During the Olympic Trials, I had no doubt that Richardson was going to win the 100-meter finals—it was just a matter of by how much. When I watched her fly through the finish line in 10.86 seconds, with beautiful form, I was in awe. It wasn't because she made it look effortless, but it was because I saw how unapologetic Richardson is about the way she moves through the world. And as a Black woman, that moment meant the world to me.
Richardson shows up to every competition as her authentic self. She's listening to music and having fun in the warm-up area. She engages with the crowd as the announcers introduce her. She enjoys the spotlight and she enjoys putting on a show. And when the gun goes off, there's no doubt you're going to experience one of the most exciting 10 seconds of your life.
And while yes, I want people to applaud her for being one of the fastest women ever, I don’t want it to stop there. I want people to celebrate her as a Black woman—and what that means in its entirety—versus simply lauding the palatable parts of her that make white people comfortable and that are "marketable."
She's not afraid to correct reporters during interviews when they mispronounce her name (it's sha-KAIR-ee for those wondering). She's not afraid to celebrate her success. That's what I want the world to see when they look at her, when they talk about her, and when they write about her. Because as Black women, rarely are we afforded the opportunity to be our authentic selves, let alone celebrate our wins, without it being misconstrued or used against us, especially in our place of work.
This isn’t to say that Richardson hasn’t made mistakes. After the trials, she drew deserved criticism for old tweets of hers that many people took to be homophobic and that appeared to be sympathetic to Chris Brown, who in 2009 was arrested for assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna. I hope she takes responsibility for these statements and apologizes to those she offended and hurt, just as she did after testing positive for marijuana.
Some will hold Richardson’s transgressions over her head for the years to come, which is a problem in itself: Black women in sport are subjected to double standards and harshly scrutinized. Take the racism and sexism Serena and Venus Williams have always been subjected to because they are Black and better than their white counterparts. Or Naomi Osaka, who was fined $15,000 in May because she chose her mental health and well-being over press obligations at the French Open. This led to the heads of all four Grand Slam tournaments signing and issuing a public statement warning Osaka that she could face suspension and harsher penalties if she continued to forgo speaking with the media.
Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, two of the best 400-meter runners in the world, have been ruled ineligible to compete in the 400m at the Tokyo Olympics due to their naturally high testosterone levels.The same rule has prevented Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion, from defending her 800-meter Olympic title in Tokyo and competing in any event ranging from the 400m to the mile at top meets unless she takes medication or undergoes surgery to lower her natural testosterone levels. In June, the international swimming federation (FINA) banned swim caps designed for natural Black hair, created by Soul Cap, from the Olympics.
And now, Richardson.
I've never met Richardson, but if our paths were to cross, I'd give her the biggest hug. I'd tell her how proud I am of her. How much she means to little Black girls and Black women. By showing up as her authentic self and taking up space in a society that devalues Black women, she’s breaking barriers and she’s showing us that it’s okay to do the same in our worlds. I'm not quite sure if she's aware of the impact she's made, but that's what makes her iconic to me—not just her speed.
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