Editorial: Global privilege check at the 2016 Rio Olympics

The Olympics is supposed to be a time to celebrate human achievement, setting aside personal prejudices and conflicts.

But it comes as no surprise that in 2016, as discussed by Huffington Post, it’s the personal differences of men who are white that humans still finds easiest to set aside.

The world recently watched, during the 2016 Olympic Gams in Rio de Janeiro, as the #CrabbyGabby hashtag was used to target 20-year-old gold medalist Gabby Douglas with the classic criticism leveled against serious women: She’s not smiling. Similarly, gymnast Mikaila Maroney not smiling while receiving the silver medal at the 2012 Olympics went viral. Apparently, few things are more offensive than a woman without a smile.

Spectators at the 2016 Rio Olympics booed Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova. She had been barred from the games during a doping investigation and then reinstated; regardless, booing Olympians is a new low.

Douglas is African American, which makes her a target in other ways. Not only did she not smile enough as a woman, but also media shamed her based on her hair. She’s been portrayed as un-American for not placing her hand over her heart during the national anthem.

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Gabby Douglas and Ryan Lochte. AP images.

At the same time, four white swimmers from the U.S. men’s team during the games reportedly entered a Brazilian gas station, urinated on the floor, broke a door, and argued with security before paying money for the damage done. One of the swimmers, 32-year-old Ryan Lochte, reportedly told his mother that they’d been robbed, resulting in a police investigation.

Rio Olympics spokesman Mario Andrada released a statement that, “No apologies from [Lochte] or other athletes are needed…They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on.”

The Internet erupted with irony.

It looks bad that an American Olympian is suspected of disrespecting the international host country and then using Brazil’s socially-stressed image as a scapegoat, but – in the context of the 2016 Olympics as a whole – not as bad as Douglas’ facial expressions, hair, and hands.

No one’s officially in charge of the Internet, but with the spotlight on, Brazil was in the rare position of being able to issue it a global privilege check.

Brazil didn’t seize the opportunity within the Lochte crisis to make everything better by reminding the world that not only are the Olympics intended to be a space free of personal prejudices for athletes who, like Lochte and his teammates are men who are white, but also for all athletes, including those of African heritage and women, like Douglas.

As social media continues to transform the Internet into The Critic – diverse, knowledgeable, dynamic, timeless, alert, vigilant, aware of most aspects of nearly all events – world leaders need to respond to context, not isolated events, if they hope to be taken seriously and, more importantly, to improve life on Earth.


soulciti contributor Isha Rosemond contributed to this editorial.

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