What we Can, and Cannot, Tell from the Olympics

It was exciting to watch a racially divers group of American women win Gold. I loved the visual illustrating the strength that can come from a unity of diversity. But, I think it is worth taking some time to really consider what this victory tells us, and what it does not.

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First, it definitely displays that America does NOT look like just one color of person. The United States is a racially diverse country. I love this. I love this in theory and in those moments where it appears we are coexisting in some sort of harmony, I love it in reality. Those moments and instances do happen and they are worth appreciating.

But those aren’t the only moment and they aren’t the whole reality.636063899599085136-USATSI-9441778

Remember Jesse Owens? That was way back in 1936 that the United States showed Hitler that his Aryan ideal was in fact inferior. Now keep in mind that once Jesse went home he had to sit at the back of the bus, enter through the back of a restaurant, and he better be really careful if he had any intentions of trying to vote. But he did win America a gold medal.owensgold

Then there was Duke Kahanamoku who won gold even further back in 1912. The USA has been winning athletic gold with a diverse population of athletes for more than a century but life is more than sprints and flips. Life, and society, are complicated.Duke1912

Society is also not on a continual march forward toward utopia. This is illustrated by the fact that Jackie Robinson was in fact NOT the first African-American to play pro baseball in the USA. That honor belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker who played in 1883. We think it was Jackie because we conveniently forgot that back in Moses’s day we (America) reacted to people like Moses playing, and winning, pro baseball by banning all black people from the majors.

You see, things were getting better before they got worse. History is not a straight line.

I do not point this out to illustrate how horrible we Americans are, but rather to caution us against looking to integrative success and then assuming that we are on a natural progression toward improvement. Improvement only happens through intentional sustained efforts. Things can just as easily get worse as they can get better.

And let us keep in mind that we Americans are not the only ones.

France. France is decidedly old world European with everything that moniker connotes. This is the French Olympic rugby team.french-rugby-team

And the Australian.aussiegold

And South Africa.south-africa-rugby-medal-injured-seabelo-sanatla

Oh wait but then there is Fiji. Fiji, who has before yesterday never won an Olympic gold medal, crushed England, the country that invented rugby, with a decidedly non-diverse team.fijigold

Not only were/are they not diverse, but they won with what may be one of the smallest populations pools in the world from which to draw. Fiji, a group of tiny islands ravaged by the world’s worst cyclone, struggling financially, stepped onto the world stage and won with one of the most beautiful games of rugby 7s I have ever seen.

Shall we then assume that Fiji’s lack of racial diversity is superior to the efforts South Africa has made to unify?

No.

Because diversity is never the whole, or only, story.

So let us appreciate the American women’s gymnastics victory for what it is. It was wonderful. I love what it looked like, I love the potential and promise it illustrates.

But it is a snap shot-not a panorama.

Oh, yes… and this. Simone Manuel. Congratulations Simone.usa-today-9450107.0

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “What we Can, and Cannot, Tell from the Olympics

  1. Watching which American sports in the olympics have people of color is very much a picture of the lack of economic diversity. It feels like anything that requires expensive equipment or time in expensive facilities is still predominantly white. I love that we are starting to see more color in some the swim teams and gymnastics – but that is the exception. I think the idea holds worldwide as well. Not very many southern continents represented in Equestrian, kayaking, archery, shooting, etc. Race (worldwide) and economic disparity are so closely tied. Still LOVE watching the Olympics though.

  2. “That’s something I’ve definitely struggled with a lot, just coming into this race tonight,” Manuel said. “I kind of tried to take the weight of the black community off my shoulders, which is something I carry with me just being in this position. I do kind of hope it goes away. I’m super glad with the fact that I can be an inspiration to others and hopefully diversify the sport. But, at the same time, I would like there to be a day where there are more of us and it’s not ‘Simone, the black swimmer.’
    http://sports.yahoo.com/news/simone-manuel-gave-proof-that-americas-ugly-history-with-black-swimmers-could-be-cracking-061749414.html

  3. Uglyblackjohn

    Man, I swam for Riverside Aquatics back when they had one of the top teams in the nation. Sure, I sucked (barely qualified for JO’s.) My younger brothers were really good though. Each was top-16 throughout their age-group swimming careers. We all moved on to different sports as we aged but each of us made sure we lettered as freshmen in high school before doing so. As with many things throughout my life – I was always one of the very few Blacks at most meets.

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