So far, 2021 seems to be the year of criticizing Black women. U.S. gymnast Simone Biles is just the recent target.
Wikipedia states Black feminist Maya Bailey created the term “misogynoir” in 2010 to address misogyny directed toward Black women in American visual and popular culture. “Misogynoir really speaks to the resentment or hate of Black women,” added Randi Bryant, diversity and inclusion speaker, strategist, and author.
Biles’ withdrawals from several scheduled events at the Tokyo Olympics for mental health reasons drew both praise—50% of U.S. adults in a recent Morning Consult poll said pro athletes should prioritize their mental health—as well as jeers on social media, sports, and other media. The same poll also found that 68% viewed Biles as “strong” while 13% called her “weak.”
A Polish sprinter in Tokyo requested Olympic officials test Namibian teenager Christine Mboma to determine if she was a woman after she ran a 21.97 seconds time in a women’s 200M semifinals race. “Why is Black Excellence always the target of unwarranted investigation and interrogation,” tweeted University of Massachusetts-Amherst Associate Professor Nefertiti Walker.
Bryant in an MSR phone interview last week noted that too many Americans still treat Black people like second-class citizens but expect first-rate allegiance, especially Black women. Biles’ decision produced such treatment and expectation, she added.
It’s been practiced in sports toward Black female athletes for a while, she pointed out. “If you think back on it, let’s think about Serena Williams throughout her entire career,” noted Bryant. “She was criticized every time she decided to place herself about the sport.”
Most recently, the tennis great was oft-criticized for wearing an untraditional full-body suit after returning to the court after her pregnancy, from which she almost died.
“She wore the black bodysuit to protect her from blood clots,” stressed Bryant. “She was criticized horribly … simply [for] doing something again that was for [her] health.”
Biles later explained that among other reasons for not participating included her suffering from the “twisties”—a mental disconnect between brain and body that a gymnast can suffer while in the air, according to health.com. She feared that she would get hurt if she stuck to her expected and anticipated routines.
“If you at all question yourself, lack confidence, and fall out of that thin air in mid-air, you can fall directly down on your head, killing yourself,” Bryant pointed out. “The fact that [critics] were so doggedly against her and angry at her doing that is ridiculous.”
“What is happening currently in Tokyo is nothing new,” continued Bryant, who recently was named chief diversity officer at Freshworks. Women aren’t expected to say no, especially Black females, she added. “People don’t expect Black women to really ever prioritized themselves,” reaffirmed Bryant.
It’s an unfortunate historical belief in this country of the “strong Black woman” image, Bryant noted.
Biles joins tennis player Naomi Osaka, who was also criticized earlier this year after withdrawing from a major tournament due to mental health concerns.
“The fact that these women had the nerve, the great courage to say ‘no,’ to put themselves first, really almost brought me to tears because I do believe as Black women, we have embraced that Black woman trope that we have always been the ones who has been at the frontline …,” said the author-speaker.
Bryant calls what Biles, Osaka, and other Black women of late have done “a major revolution to put themselves first. That’s powerful to me,” she concluded.