August 16, 2008
First there was the chest-thumping. Then, many of us saw it, but here it is in print:
“Bolt was clear of everyone by 50 meters, and with 20 meters to go, he threw his arms wide, looked around and even thumped his hand against his chest. As he sailed across the finish line, his nearest competitors were two strides behind him.
“Usain is spectacular,” Powell said. “He was definitely untouchable tonight. He could have run a lot faster if he ran straight through the line.”
I mean, Usain, come on already. Even before the celebrations are over, I hope someone reminds him that he is still a human being. Obnoxious men are tolerated for only so long, even if they are Jamaican, and no matter how fast they can run.
In light of the many disgruntled comments elicited by this post, and because being pissy is really not dignified or helpful (sorry about that last response…), I thought I’d offer another perspective on the Usain 100m show. Bits of this have been milling around in my head for the last few days. I recall that I immediately labeled the aesthetic – e.g. the gold shoes, dance routine, gangster poses – as one belonging to the “dancehall generation”; I really did just coin that term, didn’t I? I even chuckled to myself (yes, imagine that!) that the one thing that is true of this generation (not in terms of age but in terms of historical actors) of Jamaicans is that they do not ‘behave’ themselves no matter where they go. A certain kind of boldness, tunnel vision, and refusal to play by anybody else’s rules prevails, whether those rules would produce good results or not.
Then, today, after I noted that celebratory performances are part and parcel of contemporary black men’s athletics, my memory decided to serve me better, and I recall that this is not at all new. There was Muhammad Ali’s performative declaration in the 1970s (I’m not good with dates…), complete with outfit, about his ability to “fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee” which made trash talk respectable in boxing, even though I’m sure he was criticized for it. Then there was the political stance – in the form of the raised fists on the awards platform – taken by African American athletes in 1968 (again, I’m guessing the year) in protest of US racism. I am sure there are more such examples – certainly a lot in entertainment – which further locates Usain in a decidedly male-authored tradition among Black men of melding sports, politics and cultural performance even as they use their supremely spectacular bodies to challenge various notions of their presumed inferiority. So there you have what’s going on in my head. No opinion here. Nopes.
Now that I got that off my chest, I might even consider going to search out what the other so-called critics – with whom I have been lumped (yes, I’m insulted…) – have been saying. Not today though.