Last Thursday was an exciting day for me. Although I was in a business meeting at my fraternity’s national conference, I was secretly checking the stats for the Women’s Gymnastics all-around competition to see if Gabby Douglas would win. By some miracle, she did. Needless to say, I was thrilled. I felt that the media had positioned her as someone who didn’t quite deserve to be on the Olympic team even after she scored higher than World Champion and favorite Jordyn Wieber both at the Olympic trials and in the qualifying round. Finally, Gabby would get the respect she deserves.
Then it happened. Truth be told, I had noticed some people rumbling about Gabby Douglas’ hair on some blogs that I read, but I had hoped these were isolated incidents. They weren’t. People were actually complaining that her standard gymnastics hairdo was not representing African American women in a positive manner. I was confused. So was Gabby, who later weighed in on the controversy herself via Twitter. Given the amount of athleticism necessary to be a successful gymnast, I was sure that Gabby Douglas’ focus was primarily on making sure her long hair would not get in the way during any of her routines. In that respect, she was successful.
Unfortunately, this incident casts a shadow on the African American community’s views on hair. After all, we were the only ones complaining. As a community, we are largely obsessed with hair. That’s why comedian Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair was so popular. That also explains the popularity of shows that profile successful owners of African American hair salons like LA Hair, Beverly Hills Fabulous, and Chicagolicious. (Yesterday, Chicagolicious cast members MaCray and Austin were having drinks at the bar in the lobby of the Atlanta hotel that served as the location of my frat’s national conference while I was checking out. My cousin was very upset with me for not getting their autographs because they are her two favorite people on the show. I randomly tweeted about it while I was at the airport yesterday and Austin retweeted me. Now, my cousin and I are fine again.) Even Oprah received a lot of negative feedback for her recent decision to wear her hair in an afro on the cover of her magazine. We as a people place way too much emphasis on hair.
As a man with dreadlocks, I face these issues all too often. While my colleagues of other races are often fascinated by my hair, most of the negative comments I receive are from fellow African Americans who are convinced that I will be unable to obtain a decent job with my hair in its current state. I was reading a blog today that mentioned that for a time, Hampton University actually banned its business administration students from wearing cornrows or dreadlocks in spite of being a premier educator to African Americans. (I guess that would have affected me since my initial field of research was business administration and I had just started locking my hair in 2006–the year the ban took place.) Ironically, I have a friend who was hired as a corporate lawyer not too long ago with flowing dreadlocks. (He later cut his hair when he decided to pursue a career practicing another type of law, but now that he has been hired, he is growing his locks back.)
In the end, I am truly sorry that Gabby Douglas’ hair has managed to overshadow her major accomplishments for some members of the African American community. Even though she failed to medal today during the uneven bars final–which is no surprise considering that her scores have been consistently lower than the scores of many athletes from other countries on that apparatus–she is still a highly-skilled gymnast. She is the greatest all-around gymast in the world and she’s still the first US gymnast to win gold in the all-around competition and team competition during the same Olympic games. She has even signed a lucrative Corn Flakes endorsement deal with others soon to follow. Let’s give her the respect that she deserves.