Believermag’s article, “Remote Control: Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan and the Spectacles of Female Power and Pain” provides insight into the role media played in shaping the assault on Kerrigan’s landing leg prior to the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships and how important perceived femininity can be in figure skating and women’s sports.
I wasn’t a serious skater yet in ‘94, but I remember being 6 and absolutely scandalised at Harding’s alleged actions. I believed the media hype and declared Nancy Kerrigan a personal hero. But after reading this piece Tonya Harding is feeling surprisingly, well, relateable. My background is nothing like Harding’s detailed above, but as a Black figure skater achieving the appropriate levels of perceived femininity, grace, and poise wasn’t easy.
Whether it was my my height, my different hair (no neat skating bun for me), the fact that I couldn’t buy skating stockings that matched the color of my skin, the fact that I couldn’t order and wear the same shades of makeup as the other (white) girls on my synchonised skating team, there was always something that kept me from feeling like I was adored the same way the other skaters were.
By the time I left high school I had all my double jumps down, passed all my moves tests, and was helping to coach a local synchronised skating team, so it wasn’t for lack of talent that the familiar accolades of “you’re so graceful” or “you have such artistry” seemed to always turn to variations of “you’re so athletic/aggressive!” or “you have such a unique style”. Someone at my club in Connecticut commented that I’d probably be amazing at track and field because my skating was so fast and powerful, and had I thought about that instead? New York City tourists have politely and very complimentary (in their eyes) told me that I’m “the best Black skater they’ve ever seen, and so powerful!” Strong, powerful, aggressive, athletic; not the words you want to hear in the delicate, feminine world of figure skating.
Harding’s desire to skate programs to untraditional music choices mirror my own. The year Will Smith’s Big Willie Style came out I desperately wanted to do a competition program to Men in Black or Miami. My coach looked horrified when I played her the tape, and I ended up with a program from the musical Camelot instead that satisfied the requirements of soft, graceful, feminine skating.
That was 17 years ago, but you’re still not going to see many programs like Starr Andrews’ (to Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair) in national and international competition. Music that derives from the standard Euro-classical and instrumental should be avoided, but if it is to be presented it should be done only by an All American white girl in a bindi so as not to threaten the sport’s reputation or the judges’ sensibilities.
I don’t compete any more. I haven’t put on a pair of skating tights in years because Capezio’s "tan" is still about 5 shades lighter than I am, and Surya Bonaly was a childhood hero. I put on headphones and skate to whatever I want— almost always starting a workout with Beyonce and DMX. I have half a program to “Partition” choreographed already, not that it would ever be acceptable in competition. We can’t excuse whatever part Tonya Harding may or may not have played in the assault on Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, but I get what it’s like to not be seen as the “‘lovely,’ ‘ladylike,’ ‘elegant,’ and ‘sophisticated,’;one,” and spending the energy trying to conform to a sport standard that’s not necessarily made to fit how the world’s been trained to see you. I suspect that several other Black athletes do as well; Serena Williams comes quickly to mind.
Just something to keep in mind as we approach the Sochi Winter Games. Sometimes it’s more than expensive costs that keeps girls off the ice. - KJ
Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas saw unprecedented success at this year’s Summer Olympics, becoming the first African American to win the individual all-around competition, and the first American to win both the individual and team competition. But Gabby didn’t always feel at home at the gym. In her upcoming interview with Oprah, Gabby opens up about the bullying and racism she experienced while training at a gym in Virginia. A fewllow gymnast routinely referred to Douglas as her “slave.” From the Huffington Post: “But it hasn’t been an easy road. Douglas opened up about her time training at a gym in Virginia, where she was met with racism and ridicule. She told a story how at one point she was actually referred to by another gymnast as their ‘slave.’ ‘I definitely felt isolated. I felt, why am I deserving this?’ she said. ‘Is it because I’m black? Like, those thoughts would go through my mind.’ Douglas felt so unwelcome in Virginia that she moved to the gym in Iowa where she blossomed into the gold medalist who wowed the world in London.”
Waiter, can we have a side of facts with this hyperbole and cliché?
Yes, Manzano arrived in the United States at the age of 4. In 1987, his father, Jesús, who was working in the United States without authorization, secured permanent residency. Soon thereafter, he would gain his green card, ultimately sending for his family.
