Societal The Word 3 minute read

Olympians? Yes. Americans? Kinda.

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It’s like when your best friend marries a jerk.  Or when you get a promotion in title, but the accompanying raise is minimal.  There is a limp hooray—a half-hearted celebration—a slow clap.  There is a slight dampening mist on a bright day.  One that prevents your joy from fully going aflame.

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My heart has leapt as high as a Simone Biles two and half twist off a backward salto when I have watched Simone Manuel, Gabby Douglas, Daryl D. Homer, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Michelle Carter and Biles, herself, win medals.

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But, as I watched the news outlets tally America’s gold medals and professionally gloat how we were trouncing the competition, my feelings were – well – indescribable.   And that’s bad.  I should be beaming with American pride; but frankly, I haven’t been feeling too American lately.  Quite candidly, I think many Black people would say as though they feel as if there is an asterisk by their classification as Americans; not because of any lack of loyalty they feel to this country but due to the lack of loyalty this country has shown to us.

Too many times lately we’ve been told to go back to Africa, as if our citizenship was always temporary and never appreciated.  Too many times lately we have heard rhetoric about “taking America back” following the tenure of a two- term African-American President – demonstrating that some feel as if the United States is their home, and we are at best, guests.  The anniversary of Mike Brown’s death was on August 10th — and on August 13th it was 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith who was shot by a police officer in Milwaukee, causing massive protests.  The Black Lives Matter Movement is as ubiquitous as the weather report: we look to see if it’s simply cloudy or storming, but we know that daily there will be a report.

We must provide our kids with different rules, different standards, because we know that for them this is a different America. They are American—yes!  They can be anything they want to be—absolutely.  But there is an asterisk.

It’s this asterisk that has dulled my happiness each time a Black person has won an Olympic medal.  Would the same people who have clapped for Simone Manuel’s win invite her over to dinner?  Will Daryl D. Homer be stopped by the police next month when he doesn’t have the medal around his neck to identify that he is “different”?  Will Simone Biles be considered America’s little darling to the same level that Mary Lou Retton was?  For some, are Black people only Americans when they are on the court, in the pool, on the field, in the gym—succeeding and serving?

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At this point, Simone Biles, Simone Manuel, Gabby Douglas, Daryl Homer, Ibtihal Muhammad and Michelle Carter are undoubtedly Olympians; they are undoubtedly champions; but when they get home and their medals are off can we say to all that they are undoubtedly Americans?

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