When I sat down to watch the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics this year, the excitement vanished into a deep pool of nothingness. The U.S. team, boasting 242 competitors, looked unlike the America I know.
This year, only seven competitors on Team USA were black, and only three Latinos represented the U.S. The second largest group was comprised of fourteen Asian-Americans. Even with those three groups combined, just a little under one percent of Team USA was non-white.
I understand the rules of how people qualify for the Olympics and that its not based on fulfilling a quota. So the point of this commentary is not to diminish the hard work of the athletes who represented Team USA.
Rather, I want to explore how the lack of access to winter sports for people of color limits the possibility of having a Winter Olympic team that is more representative of what the U.S. actually looks like. The lack of diversity also reveals the economic inequalities people of color still face.
U.S. bobsledder Lauren Gibbs’ road to silver medal
U.S. Women’s bobsled team member Lauren Gibbs talks about her decision to try out for the team at 30-years-old.
First, people of color arent exposed to winter sports. Because most winter sports require access to facilities that are miles away from the urban areas where most of us live, the ability to compete or at least even try a winter sport is limited.
And being far removed from areas where winter sport facilities exist is just only part of the problem.
According to the Urban Institute, over 13 million families in the United States live in poverty. Their study found that four million low-income families (30 percent) are Hispanic, while 2.9 million (22 percent) are black or African American. Another 6 percent (about 800,000) of low income people in the U.S. are other nonwhites. Since white people make up about 76 percent of the population,according to the latest Census, the overwhelming burden that people of color take on in economic inequality is staggering.
Institutionalized racism is embedded in our countrys policies, from the way we fund schools, to the gentrification that is taking place all over the U.S., which is pushing communities of people of color out and further isolating them from economic prosperity.
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And nevermind the fact that people of color earn less than their white counterparts. According to the Pew Research Center, In 2015, average hourly wages for black and Hispanic men were $15 and $14, respectively, compared with $21 for white men. For women of color, it was worse: with black and Hispanic women earning $13 and $12 on average hourly, compared to white women at $17 an hour.
So, if we want to diversify the Winter Olympics, then working towards economic equality will have to be part of the conversation, something that many organizations are working vigilantly on.
In the meantime, there are organizations looking to expose kids from urban communities to winter sports, such as the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS). Their mission statement proudly says that they aim, To identify, develop and support athletes of color who will WIN international and Olympic winter sports competitions representing the United States and to increase participation in winter sports.
US olympian breaks barriers in quest for gold
Ghana-born Maame Biney, a top American contender in short-track speed skating, has an unlikely story, prodigious talent and charm to burn.
And NBS has had some success through their support of Andre and Suki Horton, who became members of the US Ski Team, along with Zyre Austin, a free skier, was the top US woman at the World Juniors in Italy and was an alternate for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Or theres the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, founded in 1978 by Neal Henderson, a native of St. Croix, New Brunswick, Canada. After relocating to Washington D.C., he wanted his son to play hockey, and founded Fort Dupont in an attempt to help create more opportunity for kids of color to play. The majority of the kids in Hendersons program are African-Americans, Latinos, Africans, and Indians.
Chloe Kim lands back-to-back 1080s, wins Olympic gold in halfpipe
With the victory already secure, Chloe Kim landed her signature back-to-back 1080s on her third and final run to win gold in women’s snowboard halfpipe at the age of 17.
These organizations play an important role in providing access and exposure. And should they help get more people of color athletes in the Winter Olympics, young kids who arent white, will see themselves and think, Hey, maybe I can do that.
And this year, barriers were broken. Erin Jackson made the Olympic team at the Trials in January after only four months of skating. Then there was Jordan Greenway, who became the first African-American to play hockey for Team USA at the Winter Games, and Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs, both African American, took home a silver medal in womens bobsled.
Chloe Kim, an Asian American, took home gold in the half-pipe. And Mirai Nagasu, an Asian American, became the first American woman to execute a triple axel at the Olympics. Lastly, Maia Shibutani helped the Americans win the team bronze medal.
Mirai Nagasu lands triple Axel in PyeongChang debut (FULL)
Mirai Nagasu is the first U.S. woman to land a triple Axel in the Olympics, and she won a team event bronze medal for the effort.
Representation matters, and only helps strengthen the quality and competition of sports when more people have access. But until America begins to resolve its problems regarding economic inequality, we can continue to expect to the Winter Olympics to look as white as the snow they compete on.