground and in the air. A little later, we walked down the street to where some guys were shooting off rockets, which excited her even more. Right before we put her to bed she made her declaration, because six year olds are easy to impress...

Of course, now that we are a few days past Independence Day, I am hopeful that the nightly bombardment of firecrackers and cherry bombs will end soon. They've been at this since Juneteenth, but it also seems that each summer, the fireworks start popping off earlier and earlier. Black people love fireworks. I don't know where they are sold in other places, but here in DC, little makeshift plywood storefronts suddenly appear mid-June at various locations throughout the city. For years, the structure that was erected on the northwest side of the Sousa Bridge (near one of the entrances to Anacostia Park) is where my Dad bought our fireworks. Yes, my been-woke Dad, who reminded me on Sunday of his sentiments about Independence Day, including his annual re-reading of Frederick Douglass' famous speech. Even he likes the fireworks.

Therefore, I am here to tell you that it really didn't matter that President Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday two weeks ago. It was nice, but Independence Day is the crowd favorite with the clear advantage of 245 years of tradition. More than likely, Juneteenth will become the weekend when folks will shop for their American flag apparel and decor on sale in preparation for July 4th. The fireworks will probably become available right after Memorial Day, so all of you gentrifiers better invest in a thunder vest for your dog and learn to wobble. To all of the Incredulous Red Kool-Aid drinkers with no Black friends, Hobby Lobby will have plenty of white sheets and tiki torches...

All of the unnecessary lament that Independence Day would somehow be overshadowed or eclipsed by adding another federal holiday to the mix has proven to be unfounded. After all of these months of lockdown, folks have been eagerly awaiting and preparing for this holiday. Lots of Aunties making potato salad and cousins making playlists. Folks were READY. The day before when we were spending our last few hours in Ocean City at a water park, all of the lifeguards wore their loudest Uncle Sam jester hats, knee-high flag socks, and other ridiculous American flag apparel. The patrons wore flag trunks, bathing suits, tees, and one woman had a sequined flag cowboy hat. Back in DC with the COVID gathering restrictions lifted, all of the parking spaces in my neighborhood were taken by holiday revelers similarly decked out in American flag apparel (some of it clearly purchased for this first social cookout in 16 months). At some point, I wondered if I still had any of those Old Navy $5 tees.

Earlier in the day, I saw that Vanessa Williams had been trending for her forthcoming performance at the pre-recorded Capitol Fourth celebration. The complaints from right-wingnut Twitter were about her singing both America The Beautiful and Lift Ev'ry Voice, also known as the Black National Anthem (soprano Rene Fleming sang The Star Spangled Banner). And predictably, I had something to say in response to their nonsense...

By the end of the evening when I was scrolling through social media again, the complaints from get-off-my-lawn/Gen X Twitter focused on the nonstop fireworks. Between upset pets, fears of not being able to discern the difference between gunshots and firecrackers, and just general frustration about the nonstop noise, I was reminded of an observation I have made countless times in the past.

Black people are thee most patriotic Americans you will encounter. Speaking for the Latinx branch of my family, they get all red, white, and blue for the 4th too, and I imagine that is the same for most people of color. For all of his talk, my Dad enjoys the Capitol Fourth festivities every year (and I know for a fact that he TiVo'd it this year).

So for anybody who wants to get froggy and tell me to go to another country if I have complaints about America, lemme tell you like successive generations of my ancestors have defiantly said: I AIN'T GOING NOWHERE!

First of all, I know that the wolf-cries against Critical Race Theory have many of you thinking that if you keep denouncing it, you don't need to acknowledge the truth, but let's start with some basic facts. My ancestors were brought here to work the land. You can quibble about the dates and terminology, and you can argue that the kidnappings on the Continent were carried out by other Africans, but none of that moral back-tracking is persuasive. You can offer your bullshit justifications cloaked in benevolent Christian Nationalism if you want, but it won't change the fact that many Black people can trace their origins in the New World to when there were Thirteen British colonies, Spanish colonial holdings in Mexico and the Caribbean, the French still owned Louisiana, and Lower Manhattan was still New Amsterdam. 

