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Doubtful Douglas will ever get an apology for any assault on her emotional wellbeing as a black woman

Just over a year ago, I waded in on the controversy orbiting the #EricSheppardChallenge that left so many “upstanding” and “patriotic” Americans emotionally spent and undone.

If you don’t recollect what all the hoopla was about, here’s a quick refresher:

Related Article: Why You Shouldn’t Wave The Flag July 4

“During a protest staged at VSU, aimed at American anti-Blackness, Sheppard and other students walked on the American Flag to, as he explained in a video uploaded to Youtube, “step on” the cherished beliefs of Whitopia: white supremacy, institutional racism, mental colonialism, economic disempowerment, and cultural superiority.”

Basically, people were pissed that Sheppard promoted flag desecration as a form of protesting America’s sordid history.

I spent 1,710 words making what ultimately amounted to an evolutionary argument on the inseparable questions of patriotism, race, and black identity in America. I cited Joseph Graves, whose books tracing the development of the race concept is indispensable reading.

I made the claim that flag desecration — and, by extension, other dramatic, symbolic forms of protesting the hypocrisies of American statehood — is an agent of national evolution and Black people — as well as any marginalized group — should prioritize a “healthy, critical position towards citizenship.”

I believed this then, wholeheartedly. I still believe it now. It could not be more relevant in light of the recent Twitter backlash flung at Olympic gymnast and gold medalist Gabby Douglas for not placing her hand on heart during the singing of the national anthem in Rio.

Although opinion on her actions was mixed and split, Douglas still took the time to issue an apology. Perhaps she felt that as a representative of the United States on one the biggest and most competitive stages in the world, it was her patriotic duty to put forward the best face of the country:

“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!”

Maybe her publicist put her up to it. Maybe she sincerely did not intend any harm to come by her decision. Whatever the reasons, whatever the motivation, Douglas should not have had to apologize for the same reason that Sheppard made no apology for stepping on the American flag.

As I stated about the relationship between blackness and nationality, to help clarify Sheppard’s stance:

“History shows that this awkward, complicated, and strained relationship with the American nation-state and the values its flag presumably embodies, is neither unreasonable nor unwarranted. In point of fact, Blacks have always been uneasy about the stars and stripes. Understandable, given the fact that the so-called “founding fathers,” celebrated year after year, were notorious racists, and had a firm, blood-coated hand in codifying the mass-subscribed proposition that to be American is to be White.”

So, too, its racist anthem.

But, we can go further and more personal.

Where was all this outrage when a story leaked about a gym staffer at the prestigious Excalibur Gymnastics advising an impressionable, 8-year-old Douglas to invest in reconstructive surgery on her nose? Where were the tweets expressing appall when she told Oprah about the racist jokes she was forced to endure at this school? Where was backlash when she recalled how her classmates described her as “our slave”?

Doubtful Douglas will ever get an apology for any of these assaults on her emotional wellbeing as a black woman. But, she’s expected to put her best cultural foot forward in the presence of global company?

I think not.

And to those who have persecuted Douglas for “disrespecting” land and country in front of a “foreign” audience, I pose to them the same hypothetical that I posed to critics of flag desecration:

“what kind of a world [would we] live in if Whitopians spewing filth [at Black critics] showed as much disgust and visible agony at the sight of urban black poverty, Black wealth and health disparities, employment discrimination, mass incarceration, and residential segregation”

Indeed. What would that world look like?


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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