Thursday night, Gabby Douglas made history as the first African-American to win a gold medal for the women’s all-around competition. Douglas came in first, besting her teammate Aly Raisman and Russian competitor Aliya Mustafina, and soared into America’s hearts. As the story of her Olympic victory unfolds, it becomes clear that Douglas was able to accomplish this magnificent feat through a mixture of hard work, family support, and relentless drive. Douglas should be applauded as much for winning a gold medal in a mostly white sport as she is for her athletic talent. Whether she knows it or not, Douglas is now a role model for not only aspiring gymnasts, but for the African American community; as it gives them another role model that reflects the best of their community.
In the age of Obama, there is a lot of talk suggesting that the U.S. is post-racial. We are supposed to be a society that puts the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into action by looking past a person’s skin color to see who they are on the inside. However, with the lack of diversity in the media, the high number of incarcerated people of color, and inevitable racist comments, it’s hard to believe that America can ever be post-race anything.
However, the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Douglas’ win shows that America is making strides in the post-race direction. There were some people that critiqued the gymnasts’ hair during the competition, but people of all races jumped to her defense reminding the public that it’s her agility –– not her appearance –– that should be the focus. Nonetheless, her win opens doors for countless young girls who can look to her and know that they too can accomplish their goals. In a perfect world, Douglas’ winning two gold medals in predominately white sport would not be a big deal; but in reality, it is.
Her achievement has been added to the long list of African-American firsts, encouraging future generations to continue on this legacy by becoming the first person of their race, gender, religion, country to go after their dreams. Douglas said herself that she wants “to inspire people … inspire a nation”; and now, she will.