Leo was born in central Mexico, a place “where education ceased by fourth grade, running water did not exist and electricity was practically unheard of.” While certainly a life of poverty, to say that his country offered him “nothing” is one of tremendous disrespect. Worse yet, you erase history; you erase the ways that the United States and globalization has impacted Mexico. In recent times the United States through its neo-liberal policies such as the Bracero Program (1942-1964), Border Industrialization Program, a.k.a “maquiladoras” (1964-1996) and finally the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), have slowly destroyed the traditional if not Jeffersonian agrarian society that provided self-sufficiency and subsistence.
All of these agreements, under the guise of “development” and “progress,” have forced people from their land, created environmental disaster, and provided a boon for Mexico’s underground economy–drug trafficking. The Mexican government provides little to no protection for its citizens against these economic polices. Labor rights and any illusion of a social safety net have collapsed. These policies are in place because it benefits the U.S. economy by providing cheap goods and cheap labor, to the detriment of the Mexican people.
Ruben, what do you mean that the United States gave Manzano the “opportunity to live out” his dreams. Manzano, like his parents, worked hard to secure everything he and his family has achieved. His parents work hard, with his father working as a machine operator at a gravel quarry and his mom holding down “odd jobs.” He, too, fought to get where he is today. Nobody gave him anything. According to the New York Times’ Aimee Berg:
All the while, Manzano needed to help his family financially. He got his first job at the age of 11. Later, his father would drop him off at school at 5 a.m. and Manzano would juggle practice at 6:15 a.m., his schoolwork and late shifts at an Italian restaurant until he became, in 2004, the first in his family to earn a high school diploma.
Had his family immigrated in 1999 or 2009, there would be no Leo Manzano, American silver medalist; there would be no American citizen Leo Manzano. In today’s political climate, one of racism and demonization, it is more likely he would have been Georgia or Arizona, pushed to “self-deport”, or otherwise subjected to harassment than live the purported “American Dream.” Even if one takes the position, as you do, that America gave Manzano this opportunity–that because of the 1986 Immigration and Reform Act, because of immigration, because of the opportunity to attend the University of Texas, Manzano has secured greatness–please know that opportunity would be nearly impossible today, or at least impossible because of the Republican Party and its supporters (yes, the people commenting on your piece and those celebrating you on your Facebook page).
I, for one, don’t think she has anything to be ashamed of. The tennis star’s Wimbledon C-Walk is no more an homage to gang culture than it is to pop culture. Where was all the outrage when “You Got Served” — a movie that prominently featured a C-Walking dance battle — came out? Is the C-Walk suddenly more taboo as a dance because it happened on the Olympic stage rather than in a second-rate movie?
Brent Barry, a former NBA basketball player who grew up in California, did the C-Walk once at NBA All-Star Weekend. Was he disgracing the game? No, he was just dancing, I guess.
To be fair, MTV did ban videos featuring the dance at one point. But to act as if Williams was somehow trying to celebrate the violence that has taken countless lives in this country misreads the cross-pollination between pop culture and the environments that inspire its dances and songs.
And, if anyone knows about the scourge and pain of how gang violence can rip apart families, it’s Williams: In 2003, her half-sister Yetunde was killed in an incident that was gang-related. Winning a medal wouldn’t suddenly make her forget about a family member getting gunned down in the street.
And let’s not pretend the Olympics are not the place for such brash celebrations, even if loosely affiliated with anything morally inept. The most decorated event of the entire process is something that was introduced by one of the most despicable people to ever walk the earth.
Yes, Adolf Hitler is the one that brought the torch relay to the Olympics. More specifically, it was the idea of a man named Carl Diem who helped organize the Games of the XI Olympiad in Berlin in 1936. Hitler thought it would be a good propaganda tool for his Nazi party.
The man responsible for one of the most horrific and destructive acts of genocide in human history created a tradition that to this day is still one of the most televised events on the globe. And Serena Williams hitting her C-Walk is too offensive for the Games?
Frankly, there was a certain part of me that loved what Williams did. It was one of those subtle moments of celebration that was inclusive and illustrative of her unique upbringing, no matter how complicated that upbringing may be to the outside world.
What you saw Saturday in London on that grass court wasn’t a replication of the steps popularized by a group that terrorized urban communities for years — it was a small example of the cultural zenith that we’ve reached in certain circles. It showed us all just how far we’ve come and also, how far we have to go.