From Black Streaks to White Streaks: A Racist 2008 Olympics
Thursday, October 2, 2008;
I saw my uncle Anthony the other day. He is a street minister. He walks Market Street passing out tracts. "Im working for the lord now", he says, after a lifetime of janitorial duties. "It may not pay very much, but the retirement plan is out of this world". He talks to the hustlers and players. Tells them to get ready.
He tells me stories of growing up in the Fillmore. He says he was on a swim team made up of kids from the neighborhood. "We were fast, so fast that we'd beat kids from other neighborhoods in their own backyards". The team was made up of black and Filipino kids. One kid was Filipino and Irish and swam like a fish. He was my Uncle David and he had black and brown in his blood and bones.
Uncle Anthony talks about a guy named Sylvester White, who was black. "When he hit the water, all you saw was a black streak. That brother was the fastest swimmer I ever saw. He could have gone to the Olympics. He was that good".
My uncle continues on his journey for the Lord leaving me memories instead of religious tracts. I head home. I think of Sylvester White. Could he have gone to the Olympics? Why didn't he go? I sit down and turn on the Olympics and watch a white streak in the water called Michael Phelps.
I watch the opening ceremonies to the Olympics in Bejing. The athletes walk beneath flags and fluttering banners smiling and waving. The ceremony is filled with pageantry--hundreds of performers moving in sync--simulating the waves of the ocean,telling the story of a people.
Corporate-run media had a field day. Between Michael Phelps in the pool, Kerri Walsh and Misty May on sand and the US basketball team running circles around their opponents,the games gave viewers the opportunity to see how insulting corporate-run media can be.
I grew tired of seeing reporters scamper through the streets of Bejing in search of "exotic"delicacies. The cameras sought out vendors, zooming in on foods that the average American would find unusual or repulsive. Having grown up in San Francisco's Asian-American community, I found this highly disrespectful and condescending. While these reports were aired, the Chinese were racking up gold medals.
I thought about Olympics of the past--in particular, the games in Montreal in 1976. I fell in love with Nadia Comanechi and her perfect 10's. I followed boxers Sugar Ray Leonard, Howard Davis, Leo Randolph and the Spinks brothers. And Cuban runner Alberto Juantoreana, in my estimation, had the best Afro in the entire games.
I remember the 1980 US boycott of the Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Then-president Carter sent Muhammad Ali to Africa to garner support for the boycott among African nations. Ali was surprised when some nations refused to see him. They said that he was not an ambassador or holder of an official position to represent the US. They also asked why the US was asking for their support when it did not lend its support to African nations seeking to boycott South Africa's participation in the games.
I was taken aback by the number of white swimmers from Africa. Does the continent not have black swimmers?
The images of the olympics flashed before my eyes. Usain Bolt--the fastest human I've ever seen with a world record of 9.69 in the 100 meters. He could have clocked in at a faster time but he eased up at the end. He was criticized for his celebratory dancing. Dance brother, dance.
The commercials continued. McDonald's featured athletes in its new chicken sandwich commercials. Who needs steroids when you have an all white-meat chicken sandwich?
General Electric, who owns NBC, aired many commercials. A forgettable one (that I can't forget) was of a Chinese woman going to a modern medical facility. She was hooked up to a machine with a plaintiff smile on her face. I guess we have to forget traditional Chinese medicine.
The big disappointment for me in the games was the injury sustained by China's premier hurdler Liu Xiang. I saw him in a meet a year or so ago, blowing away the best hurdlers from the US.
Towards the end of the games I watched the beach volleyball final with the US team of Kerri Walsh and Misty May taking on the home team from China. It was a hard fought battle with May and Walsh victorious. I can't forget Kerri Walsh being interviewed at that moment. "Thank you president Bush!" she cried in her most giddy voice. Thank you president Bush! Thank you for what?