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Knocks, kudos for my views on Gabby’s hairdo

U.S. Women's Gymnastics Olympic team gold-medal winner Gabby Douglas visits Empire State Building New York City Tuesday.  |

U.S. Women's Gymnastics Olympic team gold-medal winner Gabby Douglas visits the Empire State Building in New York City on Tuesday. | Alex Katz~AP

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Updated: September 17, 2012 12:54PM

It was a simple note in response to last week’s column: “A poem about Gabby Douglas’ hair . . . Please watch, listen and share with the world!”

I clicked the YouTube link and stood mesmerized as a coffee-bean-brown young woman, her hair pulled back, spit knowledge unflinchingly about a brand of self-hatred that still relegates black hair to being either “good” or “bad.”

She speaks poetically about a kind of intra-racism that favors light skin over dark skin; about the real heart of the matter behind the criticism some African Americans made about Gabby’s hairdo, amid her crowning Olympic moment.

The young poet’s name is Jasmine Waiters, of Stockton, Calif.

In her video, Waiters, an athlete with whom I spoke this week by telephone, said she has faced her share of static over her own hair, mostly from black folks. You see, with all the rigors and sweat of training and playing basketball, her hair is sometimes less-than perm perfect or “weavelicious,” and the comments about her hair throughout her life have sometimes been hurtful.

When she saw criticisms of Gabby’s hair on Twitter and the Internet, she says, “I simply got a little angry and felt like I had to defend her or support her.”

So Waiters, 20, a college junior, picked up a pen and wrote a poem titled “Ponytail.”

“. . . She ran through barriers, broke barricades, took the Olympic flame and lit a path for little black girls. She did backflips that landed her in history books . . .

“She became something out of nothing. And yet the topic of discussion has become her ponytail. . . . We’re giving her grief when she deserves pandemonium.

“We ought to be the number-one source of where her love and support is coming from. Flips and falls they can break her bones. But the words out of our mouths can leave her undone . . .”

For my own comments on the subject, I received mostly kudos.

† “Your article about this nonsense about this young athlete’s hairdo is spot on,” one reader writes.

† Another writes: “As a people, we really need to start looking inward and realizing that the problem is not with the person who is successful but it is our own self-esteem and insecurities as a people.”

† “I am a 72-year-old white grandmother and I think Gabby Douglas is the most adorable girl I have seen in ages. Who cares how her hair looks? For Pete’s sake, she’s only 16!”

† A black woman writes: “John, please don’t think that all black women are so shallow as to talk about that young woman’s hair while she was making history! There are a lot of us ‘up in arms’ about the comments made, comments that were rude, inconsiderate and downright stupid.”

† Another writes: “We [black women] have defined ourselves by our hair for too long. And we’ve defined beauty by European standards for too long. Many African-American women are embracing their natural hair. . . . But we still have a long way to go.”

Not everyone, however, agrees with my assessment.

“What troubles me about your hollow essay was you did not write one word about the legacy and origins about the contempt white America has displayed about our lips, noses, our I.Q. . . .” one brother writes.

To that I say, “Whatever, dude. . . . Here we go again, wanting to blame white folks rather than looking long and hard in the mirror and seeking to heal, love and esteem ourselves.”

That’s Waiters’ plea, even with the Olympics now ended.

For far too many of us, she says, “Black ain’t beautiful.”

Not our skin, not our noses, not our hair.

Except, it is.

It really is.

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