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Gabby, Dominique, Barbara and Black women’s rarely rewarded quest for the recognition we deserve

Gabby, Dominique, Barbara and Black women’s rarely rewarded quest for the recognition we deserve
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It seems that little credit is given to what must have been extremely hard work, to rise from a non-entity in the world of gymnastics to holding its highest female honor in just 2 years.  Little credit appears to be given to the fact that Gabby Douglas won the all-around medal precisely because she posted excellent scores on all 4 gymmastic apparatus, the balance beam, vault, uneven parallel bars and floor exercise (unlike her teammates, most of who did not even compete on all 4 and did not score as well as she did on those they didcompete on).

No credit at all is given to the resilience of her poor, single, Black mother; our nation doesn’t care about, let alone reward, the indomitable will and spiritual strength it takes to actually be a single Black mother in America raising four children. Or the strength it takes to allow your 14-year-old daughter, your baby, to move far far away in terms of literal and cultural distance to chase a dream. Hell, even after the team gold was won with Gabby being the highest scoring qualifier for the all around, the Today Show did a whole “Parents of the Fab 5” segment in which it not once mentioned Gabby by name, although it was sure to let us know who Jordyn Wieber’s parents and Aly Raisman’s parents were.  (It is Natalie Hawkins, btw, not Missy Parton, no matter how much the media is running around saying that Gabby had a white mother too.)

Hell, the haters even dissed the poor child’s hairdo (the same hairdo as her teammates—and therein lies the problem.)

We all know why, if we are honest with ourselves and others.

If there is any place in popular women’s Olympic sports that has earned the name “The White World of Sports”, it’s women’s gymnastics.

It’s not like she’s the first Black woman, though, to excel at this awesome sport.  

If you want to name someone that even came close to rivaling the all-around greatest the sport of gymnastics has ever seen in terms of skill, shrewdness and personality (the ethereal Nadia Comenici), it isn’t Jordyn Wieber you need to talk about. It isn’t Shannon Miller, part of the 1996 Magnificent Seven team that NBC waxed rhapsodic about on Friday night in a lenghty segment without once mentioning the name of the Black woman who also, like Gabby Douglas, outscored her teammates on 3 out of the 4 apparatus in the all-around.  And it isn’t Mary Lou Retton either, though her personality and punch justifiably left her beloved after the 1984 Olympics in which she took the all-around. It isn’t even Shannon Miller, the woman who was the Jordyn Wieber of the 1996 Olympic team, yet who herself ultimately had her legacy diminished because of another woman who became America’s darling only because she risked lameness for the team, Kerri Shrug.

You wouldn’t name any of them.  Instead, you would name a woman who at 15 scored perfect “10”s on what may have been the most athletically-demanding (aka fuckin’ superb) floor routines the world has ever seen.  While still excelling at every other apparatus as well.  The woman who in 1996 became the first Black woman to ever win an Olympic medal for her work on an individual gymnastics apparatus:

Despite her being the only American woman to have won three Olympic gold medals and compete in different medal-winning Olympic gymnastics teams (1992, 1996 and 2000), Dominique Dawes is remembered now only to those whose love for the sport of gymnastics is never-ending. Dominique Dawes was the only woman on the American gymnastics team in 1996 to have had her scores from all four events counted rather than thrown out in the team event that earned “The Magnificent Seven” America’s first team medal in women’s gymnastics. She electrified the world and, for a short time, America too, with her sheer beauty and talent and joy in the sport even as a young girl. Yet today Dominique Dawes is not a wealthy gymnastics coach and few who do not know gymnastics know her name. She is not even a regular news commentator on the sport she too elevated with her grace and beauty—and fierce athletic prowess. Had the Obama Administration (thank you Michelle!) not lifted her up and allowed her to continue to publicly inspire, it seems she would be today making most of her living as a motivational speaker. Largely forgotten.

Except how can you forget something like this? Who would even WANT to?

Dominique Dawes should be a household name in our country, just as Gabby Douglas should have been before she ever set foot in London last week. But she isn’t. Just as Gabby wasn’t, until folks literally had the choice between looking like public fools and acknowledging that yes, this year she is the best America had to offer in one of the world’s most beloved women’s sports.  

Overachieving Black women are everywhere. In every profession. In every field. Many of them should be household names given their impact on their fields and our world. Yet too many aren’t, especially when compared to their Black male and white female counterparts.

Yet most Americans don’t even know their names. Sure, they all know Oprah, and Halle Berry. Tyra Banks, Aretha Franklin, Missy Elliot and Michelle Obama. Celebrities, although these women too had to be strong and smart and talented to make it where they have.  

But what about all these other women whose biographies and work legacies are a testament not just to the best that Black women have to offer, or Black people have to offer, but people have to offer? Here is just a handful of their overachieving names. All of these best of the best of the best Black women are known by far fewer Americans than their way-beyond-normal intellect and talented biographies would suggest is and was their due.