Furthermore, since I am old enough to recall when there were scarcely any mentions of the contributions made by Black people in America other than as enslaved labor, I know that at the very least, you were taught certain basics about the American Revolutionary War. You may claim to have never heard the name Crispus Attucks, but you do know that prior to the official declaration of war in 1776, the Boston Massacre (1770) was one of many skirmishes between colonists and the occupying British soldiers. The specifics of Virginia's colonial proclamation issued by Lord Dunmore to the enslaved in 1775 may not be common knowledge, but you do know that there were Loyalists to the Crown and most of them migrated to Canada after the War. Look closely at this iconic painting and you will see that there is a Black man seated in front of General Washington as he crossed the Delaware.

I won't waste your time with "woke" history lessons because I know facts don't always sway opinions, but some of you need to get clear that this is our country too. We fought for it, built the wealth that your forefathers passed down to you, and we've saved it from the brink of disaster many times. You don't have to like that, but there ain't nothing you can do about it. You've tried and FAILED to deport, resettle, segregate, lynch, redline, starve, mis-educate, and disenfranchise us out of the narrative, but we are still here. And we will continue to fight for the equality that you claim we have, but have yet to fully experience. 

So yes, our first Black Miss America sang the Black National Anthem in primetime and if you decided to change the channel, that's fine. We love Lift Ev'ry Voice and stand to sing all three stanzas because it is a patriotic song written by two Black men in honor of Abraham Lincoln. The fact that you take issue with it being designated as a Black anthem speaks to your issues, not ours and certainly is telling since the song was written by an accomplished Black composer and his equally accomplished brother. But do go on about the divisiveness of a song that encourages everyone to lift their voices to sing...

Yes, we're going to shoot off fireworks in the hood. We bought them legally. If you moved to this neighborhood and think it is your right to police the behavior of the folks who have been here for decades then do what you have to do, Permit Patty. Call the cops and stand outside in your front yard instead of hiding in your kitchen with your wine spritzer, carrot-raisin salad, and bag of pita chips. Come outside with your bad self and face the neighbors to whom you barely speak as you jog by every day. Because then they'll know whose house not to look out for...

Yes, we are still going to celebrate Juneteenth, the Lord willing and the creek don't rise come next year. And while we debate the politics of the easy layup versus the hard work of restoring the Voting Rights Act, we're going to talk shit and organize for Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock while Unc burns the hotdogs on the grill. We're going to buy Black and shop local and wear our BLM tees with African wax print skirts that have pockets. We won't go all out for PRIDE, but we will welcome those cousins without judgment or too many intrusive questions. We will politely sample all of the potato salad, keep the kids from going in and out of the house, and will introduce the old heads to Uncle Nearest. You will probably hear both versions of Before I Let Go and there will be a loud argument about which version slaps harder (Maze, of course). And we'll right back at it in two weeks for the 4th of July.

Because we too, are America. That's why we march against police misconduct AND stand with the Capitol Police officers like my cousin who were there on January 6. We can mourn the deaths of Officer Brian Sicknick and George Floyd because we know that grief and loss are not political positions. We understand the rights and privileges of citizenship, which is why there are long lines to vote in our communities. Just watch next month, our tears will flow when the American women win that hardware in Tokyo whilst we debate whether Sha'Carri should be watching from home. 

We love this country, even when that love is un-reciprocated.

If that sounds too dysfunctional, too one-sided, the truth is, you do love us. You just don't want to admit it, but you love our food, our music, our art, our strength, our courage, our tenacity, and our fortitude. That we survived the Middle Passage, enslavement, Jim Crow, the crack epidemic, and trumpism, you are impressed and a little envious. Those aren't easy hurdles to overcome, but that's what Americans do. We fight to win.

So before you get too keyboard bold, let me tell you that if you don't like it, then you leave. 

You go back to wherever your family originated so you don't have to listen to my unruly, arrogant, brash, and entitled rants about how this country can and must do better. You find someplace else on the globe where there is no religious freedom. You go where it is typical for mercenaries and mobs to assassinate duly elected officials. You shut up and pledge allegiance to some dictator if you want a conman grifter in power. You migrate to another country where it is acceptable to jail and torture political opponents for their beliefs. You leave, because you're the one who hates America.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

This piece is dedicated to Sha'Carri Richardson, but not for the reasons you might be thinking...

First of all I believe the suspension, while draconian and wholly unrelated to her ability to perform, was unfortunate but fair. Richardson may still get to compete in the Games, just not for an individual medal. She can run in the relays, which can earn her some hardware. And she's young enough that this will only set her up for a great comeback in 2024 (which is sooner than we all realize, since these Games were delayed due to the pandemic).

