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White Privilege Strikes Again: Olympic Edition

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Gettysburg chapter.

Here’s the situation: Gabby Douglas, age 20, stands atop the gold medal podium at the Rio Olympics with her teammates and does not place her hand over her heart while the national anthem plays. Douglas, who won gold at the 2012 Olympics in London, did not qualify for this year’s all-around competition. In addition to what was likely a colossal disappointment, she was already facing scrutiny from the media about her attitude, her performance, and (wtf?) her hair. Douglas is forced to apologize in a press conference during which she expresses the profound stress under which she is struggling and asks the country to understand her burdensome task of trying to defend her title and lead her team. She responds on Twitter: “In response to a few tweets I saw tonight, I always stand at attention out of respect for our country whenever the national anthem is played. I never meant any disrespect and apologize if I offended anyone. I’m so overwhelmed at what our team accomplished today and overjoyed that we were able to bring home another gold for our country!”

Here’s the reaction: The right-wing media loses their minds, calls Douglas unpatriotic and disrespectful, says she does not understand the sacrifices made to protect her country. One Facebook post compares a photograph of the 20 year-old on the podium to an American swimmer also receiving a gold medal; the latter does not have his hand on his heart, as he is covering his face and wiping away tears. This Facebook post claims that the swimmer, who is a white man, is excused from covering his heart because he is so overwhelmed by joy and glory for his country while labeling Douglas bitter, resentful, and unpatriotic. They accuse her of disrespect and say that she is doing a poor job of representing America on the world’s grandest stage.

Here are some comparisons: At a GOP debate last December, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is white, did not cover his heart during the national anthem while all of his opponents did so. The debate was broadcast to the nation. Trump is 50 years older than Gabby Douglas and is running for the highest office in the United States. Meanwhile, former Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, who is white, went viral for being “unimpressed” when she won silver in the vault final, pursing her lips to the side and crossing her arms while the gold medalist smiled from the podium. Maroney suddenly became America’s sweetheart for her edgy reaction. Finally, we have swimmer and gold medalist Ryan Lochte, who is white, fabricating a story about being robbed at gunpoint to cover up an altercation he had with a gas station worker after causing damage to the facility. While Brazilian authorities tried to keep Lochte in Rio to conduct a formal investigation, the media implored his forgiveness, claiming, “he’s just a kid.”

Here’s the breakdown: Gabby Douglas is criticized for failing to place her hand over her heart, but the media and the public fails to acknowledge the monumental stress she had been facing at such a young age. However, when the Republican presidential candidate fails to perform the same action, he is excused. Gabby Douglas is accused of having an attitude, while McKayla Maroney is called cute, edgy, and defiant. Gabby Douglas is scrutinized, while Ryan Lochte, despite disrespecting the host country and painting the city in a bad light (in addition to his other crimes, including vandalism), is quickly defended and forgiven.

So what the hell is the deal here? We all know it, but some are too afraid to say it: white privilege. Let’s show Gabby Douglas some respect.

English major with a writing concentration, Civil War era studies/Middle East and Islamic studies minor. I'm all about goats and feminism.
Juliette Sebock, Founder: Jules founded the Gettysburg College chapter of Her Campus in Fall 2015 and served as Campus Correspondent until graduating in Spring 2018. Juliette graduated from Gettysburg College in 2018 with an English major and History/Civil War Era Studies/Public History triple minors. In addition to HC, she was a member of the Spring 2017 class of Advanced Studies in England and of various organizations including Eta Sigma Phi, Dance Ensemble, and Poetry Circle. She has published a poetry chapbook titled Mistakes Were Made, available on Amazon and Goodreads, and she has poems forthcoming in several literary magazines. She is also the editor-in-chief of Nightingale & Sparrow Magazine and runs the lifestyle blog, For the Sake of Good Taste. For more information, visit https://juliettesebock.com.