All she did, and people saw her hair?
I am one of the millions of people overwhelmed by Olympic gold medal winner Gabby Douglas. As some of my hip hop friends might say, “If you don’t know who she is, you better ask somebody.”
But, don’t ask the legion of critics, who of all things, have complained about the little 16-year-old champion’s hair. Yes, hair?
Gabby Douglas is part of the gold-medal-winning U.S. gymnastics team. She is the first African American to win gold as the all-around best gymnast at the Olympics. The win scored her a call from President Barack Obama, a place on the cover of a Wheaties box but a big zero from the hairdo police.
The Olympics is something I pay only lukewarm attention until the track and field competition begins. Archery, rowing and, yes, gymnastics don’t excite me. But a couple nights ago, I glanced at the U.S. gymnastics team and saw an African-American woman with a smile that can turn the light on in your heart.
I’ll admit that my interest was piqued because she is African American and for good reason. (Quick, how many African-American gymnasts have ever represented the United States?)
I had to watch. Every time she approached an event, she was spot on. And, yes, there was that enormous smile. (Please folks, say Gabby Douglas SMILES. That is NOT a grin.)
But the next day, there was controversy about her hair. Huh? I hadn’t noticed. My guess from looking at some stories that included tweets and Facebook entries, the majority of the criticism seemed to originate with African-American women. With all due respect to my sisters of color: Have you lost your minds?
According to the Daily Beast, 22-year-old Latisha Jenkins, of Detroit, said “I love how she’s doing her thing and winning. But I just hate the way her hair looks.”
So an African-American teenager with coarse, kinky hair chooses to wear her hair coarse and kinky. She wears gel and pins in her hair so that there is no chance it will obstruct her vision when she does one of her spinning, high-flying routines. She was criticized for that.
I won’t travel down the worn trail about African-American women and hair. Suffice to say, it may consume far too much of their time and money.
Gabby Douglas represented her country, her team and herself like a champion.
I smiled when she looked her coach straight in the eyes when he talked to her. She didn’t look disinterested like those (pick a sport) athletes with the great hair. She listened closely to her teammates as she prepared for her crucial turn on the balance beam in the team competition that she played an important role in winning gold.
I don’t think anyone remarked about her hair.
And on Thursday night when she won the gold in the all-around competition, I shed a tear and didn’t notice her hair. I guess I was too happy and too proud.
On Friday morning, when I watched her being interviewed by every television network, she seemed poised, smart and everything any parent would want in a daughter, hair pins and gel included.
Ed Pratt is a former Advocate editor. He is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is email@example.com.