Sally Jenkins' latest column for the Washington Post is headlined: "Gabby Douglas needs to avoid letting others set her narrative for her."
There is, inexplicably, no subtitle reading: "But should definitely let Sally Jenkins publicly lecture her in a super condescending way."
Instead, there's just a giant photo of all-around champion Gabby Douglas falling off the balance beam, followed by garbage like this:
Douglas is black, her coach is Chinese. She's living with a white family in Iowa, and her captain on the USA gymnastics team is Jewish and danced to a gold medal in the floor exercise to Hava Nagila.That is some amazing mind-reading, unless Jenkins is privy to information about Douglas' thoughts that the rest of us are not, since there's a funny dearth of quotes from Douglas herself about her alleged "colorblindness."
Douglas genuinely doesn't see color — it's not her first thought.
Granted, I've not read every interview Douglas has ever given, but, in recent days, when I have read Douglas speaking on or near the subject of race, it has not been to declare her indifference as much as it's been, "Are you kidding me? I just made history. And you're focusing on my hair?"
To fail to see that as a comment demonstrative of a young woman who has to think about race, is obliged to have her race be one of her first thoughts, is to be a insulated by privilege and/or to be so deeply invested in the narrative of "colorblindness" that one ignores all evidence to its contrary.
The article gets worse from there.
Jenkins sanctimoniously compliments Douglas for believing in herself despite the pervasive whiteness of her sport, as if what's really holding black gymnasts back is their own weakness, as if the fact that it took talent enormous enough to win the all-around title, major familial sacrifices, and profound personal strength to overcome institutional barriers to participation somehow proves that anyone can do it if only they really try, rather than underscoring that the system is broken.
But these are the narratives of black exceptionalism that white people love: The black athlete who overcame terrible odds to become a champion. Proof that all you need is bootstraps. Soothing reassurance that we never have to change. After all, not having white privilege didn't stop that one extraordinary person so that means everyone else can do it, too, if they really want to.
Finally, Jenkins appropriates quotes from African-American former gymnast Dominique Dawes in order to lecture Douglas on how to be a champion. I mean, obviously it would just be unseemly for Jenkins to lecture her herself, so she passive-aggressively utilizes Dawes, whose encouragements to Douglas to "be herself, be genuine, and not try to be what other people think America wants or will gravitate to," are given an entirely different (disingenuous) meaning following on Jenkins insistence that Douglas "doesn't see color."
Jenkins is literally using the words of Dawes, who wept with excitement and pride and joy at Douglas' achievement, to admonish Douglas to not let herself be defined as a woman of color in gymnastics.
Which is gross on a lot of different levels, but perhaps none so much as its implicit argument that being defined as a woman of color, in gymnastics or anything else, is undesirable.
[H/T to @graceishuman, whose just-published piece "The Media's Gabby Douglas Problem" is highly recommended reading.]