There is nothing like winning to shut a hater down. I was happily minding my business, enjoying the Olympics and being wowed, as most of the country has been, by the high-flying acrobatics of gymnast Gabby Douglas.
Then, after her first gold medal for the team all-around performance, the dreaded Hair Wars buzzkill emerged.
As a card-carrying member of the AARP, recipient of the Seniors Discount at IHOP and many other fine establishments, I was hoping the hair issue would be on its last strand by now. But now it threatens to outgrow my time on earth.
Twitter chatter was full of discussion about whether Douglas had too much or too little gel on her hair, whether she had chosen the right style and had failed “to represent” because her ‘do wasn’t tight.
She was running, jumping, flipping, dancing, executing powerful moves on a narrow little beam of wood and some folk were really worried about hair?
Gabby Douglas’ winning gold would be a major accomplishment for any American, but was an especially wonderful moment for African Americans, generally, and all the little black girls who run around in leotards doing handstands and tumbling and dreaming of one day being in the Olympics.
The tenor of the Twitter-sphere, if not the blogosphere overall, however, seemed particularly tone deaf to accomplishment.
But something happened during the arguments about whether comments on Douglas’ hair were appropriate—it morphed into discussions about why black women don’t run, jump, swim or do anything to sweat out our hair, or into attacks on all the well-coiffed couch potatoes.
Douglas won a second goal medal and became the first black individual all-round gymnastics gold medalist in the Olympics and just the fourth American woman to win the event.
Watching Douglas stand on the podium after winning her second gold medal and seeing her family hugging and crying in the stands was a singular moment untarnished by a discussion about whether her hair is just right.
While she wasn’t old enough to watch Dominque Dawes in 1996 when Dawes won gold in the team all-around in 1996 as one of Team USA’s Magnificent Seven, Douglas said she came to understand Dawes’ place in history and “I understood her presence in the Olympics was a big deal,” Douglas said in an interview.
Twitter was full of congratulatory tweets and posts. Douglas’ place in history was now doubly secure and the focus shifted, thankfully, to accomplishment and pride.
Douglas never lost sight of the big picture and the importance of winning.
“It’s really important,” she said in an interview immediately after the win. “All the hard work and dedication and effort put in in the gym, because that’s where the champions are made.”
Now run and tweet that.
Jackie Jones, a veteran journalist and journalism educator, is director of Jones Coaching LLC, a career transformation firm.