I had not intended to write anything more formal about this situation with Richardson, but then I happened to catch the last hour of I, Tonya, the film about former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding. Perhaps this was the intention, but I came away from that movie with all kinds of sympathy and mixed emotions about the way Harding got treated all of those years ago. While I recalled the broad outline of what purportedly occurred (that Harding orchestrated a physical attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan), I did not remember all of the individual players who were implicated in the matter. However, I do recall that I took a side...

And now nearly 30 years later, I have a very different read on the entire matter. 

When I tuned into the movie, it was midway at the point where Harding allegedly arranged for Kerrigan to receive a death threat, which to her understanding would be a phone call. So as not to spoil anything, that isn't exactly how things went down. Instead, the rivalry between the two women became a lot more personal. Other aspects of what we probably didn't realize or know at the time include the abusive nature of the relationship Harding had with her ex-husband, her complicated relationship with her mother, and the lack of support she endured from the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA).

I had to re-examine my own personal biases from that time about the image of figure skaters and the "type" of people who were considered representative of the sport. In particular, I thought back to the juxtaposition of Harding to Kerrigan, and how the rivalry between the two women shaped perceptions of them both on and off the ice. Even before the attack, Kerrigan enjoyed more public support as America's Sweetheart, while Harding was dubbed the Bad Girl of Skating. I hadn't thought about them or this incident in years, not even when the movie was released in 2017, but once I sat with it for a few minutes, it immediately dawned on me how not much has changed with respect to how women are scrutinized in athletics.

Even though most folks would argue that this is kind of a reach, Sha'Carri Richardson and Tonya Harding (and a bunch of other women I plan to mention in this piece), are kindred spirits who made (and will make) history.

Think about it. The critiques of Harding had everything to do with the image the USFSA sought to present to the world of American figure skaters as graceful, elegant, and poised ice princesses. A ballerina on blades. In the pantheon of memorable American champions, there were the legendary Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamil, and Tai Babilonia, then the modern champion Kristi Yamaguchi, who won the gold medal in 1992. Yamaguchi's natural successor could have either been Harding or Kerrigan, with Kerrigan in the sweet spot, having won the bronze. Harding was more athletic as the first American woman to land a triple Axel in competition, but the subjective nature of skating prized artistry and presentation above stunts (something that bedeviled France's Surya Bonaly).

And at the mention of Surya Bonaly, I thought about a long-abandoned draft from a piece I wanted to write about her a few years ago. It was after I had read an article about her (in a now-defunct publication) that reflected on her career, including the obvious racism she faced in competition. Interestingly, a few aspects of Bonaly's story were similar to Harding's: handmade costumes, loud makeup, and the unlikely rise from obscurity to national champion. There was the added element of racism, which certainly wasn't applicable to Harding, but to the extent that Bonaly was a pioneer for Black women achieving prominence in an elite sport where we had not been visible, the skating rivalry of that era should have been between them. 

However, a Harding-Bonaly rivalry was not meant to be. Instead, Bonaly was simultaneously lauded and penalized for her athleticism. She could perform BACKFLIPS on ice, but got points deducted whenever she successfully executed one. She was deemed deficient in the artistry of skating, which was the same critique of Harding, who was more of an athlete than an ice performer. The subjective nature of the scoring prevented both women from obtaining Olympic medals. Harding was criticized as the exact opposite of graceful in contrast to her teammates, with her loud colors, hair scrunchie, and white trash associates. The fact that she had overcome abuse and had dedicated her life to skating was not a narrative that could be spun to make her more likable, not even when Kerrigan was quickly downgraded from Sweetheart to Spoiled Sore Loser

The thing is, nobody is interested in seeing a movie about Nancy Kerrigan or Kristi Yamaguchi, not even on Lifetime. They were celebrated and enjoyed their moment in the bright glare of fame, but the most interesting thing that either woman has done in recent years is appear on Dancing with the Stars (as did Harding). Perhaps Bonaly can get tapped for an upcoming season...

However, before we make the quadruple toe loop from Harding to Sha'Carri Richardson, there are several other names that deserve mention, beginning with the obvious nod to none other than the late great track star Florence Griffith-Joyner (Flo Jo). Last week as the news was unfolding about Richardson's lapse in judgment, some woman took to Twitter to claim that Flo Jo was an "obvious drug user" as indicated by her long acrylics (because marijuana abuse leads to Black women storming the nail and hair salons). The only thing obvious about Flo Jo was her speed, her sex appeal, and the fact that whomever that chick is, she's a bitter, jealous shrew. And for the record, there was never any evidence that Flo Jo abused drugs.

