In the wake of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the continued schism between the black community and local law enforcement, the Rio Olympics have provided a breath of life and hope into a people who need it; black people in America. Even the best and brightest have been victims of gross discrimination and harassment. In 2013 Oprah Winfrey, a cultural icon and one of the wealthiest women in America, was told that she could not afford to buy a purse at a high-end store while traveling abroad in Zurich. Back in 2009 Henry Louis Gates, a prominent scholar, historian and professor at Harvard University, was falsely accused and arrested for breaking into his own home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s the same story… “you are black and you have no business here.” It is the sad truth, ignorance prevails far too often.
When these things happen to the best and brightest of the black community, it is easy to see why so many black men and women in America my feel like they will never get a fair shake in this country. But what is even more disheartening is when black children internalize the obvious inequities of society and simply accept them. When children begin to believe that they will never be good enough and they have to “stay in their place,” is when you get the apathy and indifference that you see in so many communities. What is unfair, is to see the beauty and potential in the black community tucked away and hidden from the world, while their flaws, insecurities and misfortunes continue to be blasted and broadcast for the world to see.
But what has happened in Rio this summer cannot be ignored, dismissed or cast aside as an anomaly or aberration. The best and brightest have been on display and for the world to see; and it is awesome and amazing. It has not just been on display for the rest of the world, but more importantly for the millions of black people who have struggled to believe in a brighter opportunity for themselves and their children.
Sports icons such as Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan have done a great job of celebrating representing black masculinity and excellence in sports. More recently Venus and Serena Williams have been able to break down barriers for black people in tennis; especially black girls, as tennis has been traditionally seen as a “white” sport. But for most of their careers, it seems as if they have been alone. Ironically, Serena, the top player in the world was ousted in the early rounds of this year’s Olympics, but the mantel was lifted high by so many others.
However, there is a new movement that has caught fire in Rio; Black Girl Magic. The tag is showing up all over social media and for good reason. Historically, black women have been relatively invisible in American society, not to mention sports. There have been women throughout history who have definitely stood out and have made profound impacts on American culture and society, dating back to Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou and today, Michelle Obama. These women embody black girl magic. But they are part of a very small sorority; seen as exceptions to the rule. Black women are supposed to play support roles. Their contributions are helpful, but when it is all said and done, men have been overwhelmingly perceived as icons and leaders of the black community.
So what is Black Girl Magic all about and what does it mean? If you have been watching the Olympic Games, then you already know. But if you have not it is essentially this…The invisible woman is no more. For the last 10 days the world has had no choice but to witness the elegance, grace, class, power and potential of black women. The podium has been flooded with mocha brown, chocolate and deeper dark chocolate faces. Unapologetic. Black and beautiful. From the balance-beam to the swimming pool, black women have blessed the prime time world with their gifts, that have been overshadowed for far too long. It is inspiring. It is magical.
The irony is that the black body has historically been black peoples’ greatest asset, but also their biggest liability. Enslaved Africans’bodies were used to cut sugar cane, pick cotton, build empires and to breed. Today those same bodies earn scholarships and lucrative contracts for themselves, while attracting billions of dollars for wealthy colleges, institutions and professional organizations. It is a precarious agreement, but many have reaped the benefits and have been able to advance themselves. However, historically, women, and especially black women have very rarely been able to benefit from any arrangement, in which their bodies were seen as their primary asset, without sexual implication or exploitation.
The Rio Olympics however has highlighted a different narrative for the black woman athlete and black women in general. It is celebrating the beauty and body of black women; without objectification, and with the highest esteem. It is combating the images of black women using their powerful bodies to hurt each other or even themselves. Instead it is inspiring little black girls to be world-class gymnasts, swimmers, sprinters and throwers. To be ambassadors of their country.
This could not have manifested in a more appropriate place, as Brazil has the highest concentration of black people outside of Africa. More enslaved Africans were shipped to Brazil than any other place in the world. And yes the power and potential of black people in the New World, especially women, has historically been confined to making profits and growing wealth for others. This is an opportunity for black women to take back their power and create a more dignified legacy for themselves in a way the world has never seen before.