  • In Law: Hon. Constance Baker Motley (be sure to click on the Congressional Resolution upon her passing—but leave yourself plenty of time to read about her LONG list of accomplishments)
  • Journalism: Charlayne Hunter-Gault
  • Economics: Dr. Julianne Malveaux
  • Space: Dr. Mae Jemison (who came to The Farm as a 16-year-old freshman and who gets bonus points for being one of the best, most intense, dancers I’ve ever shared a Stanford reunion party space with!)
  • Medicine: Dr. Patricia Era Bath (opthamologist, surgeon and inventor)
  • Science: Dr. Dale Brown Emeagwali (Microbiology) (who doesn’t even rank have a Wikipedia page in her honor, let alone the tenured position at an elite science institution that would have otherwise clearly found her given the nature of her discoveries)
  • Even Fashion: Iman (not to mention the business of fashion, with a respectable side of global philanthropy just to mix it up a little.)

These remarkable women all have at least one thing in common with Gabrielle Douglas, who folks are running around today calling “America’s golden girl” (with the incongruity of this completely lost upon them given that she is dark, and lovely) or the “flying squirrel” (a moniker allowing for some really weird flights of fancy:  are we talking about a flying rodent? Rocky as in Rocky the flying squirrel? Something else? What on earth was Marta Karolya’s reasoning behind this moniker, as opposed to others far less susceptible to negative connotation?)

None of them have received the national (as in American) recognition, the ‘household name’ status to which their biographies and histories indicate they are and were due. Status based not upon their status of being various types of”firsts”, but instead because their names in any non-racist, non-sexist world, would truly be some of the first that come to mind when you think of the ‘best of the best.’

Even Black women that the Left hates haven’t gotten the due that their biographies would have seemed to earn them.

For example, one of the most hated Republican women on the planet (with very good reason) may be Condoleezza Rice. Condi’s low standing in the “moral politicians” category is not definitely undeserved and this diary makes no efforts to rehabilitate her political image. That being said, however, much she is hated an honest person still has to ask why her star hasn’t shined far even more brightly in Republican politics. Her resume makes clear that she not only has done extremely well in politics, she has excelled academically and personally and accomplished things that no one but her own parents ever expected her to, like enrolling in college at the age of 15, becoming a world expert in the (then) complicated Soviet political science, managing to balance the budget of Stanford University in less than 2 years as Provost when all the men said it couldn’t be done, and being a piano virtuoso on top of it. More significantly, Condoleeza Rice has been everything the right has asked for, the ultimate “hard work is all you need” and “racism is no excuse” story, and then some. Yet the idea of her being “at the top” appears to be the farthest thing from anyone’s mind in the Republican party. This is despite Condi’s own tacit recognition that as a Black woman she is, in fact, just as qualified to be president (more so, much as she is hated) than the men whose water she has carried as the closest thing she will ever get to being anything with the word “president” in it during her lifetime:

My parents had me absolutely convinced that, well, you may not be able to have a hamburger at Woolworth’s but you can be president of the United States.

Despite her life story, in which she too has acknowledged the perennial curse of Black womanhood (“we have to be twice as good”)despite her skill as a pianist, decades-long cuddly relationship with the echelons of power on the right wing as an extremely young scholar, and the unwavering recognition that she has had for her intellect, to the point despite the calls that Romney to nominate her as his VP pick, she still hasn’t gotten “the call” so far as we know (although considering how badly things are going for the Mittster right now, you have to wonder why).

[For the record, this may be the only time that anyone should be grateful that Black women are as used, absued and forgotten as we are: because if Condoleezza Rice had been recognized for what she is intellectually and ended up on the ticket in 2008 instead of the world class ignoramus known as Sarah Palin, the election could have gotten a lot more complicated for now-President Obama.]

Why does the plight of Gabby Douglas and Dominique Dawes, and other Black elite athletes (including Venus and Serena Williams, who originally suffered equal indignities in terms of disrespect and dismissal on both their Black front and woman front—i.e. the number of times both have been called “ugly” is uncountable—despite their clear prowess in their field) even matter? Why should we care, that Black women in other fields who were not just good, not just noteworthy, not just excellent, but brilliant and/or talented almost beyond measure, were largely forgotten? After all, isn’t this just part of our nation’s racist sexist legacy that we’ve talked about a billion times?

It is. But in an election year where the nation is (hopefully) going to reelect its first Black president, it is important even more because their plight is mirrored in the political realm, too.

The invisibility of Black women’s political and electoral strength has resulted in, at a minimum a failure to harness the maximum political power on the Left. If not a number of missed opportunities for the Democratic Party and the nation to be in charge.

Chart showing demographic participation in 2008 election, from Dissecting the 2008 Electorate, Pew Research Center

For example, very little is written about the fact that President Obama owes his election in large measure to the historic levels of turnout of Black people—especially Black women, who had the highest voter turnout for the 2008 election of any other measured demogra


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