Gabrielle Douglas became the fourth American — and first black female — to win a gold medal in women’s individual all-around gymnastics. Effervescent and attractive, Gabby stands to make millions of dollars in endorsements. But she has received criticism — in the social media, via Twitter, Facebook and, according to The Daily Beast, several “black blogs.”
It’s about her hair:
“Gabby Douglas gotta do something with this hair! These clips and this brown gel residue aint it.” “She needs some gel and a brush.” “She has to ‘represent.’” “My mama sitting (here) screaming at Gabby Douglas on TV because her hair not fixed.” “i don’t care … 16 or 26, black or white … gabbydouglas’ hair is ratch.” (Ratch, according to Urban Dictionary, means gross or disgusting.) Dismiss these morons for what they are — few in number and hardly worth the energy to become annoyed about.
But the issue of “black hair” is important for serious reasons: blacks and drowning and blacks and obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black kids ages 5 to 14 are almost three times more likely to die by drowning than white kids. Nearly 70 percent of black kids do not know how to swim, versus 40 percent of white kids, according to a USA Swimming survey. And, per the CDC, blacks are 51 percent more likely to be obese than whites.
This brings us back to Gabby Douglas’ hair.
1996 Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes, a black female athlete, said: “Unfortunately … our self-esteem, many times, is wrapped up in our hair. I know a lot of African-American women, including myself — when my hair was relaxed, I did not like working out when I was training for those three Olympic Games. I was constantly sweating. My hair was relaxed, so it would be dry and brittle because of the relaxer. I didn’t want to get into pools, because the chlorine mixed with the chemical-treated hair does not make it look good whatsoever. And that’s what people have been attacking little Gabby Douglas about. And it’s sad that it’s not on her achievement and her performance.”
Many black women wear chemically treated hair, and water makes the hair revert to its natural kinky texture. Since treating the hair again takes time and costs money, many black women simply choose not to go into the water to avoid damage to the chemically treated hair. Why bother learning how to swim?