Good Hair, Crip Walking and the London Olympics

Editors note: After the first week of Olympic action wrapped up, The Shadow League editors Vince Thomas and Khalid Salaam went back and forth on some of the topics (good hair, crip-walking, GOAT Olympian, basketball boredom, etc.) that had the American streets buzzing. Here’s Part I.

VINCE: Gabrielle-freaking-Douglas. Only a story like Michael Phelps' last hurrah would keep her from being the biggest story of the Olympics and, on the real, I think she still is. This is primarily because she came from out of nowhere and won the U.S. a gold medal in one of the Games’ premier events. But it’s also due to the other things — the fact that she elbowed Jordyn Wieber out of the limelight and, of course, all the cultural shrapnel flying around her.

She's the new American Sweetheart. That's too ill. Think about America's Sweethearts of the past. Take, the past 40 years, for instance. In no chronological order, you've had Drew Barrymore, Molly Ringwald, Chris Evert, Mary Lou Retton, Britney Spears and a few others. It's hard to come up with a young girl of color on that list. By the time Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston were big stars, they were adults. Raven Symone? Maybe. But very few teenage girls will experience the universal darling status that Gabby will enjoy for this next year. She's a pioneer.

And that's why it’s sad, really, that she was at the center of a few typical, tired, trite “black in America” controversies. First there was the Twitterized hair fuss and then NBC had to issue an apology for a monkey-themed Animal Practice commercial they aired after she accepted her individual all-around gold. The Twitter madness angered me, the NBC commercial bored me.

KHALID: I didn't see the commercial that you referred to and I'm not going to look for it either. So I'll just refrain from commenting. If NBC apologized, that's good enough.

But the hair? That's just shameful. I want to know what the motivations are for anyone to criticize a 16-year-old girl while she’s in the process of winning gold medals. This is what you're focusing on? It’s so weak-minded and harkens back to that old defeatist mentality that still festers in some parts of the black community.

Are we still having this conversation in 2012? What's next a brown paper bag test? I doubt seriously if other ethnicities/races would even have this as a point of concern. There was/is nothing wrong with Gabby Douglas' hair. And this idea that her hair not looking fabulous enough, is  somehow reflecting on her family and, thus, the black community is both ignorant and pathetic. Self-esteem has long been an achilles heel in the black community and, apparently, it remains so.

VINCE: Wait…NBC determines it's necessary to issue an apology over a commercial that could have been racially insensitive and you won't even bother looking into it? Explain yourself. Is that lethargy or exasperation?

KHALID: I just don't care. I'm tired of apologies. Furthermore, I'm tired of people being sensitive and demanding apologies. Sometimes people just make mistakes and sometimes they exhibit piggish racism. I don't claim to be a mind reader, but what I do standby is not overreacting to every imagined racial slight. Everything isn't racial and, the things that are (discrimination/mocking based on the spelling or pronounciation of someones name, for example), people never have the stones to address. Wake me up when it’s for real, otherwise I'm good.

VINCE: I'm actually all in with you, here. I actually felt embarrassed for black people and sorry for NBC. So many things to shake your head about, here: 1) That someone would watch that commercial and think, "That's racist." 2) That someone would actually complain to NBC that, "That's racist." 3) That NBC would feel compelled to acknowledge dimwits. 4) That poor little Gabby has to hear about this malarkey and be like, "Why would someone see a commercial of a monkey and automatically think it was a Gabby-diss?" Do-betters needed all around.

As far as homegirl's hair is concerned, the whole controversy was one of the all-time greatest examples of Twitter's potential as a vehicle for ugly and ignorance. Twitter is the internet's biggest chicken coop for the thousands upon thousands of chicken heads clucking about nonsense. I hope Gabby had the right people shielding her from these trivial, grown-up louts.

KHALID: What's makes it worse is that the comments about her hair were also coming from men. What kind of dude feels compelled to even address that? Nevermind that Gabby's hair looked fine, I'm saying, yeah, what if it was actually tore up from the floor up? She's an athlete, breaking new ground on a international stage! Why do you even decide to type anything negative, whatsoever? She's a 16 year old girl. I mean, really?

VINCE: My favorite cultural moment of the Olympics was Serena crip walking at Wimbledon after winning her gold medal. But I know you have a problem with folks co-opting the hood. What was that lug you hit me with once? I think it was, “I don’t like people coming to hood and eating and not paying for their food.” So, Serena c-walking…fly or foul?

KHALID: My beef with Serena Williams crip walking is that I don't accept it as a trend piece. I never have. I have little patience for inner-city violence signifiers being co-opted and repackaged as something hip. I don't care if she is from Compton. That's nonsense. I've always had problems with 'hood' things being thought of as "cool" anyway. Like really, who are fooling with this? If you're not a Crip, you can’t crip walk – point blank period.

VINCE: But, when Crips start c-walking in rap videos – like they were in the early aughts – they are offering that to the culture. The act of crip walking is so far removed gang violence, at this point, that, to me, it's senseless to take umbrage with Serena using it as her celebration dance.

I can dig you fighting the good fight 10 or 12 years ago when Bow Wow and Spring Breakers in cargo shorts were c-walking, but you lost that battle. It is entirely what it is, at this point.

What I find laughable, however, is anyone that  posits her dance demeaned her gold medal moment. Word? Go fly a kite. We've been beat over the head with Western piety from the moment the Opening Ceremonies began. It's nauseating. I'm glad Serena brought Compton to Wimbledon.

KHALID: Serena lives in West Palm Beach, though. That’s about as non-hood as you can get. I'm not trying to fight the good fight, I'm just saying I don't find humor in it. There are a thousand dances she could have done. Do those instead.

Back to top