FILE UNDER: AMERICA.
"Even after the Rio Olympics are a distant memory, the gold medal wins by gymnast Simone Biles that solidified her place as the best in the world, as well as the one captured by swimmer Simone Manuel that made her the first black woman to win an individual medal in swimming (to go along with the other gold she won in the 400 relay), will still resonate, and the performances will still be talked about for years to come. But look through almost any comment thread and you'll find people trying to take race out of the equation, emphasizing that these wins are for Americans. Seeing this dynamic lays bare a truth all black people realize: that there are two Americas: one for white people and another for everyone else.
To paraphrase writer Luvvie Ajayi, when black people do exceptional things (and our excellence proves undeniable) white people love to emphasize the "American" in African-American. The medals Biles and Manuel have won don't broadly represent American idealism and perseverance. They are a stark reminder of the tradition of black athletic excellence they're continuing. To sideline the fact that they are young black women is to ignore the entrenched, racist history of their sports that there presence dismantles. It's also easy to forget that ignoring race is a luxury not afforded to black women like Biles and Manuel. If anything, their accomplishments are a win for every black girl told she wasn't good enough, that she didn’t have the "right look" for gymnastics, or was reminded as she stepped foot into her first swimming class that there was no one else that looked like her inside.
...The black female body has been a flashpoint in American history. When you hear Gabby Douglas' hair choices being scrutinized, what Beyoncé wears being criticized or Serena Williams' body being deemed "masculine" these things don't exist in a vacuum. They reflect a long tradition in American culture to denigrate and dismantle the humanity (and accomplishments) of black women. Biles doesn’t need to discuss race directly for it to be brought into the discussion.
...It may seem a bit limiting to view the downright legendary feats of these women through the lens of America's racial history. But in not doing so would be emotionally and intellectual dishonest..."
ROLLING STONE: Why Historic Wins by Simone Biles, Simone Manuel Matter for Race in America