Five years ago while a 16-year-old Gabbby Douglas was becoming the first African-American woman (or girl) to win gold in the Olympic individual all-around gymnastics competition, she was grabbing headlines not only for her athletic superiority or for making history but for her hair. There’s no need to recall how viciously Black Twitter clowned a Black child for her sweated-out ponytail as she leaped and soared through the air performing routines most of us couldn’t dream of trying. She’s become as famous for her hair as she has for accomplishments as a world-renowned gymnast.
This week, though, the chatter isn’t about her floor routine, her edges or her glow-up though. Lately, Gabby has been making headlines for a tweet she sent in reply to teammate Aly Raisman’s tweet on shaming victims of sexual assault for what they were wearing or doing. The tweet was nothing we haven’t seen before and certainly not wrong, but Douglas naively replied adding, that women have the responsibility to dress “modestly and be classy.” She went on to say that “dressing in a provocative/sexual way entices the wrong crowd.
We are all in this together. If we are going to create change I need all your help. pic.twitter.com/q9d12z0KHn
— Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) November 17, 2017
When I read Gabby’s tweet, the face-palm was inevitable. No matter how many times or ways I witness the peddling of respectability as a means to protect women from being sexually assaulted, the concept never loses its “what in the fuck” value or becomes any less cringeworthy. It saddened me to think that Gabby had ingested this bullshit, believing that knee-length skirts and high necklines will ward off predators. But before I could begin gathering my thoughts, social media did what it does and dragged 21-year-old Douglas for her disgusting comments.
No surprises there. There’s no room for victim-shaming, especially in discussions of sexual assault. Gabby should have known better.
Then again, I think back to when I was 21 and had not started my metamorphosis into a woke one. If social media were the phenomenon it now is, and if I had a platform, I may have said something as ridiculous as Gabby. I can’t pretend I wouldn’t have said, “No one deserves to be sexually assaulted, but…” continuing with some tripe about not dressing to invite predators. My indoctrination into sexism and patriarchy was more than two-decades in at that time. Surely the very notion that a woman in revealing clothes is aiding in her own assault would not have sent me into the utter rage it does today. But nearly a decade and a half more of living, and years of deconstructing the bullshit society has taught me about blaming and shaming victims have pushed me closer to the top of woke mountain. I WOULD NEVER…Well, from about 30 on anyway.
Yet, young Gabby is being “canceled” by the Black and Woke Delegation for her comments. Thousands of sisters who once defended Douglas against the misogynoir lobbed at her over her hair are now using their Twitter fingers to throw virtual bricks. Now, to be clear, Douglas needs and deserves to be collected. The decolonization process is a tough one and kid gloves just don’t work, but since we sisters know all too well that there’s never a shortage of coals to rake Black women over, we should be the ones to get little sis together without throwing her out.
This race to be the wokest, the one who never makes a misstep and has already learned all there is to learn about all the ways in which we’ve internalized our own oppression has become nothing more than a race to the bottom. Surely if we expose everyone for one problematic view or the other, while forgetting our own awakening process, we can sit at the top of the morality throne alone. But let us not forget that when you’re the only one, you’re both the top and bottom of the heap.
And we cannot applaud Douglas for excelling in the white world of professional gymnastics and simultaneously pretend we don’t know that the push to be the best despite the racism that persists in that field isn’t accompanied by respectability politics. “You can be anything you want,” and “Keep it classy, ladies,” are neighbors. We know where she got this from. It’s the same patriarchy that our grandmothers and their grandmothers before them ingested and regurgitated. And unless we’re coming to big mama’s table Thursday with a rant about why she and her sweet potato pies are canceled because she’s still going on about how “fast” these girls are now, then we can give a woman a third the age of our mothers and grandmothers the courtesy of educating her without the notion that she’s canceled.
No doubt Gabby’s words have he power to reach and indoctrinate young girls who look up to her, but let’s keep it a buck: She ain’t the bigger issue. We damn sure need to nip her thinking in the bud, but she ain’t the one on college campuses using this dangerously-flawed logic to violate women. She ain’t been added to the ever-growing list of predators in Hollywood using their clout to force young men and women to perform sexual acts in exchange for movie roles. She’s the symptom not the disease.
So yes, snatch Gabby’s edges (no pun intended), but also remember that the she can go Maxine Waters or Stacey Dash depending on her cancellation. Malcom X was just about Gabby’s age when he went to prison and saw the light. We can’t be out here canceling our folks who are still young enough to be claimed on their parents’ taxes for saying stupid shit. That is unless we’re willing to be honest and crack open those journals of how we thought five, ten or twenty years ago, and have ourselves judged on those dreadful years.
And I for damned sure ain’t ready for the dragging that would ensue is y’all saw the anti-Black, misogynist, classist, elitist mess I was 14 years ago.