While most folks will be ending the year, reminiscing about the most important stories of the year, I want to draw attention – again- to what I believe is, hands down, the dumbest “major” news story to come out of 2012: The stir-up over Gabby Douglas’ hair.
Seriously, the girl flipped, straddled and somersaulted her way to individual Olympic gold, becoming the first Black woman to do so in history, yet for months the nation, particularly Black America, was gripped by the “harrowing” tale of 16 year old Douglas’ ponytail and rough edges. If you were like me, you didn’t care one way or the other about her hair or whoever had something to say about it. However, after the umpteenth time seeing it in your newsfeed, or having it show up in your inbox or being asked about in in casual conversation while at lunch, you were forced to have an opinion.
No less than five people asked me my thoughts on the Douglas “hair controversy,” including my 82-year old grandmother, who said she heard about the story while watching one of her entertainment gossip shows. She thought that “they” should leave that girl alone. Who the “they” was, she didn’t know. And fact, nobody really knew. But eventually major news sites grabbed the baton from gossip blogs and began publishing various articles and columns, not only lambasting these nameless hair detractors but also tie this hair “controversy” into a much bigger conversation on black women and natural hair. Even Douglas, who was still in the midst of competing at the Olympics, was forced to break focus and address these nameless hair detractors.
Likewise, there was a lot of self righteous hair-dignation in the Black blogosphere and Twitterverse. Memes and long diatribes via Facebook, expressing opinions from both sides of the “controversy” did little but to fuel what was an already simmering beef between #teamNatural and #teamWeaveandPerm. At one point my Facebook news feed began to look like Madame Re-Re’s Beauty Salon from Spike Lee’s School Daze. And after a while, the Douglas name stopped being spoken about in reference to this newly christened moment in black history but instead, she became the poster child for some very complex themes, which at times felt a lot more deeper-rooted than a discussion about hair.
According to this story from earlier this year in Ebony, “The story can be traced back to one blog post, quoting all three disparaging comments, that Jezebel slapped a few more tweets on as proof of a trend. Everyone from NPR and LA Times has since weighed in, all seemingly basing their analysis on the Jezebel piece and a small sampling of tweets. Outlets have specifically searched for negative tweets about Gabby, probably ignoring more celebratory tweets. We should question whether the coverage reflects an actual trend, or confirmation bias creating a news story out of a few isolated fools being mean on the internet. It’s possible that the real viral story is the original piece and the media furor it’s spawned. “
I agree that media outlets played a major role in why this story had legs. However there is also something to be said about why a story that amounted to pure “gossip” on Twitter had resonated so much, with so many people, to the point of going viral for months? Does our public discourse on Gabby’s hair change the fact that she is a gold winning gymnast? Of course, we all know that Gabby didn’t need our praise or accolades to win the medal. Heck, most folks had no idea who she was until after she won the gold. But it is just a shame that her name and her history making Olympic win now has an *asterisk next to it. And probably for the rest of her life, she will always have to answer questions about her hair.