Dear Culture

Black and Gold: Rampant Racism in the Olympics

Episode 76

Read the full transcript here

The 2020 Olympics are wrapped up and this week on the Dear Culture podcast, our hosts theGrio Social Media Director Shana Pinnock and theGrio Managing Editor Gerren Keith Gaynor talk the trials and tribulations of being Black while going for the gold. 

From gold medalists like Simone BilesSimone Manuel and Allyson Felix to fresh faces like Sha’Carri Richardson and Raven Saunders, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics seemed poised to catapult Black women athletes to center stage. Even with surprises and upsets, these Olympians wowed us with their gravity-defying flips, otherworldly speed and perhaps the most underrated skill: remaining graceful in the face of constant racism. 

Richardson was forced to sit out of what would’ve been her Olympic debut following the revelation that she’d tested positive for THC. The track star admitted to smoking weed after learning about the death of her biological mother from a reporter. The United States Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to disqualify Richardson’s dynamic performance during the trial games leading up to Tokyo had many folks crying foul. 

Sha'Carri Richardson
Sha’Carri Richardson runs in the Women’s 100 Meter semifinal on day 2 of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track (Credit: Getty Images)

“The bottom line is that marijuana is not an enhancement drug,” said Gaynor. “Not to mention that she had the marijuana weeks before, I think, the Olympics even began so it wouldn’t have played a factor. It’s really unfortunate that she had to be a scapegoat that continues to rear its ugly head in every aspect of society, including sports.”

Pinnock agreed and pointed out the hypocrisy of marijuana is harshly penalized in communities of color, but is oftentimes an opportunity for capitalistic gain in others. 

“If ‘Shelby’ and ‘Karen’ and ‘Brynn’ can make THC dog treats and make a living, leave this Black girl alone,” said Pinnock. She also added that Russian athletes were banned from participating in the Tokyo Olympics after a state-sponsored doping program, but the athletes were allowed to compete as the Russian Olympic Committee.

Simone Biles
Simone Biles of Team United States poses with the bronze medal following the Women’s Balance Beam Final on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on August 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

“I wasn’t supposed to see nobody (from Russia) this year, but here they are. Why? ‘Because there are other ways to get around the rules,’ but there’s never any ways to get around the rules when it comes to Black girls,” said Pinnock .

Another major upset during this year’s games came when Biles, one of the world’s most decorated gymnasts, decided to pull out of the all-around finals, citing her mental health. While many of her colleagues, peers and fans supported Biles’ decision, some egregiously called her “weak” for not jeopardizing her mental and physical health.

To hear Shana and Gerren break down the impact of Biles’ decision tune into the Dear Culture podcast. 

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