Category Archives: Random Thoughts

On Dawn Harper & Lolo Jones: How (Not) To Be A Gracious Loser

Dawn Harper won the gold medal in the 100m hurdles at the 2008 Olympics. She won the silver this week in London. Yet in many ways, she lost to her countrywoman Lolo Jones. And it’s become evident that Harper doesn’t know how to be a gracious loser. Harper was the reigning Olympic champ but given the level of media coverage given to Lolo Jones, many incorrectly thought Jones had a better chance of medaling than Harper did.

The Harper/Jones controversy reared its ugly head some time before the Olympics. She gave a television interview where she admitted to being confused about why Jones had more press coverage than she did, given her better stats. Harper has a point. As the reigning Olympic champion, she probably rightfully expected to get more media coverage than her compatriot. Some even pointed to colorism as a potential cause for the disparity in their publicity. Lolo has a compelling backstory of once being homeless, of living apart from her parents in high school so she could keep running, and a high sympathy factor giving her tragic fall in the 2008 Olympics where she was a favorite. But Dawn won her Olympic gold in shoes that she borrowed because she didn’t have a sponsor. Dawn also had a tough upbringing. She’s alluded to it in interviews but implied that she’d rather protect her family’s privacy than use their struggles to gain publicity. A not-so-subtle dig at Lolo, perhaps?

So while Lolo finished seventh to Dawn’s first in Bejing; in terms of public sentiment, Dawn was the loser. Lolo went on to appear in ESPN’s 2009 Body Issue. She had an HBO special earlier this year, where she (in)famously revealed she’s a virgin. She gained endorsements from Oakley and Red Bull. She appeared on the Leno Show and the cover of Time Magazine, and was featured heavily in other media outlets. Dawn Harper, not so much. And Dawn’s still mad about it.

In an interview that surfaced this morning, Harper and 100 m hurdles bronze medalist Kellie Wells seemed to taking shots at Lolo. Ostensibly, this interview should have been about their great performance in London. Admittedly, the interviewer guided them away from that by asking Harper about not getting enough respect. But Harper fell right into the trap. Despite the fact that her PR agent told her not to answer those kinds of questions, she gave quite an animated response alluding to her discontent over the coverage of Jones, ending with a resounding “Boom, just like that!”

[I can’t embed the video but the video is worth watching to see the body language]

Dawn is entitled to her anger, resentment and disappointment. But this was not the way to express it. Whatever personal issues she’s facing with Lolo should have been handled privately. Though the hurdles are not a team sport, they still went to London to represent their country together. It wouldn’t have killed her to show a little team spirit this morning rather than engage in petty diatribe about her colleague. Perhaps in the moment she thought she could expose Lolo’s flaws, or even those of the media but really all she did was set up more media interest in Lolo. The title of the piece surrounding her interview isn’t even Dawn Harper says … it’s Two American Hurdlers Ripped Lolo Jones… The reality is that in this narrative, Lolo is the star of the show. Harper and her team could attempt various strategies to change that, but this should not have been one of them.

Life is not always fair. The sad reality for Harper is that in a few months time the average American probably will not remember her name. But it’s likely they’ll remember Lolo.

Can Harper rightfully blame the media for bias and colorism? Yes.

Is she entitled to dislike Lolo? Sure. We have no clue what’s going on behind the scenes.

Should she have handled this interview in this way? Absolutely not. She played right into the media’s hands and helped to promote the very athlete she was trying to deride. Instead of discussing Dawn Harper’s wonderful record and two Olympic medals, the discussion is about how bitter and petty she is.  And for this particular loss, she can blame herself.


Rising Above Mediocrity

We’re finally getting to do something, we’ve been denied the right to DO SOMETHING, to have anything for so long that we’re all so happy that somebody’s finally doing something. There was a time to celebrate that but now is the time to step up and say, okay you’re doing something, now do it BETTER – Mychal Smith on HBO’s ‘The Black List’ 2009

Belle over at A Belle in Brooklyn tweeted about HBO’s ‘The Black List’ a couple times and it got me interested in the series. So I went to Youtube (where else?) to find out what exactly this show is about. After combing through several posts including Chris Rock’s insightful take on the black experience and the video that made me realize Slash was black!!!, I came to the one that includes the quote above.

I don’t know who Mychal Smith is, but he hit the nail on the head with how I feel about many of the people I encounter on a daily basis, even about the attitude of entitlement that I see slowly trying to leech itself onto my soul sometimes. I read Belle’s post asking who we’re inspired by and it’s sad that in 2010, most black kids still have to say Marcus, Martin, Malcolm or Mandela…throw in Oprah and the Obamas and your momma and that’s pretty much it. We have such a ‘crab in a barrel’ mentality as people that we fight to keep each other down rather than build each other up. And the FEW of us that reach out and try to do something great are often lauded for mediocrity rather than pushed towards perfection.

