U.S. Olympic bobsled team member Lolo Jones might be in the hot seat again after commenting over Twitter on the natural hairstyle of a young woman who dressed as the former Olympic hurdler for Halloween.
A Twitter user who calls herself “daniesa” tweeted a picture of herself on October 31 from her @trackchick13_ account in her Halloween costume, detailing: “Lolo jones 4 Halloween.I just need a hurdle.”
Jones responded to the tweet on November 1 by stating: “And a relaxer. I haven’t rocked curls since h.s :p”
— Lolo Jones (@lolojones) November 1, 2013
Reactions to Jones’ tweet — which has been retweeted over 700 times — were swift. Many people were offended by the comment, some making the assumption that the professional athlete sent her tweet as a personal barb.
One user responded with the observation, “ma’am you should apologize to @trackchick13_ what you said to her was rude and uncalled for. You need to grow up[.]”
— Lauren Gayden (@MsBoss788) November 1, 2013
The former hurdler was also called a number of expletives over Twitter by commentors who found Jones’ tweet in poor taste.
Defending natural hair
A few took the occasion to defend daniesa’s natural hairstyle. One Twitter watcher exclaimed virtually, “don’t relax your hair boo! You’re beautiful! Be au natural! But do you! You rocks[.]
— Alexxxia (@lexy_mai) November 1, 2013
Jones responded to this allegation that she might be against natural black hairstyles by asserting that her critics took that view erroneously.
“If i had curly hair& she had hers straight and I told her to get a curly perm to mimic no one would cared but the other way ppl flip. #noted,” she tweeted.
If i had curly hair& she had hers straight and I told her to get a curly perm to mimic no one would cared but the other way ppl flip. #noted
— Lolo Jones (@lolojones) November 1, 2013
Even the young woman whose costume spawned this mini-controversy seems to agree that Jones meant no harm.
“@RealTalkwithJL I didn’t go wrong with my costume. I was as is and repped myself as her. Minus the hair. Which is her response. As a joke,” daniesa tweeted on Friday.
@RealTalkwithJL I didn’t go wrong with my costume. I was as is and repped myself as her. Minus the hair. Which is her response. As a joke.
— daniesa (@trackchick13_) November 1, 2013
Damage done by offhand tweet
Yet, the damage seems to have been done in the social media sphere. Now a Facebook topic, people are commenting on what they see as Jones’ allegedly unbecoming communication skills.
“That statement about the young lady’s hair was unnecessary and UGLY,” wrote one Facebook member. “Has nothing to do with looks. Ugly is as ugly does.”
Jones has a history of making statements that enrage social media and other audiences. In June of this year over Twitter, she compared Trayvon Martin’s teenage friend (a witness in the George Zimmerman trial) Rachel Jeantel to the Tyler Perry character Madea, an overweight older woman. That same month, over Vine she publicly complained about the amount of a check she received from the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. Both incidents resulted in backlash.
Sensitivity over hair and skin tone
This latest dust up over social media shows how sensitive many people are to the issue of how black women wear their hair.
The commentaries on the textures of Jones’ hair versus the Twitter user’s — by Jones and others — demonstrates how loaded black hair can be no matter how frivolous the context.
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In addition, as a biracial, light-skinned black woman, many believe Jones gains opportunities by more closely matching conventional beauty standards than other black women — an issue in the black community that remains a raw nerve, particularly for women. (Jones’ comment comparing Rachel Jeantel, a darker-hued black woman, to a character played by a man did not help in this perception of her.)
As a woman some see as having privilege in this context, Jones would have to communicate about such issues very carefully to successfully navigate these contentious issues without offending anyone.
Thinking deeply before one tweets
As a public figure, should Lolo Jones be more aware of how her tweets and other social media expressions will be perceived given these issues and the limited context of these short communications?
Regardless of Lolo Jones’ intent, which we don’t know, her comments about the personal appearance of other black women will likely continue to stir controversy.
Issues of skin tone preference and discrimination within the black community (known as colorism) and natural hair acceptance continue to plague black women and those who interact intimately with them. Just recently two black women created projects to help the public explore their judgments of and fascination with natural hair, and how this impacts black women’s personal and professional lives.
TheGrio has reached out to both Jones and daniesa for comment on these tweets and the ensuing discussions. This post will be updated if they respond.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb.