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Race and the U.S. Figure Skating Team



It’s impossible to ignore the whiff of racism in the U.S. Figure Skating federation’s decision to market its Olympic rivalry as one between two women who are skating dopplegangers, sharing the silky blond hair, white skin, snub noses, and lean, willowy physiques of classic ice queens.

Despite the fact that a number of its most visible champions have been women of color—Kristi Yamaguchi, Debi Thomas, Kwan—figure skating has always been a sport defined by whiteness. The first-ever black pair in the history of the sport (France’s Vanessa James and Yannick Bonheur) debuted at 2010 Olympics; the bronze medalists at those same Games were Germany’s  Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the first interracial pairs skaters. France’s Surya Bonaly, a three-time world silver medalist and five-time European champion, was legendarily at odds with both judges and audiences due to her “aggressive” style and strongly muscled physique—Serena Williams before Serena Williams.

And it’s hard to forget that back in 1998, when Lipinski rocketed out of relative obscurity to win gold over Kwan, MSNBC chose the baffling, incorrect “American Beats Out Kwan” as its headline.

Continue reading "Creating an Olympic Rivalry Between Blonde Girls, Just in Time" on BitchMedia.org.

You know, it’s a happy measure of how far we’ve come that it doesn’t seem all that remarkable, but still it’s noteworthy, Gabby Douglas is, as it happens, the first African-American to win the women’s all-around in gymnastics," Costas intoned, his besuited left elbow resting comfortably on the anchor desk. "The barriers have long since been down, but sometimes there can be an imaginary barrier, based on how one might see oneself.


columnist Anna Holmes calling out Bob Costas’ clueless comment about Gabby Douglas

In a political and cultural environment in which the patriotism—the very Americanness—of people of color (including the current president of the United States) is often called into question, Costas’s scripted deep thought—his “little homily,” as one Twitterer called it—was at worst dishonest, at best naive. What leveled barriers, I wondered, was Mr. Costas referring to? Who, excepting the most Pollyanna-ish or cloistered of cultural observers—the type who assert the legitimacy of phrases like “post-racial”—would believe that Gabby Douglas’ challenges were primarily psychic, a statement that can be contradicted by pretty much any news story or feature profile on the 16-year old gymnast, all of which make no secret of the undeniable whiteness of being that is high-level American gymnastics? “Bob Costas just re-affirmed that the success of a black person means we’re not racist anymore. THANK GOD THAT’S OVER,” wrote the political writer Ana Marie Cox. A few moments later she offered a revision of sorts: “Ok what he said was ‘a barrier has fallen’ or somesuch but one person over the wall does not a fallen barrier make. TAKES NOTHING FROM GABS.”