For example, I read an article the other day where a popular entertainer was being praised for taking care of his daughter. Come again? We are now at the stage where we have to be grateful when a black man takes care of his child? Well give me an award for breathing! Or my Jamaicans can relate to the mothers in the ghetto who spend thousands they don’t have to get dressed for graduations in May then can’t buy books for the child to start a new school in September. Why are we paying for excessive graduation gifts like these kids have any other job but to do well in school? I’m not saying people should not be applauded for good work but we need to get our priorities in order.

We could blame any number of sources for our inability to DO BETTER…media, slavery, post-colonialism, the dangerous facade of a post-racial culture …bleh. The problems were always there. The problems will always be there. Why does it feel like my generation has failed to meet them the way our forefathers did? Maybe I’m just having a bad night but I look around and I don’t feel inspired by anyone alive really. There are some wonderful people around; people who are doing great things but I cannot tell the last time I’ve been truly inspired by someone. When’s the last time you looked at someone that made you think ‘I wanna be like him/her some day’? No, your mom/dad/family member doesn’t count. It hasn’t been that recent for me. (Can’t lie, I wanted to be Oprah when I was little though).

So why aren’t there more positive examples in our community? Because somewhere along the line we failed as a people. I didn’t mentor enough kids from my neighborhood, our parents didn’t stress the importance of community because they were so busy just trying to make it, you didn’t counsel the young’ns you left behind in undergrad how to deal with being an even smaller minority in grad school :-/ It’s time for us to stop looking to be inspired and start inspiring our own selves. I’m tired of hearing about the same people every Black History Month. We keep reviving ghosts of Black culture past, trying to make the struggle of the 60’s relevant to a present generation, but they see none of this fight in us…we don’t see it in ourselves. And so they say, “n*gga isn’t a bad word to use in 2010”, and “we’re living in post-racial America” and the lives we lead validate these untruths.

When I look around, I see my generation doing a whole lot of nothing…settling for less than what’s best and that unsettles me. We forget that every time we win or lose, it’s not just for us. We’ve got a whole legacy to keep building on and toddlers coming behind us who need us to be our best so their paths can be easier. So who’s my inspiration? Today, I am inspired by those who have none. Those who look around their communities and see no black doctors, lawyers, engineers or professors; those who believe that because they were born poor they have to die poor; those who can’t see past their block to the wider world that’s there’s for the taking. Those are the people that need us to succeed. ‘Us’ being the fortunate ones who are rising above our circumstances. We’re getting our degrees and our 6 figure jobs and making mom and pops proud but if we don’t help others to come up then what are we really doing? That’s why mentorship is so important to me. It’s important for us to tell these inner city kids that they CAN DO BETTER, even when their relatives, teachers, friends and even parents tell them otherwise.

Instead of re-hashing the same stories this BHM, maybe we can go out and MAKE history.

– Trying to stay inspired,

Living life on the hamster wheel

In a recent fit of over-analysis, I realized that most of us live a scripted life. From our childhood we are forced to go to school. We spend 2-3 decades of our life in school so we can prepare to get a respectable job. At no point did anyone ask me if I ever actually wanted to be educated or have a job for that matter. Honestly, how many of us would be pursuing degrees and careers if we felt that we didn’t have to? How many of us would have picked a more ‘fun’ discipline that medicine or law if we hadn’t been programmed all our lives that this is what we should do?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed many aspects of my education schooling.  Most of the highlights of my life are linked to extracurricular activities, community service or leadership positions all connected to school. I LOVED my elementary and high school days. But as I find myself surrounded by law students who generally hate law school and converse with my friends in other grad programs who generally dislike those programs as well, I wonder how many of us made the decision to pursue graduate school or even undergraduate studies because of freewill as opposed to societal programming.

I love the feeling of being educated. I love spending hours on end talking about politics, society, sports, history…  and the list goes on. I’m a sucker for intellectual discourse (natural result of having a mom who’s a teacher). And while I look forward to a fulfilling career in the law, I  prefer reading Zadie Smith and Jamaica Kincaid to any Scalia opinion. For those of us who’ve spent our whole lives in school, it seems that we have been on society’s hamster wheel for an eternity. In retrospect, it can seem like my entire life has been a means to an end: Go to kindergarten, so I can go to elementary/primary school, so I can go to high school, so I can go to college, so I can go to law school, so I can get a job, so I can finally start living at 25? Pretty bleak existence if you look at it that way.

The only way to dig oneself out of the drudgery is to make every day count. Our day to to day living has to be about more than just completing the to-do list and making steps towards “the goal”. Everyday we’ve got to do something that we want to do just for ourselves [which ideally aligns with the plan God has for us].  I know the conventional wisdom is that “you do what you have to do now so you can do what you want to do later” but the reality is that some us will NEVER get to where we want to be.

PAUSE. Take that in.

So if you never get to where you’ve always wanted to be, if it turns out that you’re not meant to be or do what you thought you were, would your entire life thus far have been wasted? If so, it’s time to make each day worth living. We all may be hamsters, but we can at least get off the wheel sometimes…