She made history by setting world records and and stacking those medals around her neck with her own unique sense of style. I don't know why some random Australian journalist with no tangible evidence to back up her allegations felt the need to trash a dead Olympian to make her nonsensical argument about smoking weed and nail growth, but this will probably be the only reason why anyone ever remembers her.

The Williams sisters are in this mix too, because around the same time Flo Jo was flashing and Surya Bonaly was flipping off judges, two girls from Compton showed up on the professional tennis circuit with their hair beads and rackets. Previous Black champions blazed trails, but these sisters built interstate highways. They were ridiculed for their appearance, but instead of trying to fit in, they designed their own fashions. They were criticized for exploring outside interests, but that meant they weren't consumed by their sport and are actually interesting people. They advocated for pay equity and won on behalf of every woman who has competed since. Their unapologetic Blackness inspired other Black girls to pick up rackets, so even as their careers approach twilight, there are other young champions in the ranks to help inspire the next generation.

I know this piece is supposed to focus on notable women, but I'm invoking editorial privilege in mentioning the Jamaican men's 1988 bobsled team--a group of sprinters whose quest for Olympic glory became the inspiration for the Disney film Cool Runnings. The fact that they weren't the first tropical nation to compete in the Winter Olympics notwithstanding, the point is that it takes audacity to do the unexpected. And what was written off as a novelty for the men has become a crusade for the women's Jamaican bobsled team, possibly on their way to winning medals. And they are frank that their motivation is to change the complexion of the Winter Games, which in my opinion is rather badass to declare that Black women from the Caribbean can be snow bunnies too.

And if this was just about highlighting the various pioneers, then Debi Thomas deserves recognition for being the first Black woman to win a medal in figure skating. Yet, she was quickly forgotten, until she resurfaced years later in the tabloids, her life a train wreck. She was the epitome of Black Girl Magic before that became a hashtag, but sometimes stars implode and that is what some folks are more interested in witnessing. I'm guessing that there are a lot of people in the world that predict the same fate for Richardson.

Not that weed is on par with mental illness or illegal doping, which is what destroyed Marion Jones, a tragic cautionary Icarus tale of great triumph and tragedy. She became the public face of an Olympic doping scandal that resulted in her losing her medals and world records. Several athletes were implicated, but it was her downfall that served as the catalyst for the kind of rigorous drug testing that disqualified Richardson. 

The thing is, folks can sell more papers when someone stumbles than when they win. Right now, a bunch of folks are opining about the fairness of Richardson's suspension and whether it is racist (which to me it isn't), when the real story is how this young sister took responsibility for her mistake. In a world where folks are claiming alternative facts and embracing lies, this woman declared that there are inescapable truths and unfortunate consequences. So instead of arguing about how she's being mistreated, or admonishing her for the choice to smoke weed and literally blow this opportunity...what if we applauded her for owning it?

And she owns all of it, from showing up to compete in her colorful hair, eyelashes, tattoos, and the acrylics to admitting that she knew better. No need to compare her to other athletes who soldiered on in the face of tragedy, because y'all conveniently omit certain cogent details and are selective with your praise. Y'all didn't applaud Tonya Harding for escaping an abusive marriage. Y'all didn't try to intervene to save Debi Thomas from chronic over-achieving and perfectionism. Y'all knew Marion Jones was headed for disaster and watched her crash. Before she failed this drug test, y'all were debating whether Richardson was respectable enough to get featured on a Wheaties Box. What kind of example is she for our young girls...because she's confident and authentic? Isn't that the message we've been bombarding them with since birth--that you can be your own unique self and be great? When did we add the asterisk *but only if you wear pearls and are VOGUE-cover ready? 

As for the rules are rules crowd...

Rules change all of the time. A bunch of new discriminatory rules and policies went into effect to define who is eligible to compete in sports. Half of Simone Biles' floor routine has been outlawed so that she doesn't dominate the other gymnasts. I'm not saying that weed shouldn't be banned, but we all know it is the exact opposite of performance enhancing. It was a mistake, a costly one, but let it be the lesson Sha'Carri can impart to others. And, let's hope she gets some big-time endorsement deals from OPI, Sally Beauty Supply, and some major CBD distributors.