Last night was a historic night for being a woman, being black, and being named Simone in the Olympics! #blackgirlsrock #blackgirlmagic
But I must say, I’ve been LIVID at the headlines, particularly about Simone Manuel’s historic Olympic victory at #Rio2016: “Simone Manuel First African American WOMAN to Win Gold in an Individual Swimming Event.” “NO!”, I said to myself. “No black man OR woman has ever done what Simone has done; she’s the first black person period to win an individual gold medal in Olympic history.” Then I thought, “All these news sites can’t be reporting the same short-sighted thing…am I wrong?” So I googled “first African American to win gold medal in individual Olympic event.” This is who I got.
Meet Anthony Ervin, the oldest Olympic swimmer at #Rio2016 at age 35. He has blue eyes, white skin, and matching tattoo sleeves on each arm.
He’s also black.
I’ve been following him during these Olympics because I’d never heard of him, and he’s this tatted up guy who’s the favorite to win the 50m freestyle final. Who’s this old (for swimming) white guy coming out of nowhere chopping everyone down in the freestyle?
The Rolling Stone writes after the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, “Ervin’s mother is Jewish and his father is black, and he found himself defined as the “first African-American swimmer to make the Olympic team.”After he climbed out of the pool in Sydney, beaming from his gold-medal victory, the sportscaster Jim Gray approached Ervin and asked what it felt like to be the first swimmer of African-American descent to win gold. Ervin gave a stock answer and walked away. “I didn’t know a thing about what it was like to be part of the black experience,” Ervin says today. “But now I do. It’s like winning gold and having a bunch of old white people ask you what it’s like to be black. That is my black experience.”
The age old question of what it means to be “black enough” immediately invaded my mental. I admit I feel some type of way about a guy who doesn’t even identify as black getting credit for being black and first in something that has historically been racialized – the swimming pool. I want it to be Simone, someone who is “unequivocally black”. But what does it mean to be unequivocally black? Why do I feel this way about Anthony Ervin but not about Barack Obama? What does this say about my personal biases?
Thinking out loud…