I I can hardly do a proper somersault so I hesitate to comment on Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics this week, telling the press and the world: “I have to focus on my mental health.” However, I cannot remain silent because I know that she is not alone.
As a former college football player, I can imagine the psychological toll Olympians pay to squeeze every ounce of greatness into a tiny window of life. As a black man raised by a group of women, I can imagine the tax Black women pay because of our national commitment to “trust” them, which really just means “letting them do all the work.” Or, in the case of Simone Biles, “put the whole country on his back.”
However, faced with these charges, Biles did not simply give up. She rejected. With his bold act he entered into a beautiful, radical, often overlooked tradition, what I call the Black Art of Escape. That tradition is the way I believe that we blacks have managed to live in a country that is made to destroy us. Much has been told us about the resistance and protest strategies of our people. The great Olympic example of this, of course, is the black-gloved Black Power salute from Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the medal table at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. We have been told of our people’s strategies of respectability and exceptionality, perhaps best embodied by icon Jesse Owens, who became the first American to win four gold medals on track and field in a single Olympiad, a feat he accomplished while Adolf Hitler watched. .
Biles’ decision recalls a third way that blacks have survived this country: flight.
Throughout the diaspora, stories of flying Africans were shared to give hope to the enslaved, the hope that no matter how their slaveholders treated them, no matter how their country treated them, they had a freedom on the inside that the world did not. he had given them, and the world could not take it from him. This folklore tradition inspired Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, in which Guitar tells Milkman, “If you want to fly, you have to give up the shit that’s weighing you down.”
For years we have watched Simone Biles fly through the air, over the carpet, over balance beams and vaults. She has twisted her body in ways that defy gravity, defy human understanding. Her genius has made her the most decorated American gymnast in history, even as she has competed with broken bones, not to mention the inconceivable abuse she suffered at the hands of former US gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
However, despite his many other accomplishments, I believe that Biles’ decision to forfeit his shot at another medal in Tokyo will be his greatest achievement of all. That Biles, perhaps the greatest gymnast of all time, on the greatest stage of all, chose herself over another achievement, gives hope to a generation of African-Americans, famous and not, that we too might reject the terms of the success that our country has offered us. . Now some might say that he betrayed his teammates. He betrayed his country. I say: good for her. I remember EM Forster’s great essay What I Believe, in which he writes: “I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I have the guts to betray my country. “If it takes guts to betray your country and choose your friend, how much more courage does it take to truly choose yourself, when everyone thinks you need it, when your team, your family, think you need it? But as a therapist once wisely told me: you can’t give what you don’t have.
America has always asked black people to give everything we have and then give what we don’t have. And if we didn’t give it, it was taken voluntarily, looted, as Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote.
Biles’ courageous decision echoes the actions of other black public figures, from Naomi Osaka to Bridges of León, who refuse to sacrifice their sanity, their peace, for another gold medal or another platinum record. They are helping us all build new muscle, helping us put a simple word at the top of our vocabulary: no.
Some might mistakenly view this rejection as a symptom of millennial dysfunction and entitlement. The truth is that many of us came of age in the context of September 11 and the Pyrrhic “war on terror.” We entered the workforce in the midst of the Great Recession. We cast our first votes for a black president, only to later witness a reign of terror against blacks, young and old, at the hands of the state. (Not to mention the traumatic four years under our last president, who sent troops to brutalize peaceful protests for black lives.) We are tired. We are sad. As the brilliant musician and producer Terrace Martin, perhaps best known for his work with Kendrick Lamar, recently told me: “I don’t know anyone who sleeps well.”
I remember that great scene from the movie Network, when the unstable newscaster convinces viewers across the country to rush to their windows and yell into the street, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it! this more! “Could Biles’s act of deep and courageous self-love spark the biggest wave of rejection in the history of this country? I think it is possible.
I think we are witnessing the beginning of a great rejection, when a generation of African Americans decides, in the words of Maxine Waters, to take back our time. Simone Biles, famous for what she does on the air, has shown the way by standing her ground.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism