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Controversy over Gabby Douglas' hair highlights ongoing debate

As the gymnast competed in London, detractors on Twitter criticized not her performance, but her hair.
by Yvette Walker Modified: August 3, 2012 at 7:22 pm •  Published: August 3, 2012

Gabby Douglas is a gold medalist and Olympian at 16 years of age.

That's more than any troll on Twitter can say for herself.

In fiction, a troll is a hideous, wicked creature lacking humanity. In the real world, they post unkind tweets about other people. The definition fits the people who decided to criticize American gymnast Gabby Douglas for having what they describe as unkempt, sweaty hair during the women's gymnastics competitions at the Olympics in London.

Never mind the girl was working as hard as her body would let her. Never mind she was twisting and contorting on the uneven bars, the floor exercise and her nemesis, the balance beam. Never mind she was perspiring, as any human will do when putting your body through such a workout.

And, sadly, many of those trolls appeared to be African American women. Sad, but not surprising. This is not a racist tweet trend. It's an example of black women digitally beating up a little girl whose star is rising.

Were they trying to be funny? And if so, why focus on her hair? Any black woman can answer that. It's the old war of “good hair” vs. “bad hair.”

Among some African Americans, “good hair” is straight or slightly wavy, similar to the kind of hair on the heads of Caucasian people. “Bad hair” is tightly curled, kinky, or “nappy,” and is the kind of hair found on the heads of many people of African descent.

The debate has gone on for years in the black community, but digital technology is making it easier to air this dirty laundry.

One of the first to report the Olympic hair hate was the online magazine, which was picked up by and others. Monisha Randolph, a regular contributor to Sporty Afros, examined three of the main complaints found on Twitter:

“She needs some gel and a brush …”

“Someone needs to give her a hair intervention …”

“She has to “represent” …”

Stunned, Randolph wrote, “ ... the last time I checked when you play a sport, you sweat. I know I do. And when a Black woman who has chosen to wear her hair straight begins to sweat, her hair will (not might) begin to revert back to its natural coily, curly or kinky state. Does Gabby need to stop every five minutes to check her hair? No.”

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by Yvette Walker
Night News and Presentation Director
Yvette Walker is Director of Presentation and Custom Publishing at The Oklahoman. She supervises the look and feel of the paper, as well as coordinates content in several special sections and niche publications. Previously, she managed online...
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