Social media would have loved Dominique Dawes. The three-time Olympian provided a vision the world had not seen before. She was a walking first. First African-American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics and the first black person — period — to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. The team gold, won in 1996 by the dubbed, “Magnificent Seven,” cemented Dawes’ legacy as the one who got the ball rolling, the one who initiated the eyes of the country to fixate themselves on a black woman gymnast. She put the country — and the world — on notice that black women were coming, and they were coming soon.
We have seen plenty of them. There was Wilma Rudolph, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Florence Griffith Joyner, Gail Devers, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Cheryl Miller — American women who dominated their respective Olympic events. There are the incomparable Williams sisters — Venus and Serena — with Serena in the conversation for greatest woman athlete ever and one of the greatest athletes — any gender — of all time. They took what their predecessors did to a marketing stratosphere no one had ever seen before.
But there is a 4-foot-8, 104-pound amalgamation of everything that the aforementioned women brought to the table. Something, someone, we have never seen before. A level of perfection athletes rarely achieve … the level where there is no rival, the level where the only competition is self. Only one current athlete can lay claim to this level.
With five gold medals and an all-time record of 25 career medals at the world championships, Simone Biles is better at what she does than anyone else is at what they do. And at a mere 22 years old, she has accomplished more in her lifetime than most athletes will ever reach. Petite dominance, earned swagger, knowing smile, Simone Biles screams the essence of what is termed #blackgirlmagic.
She isn’t the first and she won’t be the last. But she might be the best.
“It’s not out of cockiness,” she told USA Today. “I’ve won five world titles and if I say, ‘I’m the best gymnast there is,’ (the reaction is) ‘Oh, she’s cocky. Look at her now.’ No, the facts are literally on the paper.”
There is an elegance within her confidence, a pristine presentation that gracefully navigates her greatness. Because fans are average people who cannot do what those we watch do, there is this inclination to pull them back toward the crowd, no matter how great they are. We want these giants of craft to not recognize the very thing that makes them recognizable. We want them not to speak on their own greatness, to remain humble. But humility does not equate to blindness. Biles knows who and what she is. She knows what she has accomplished. She knows what she represents. It is only a society of participation trophy-earners that want her to be silent in discussing her own greatness. Thankfully, she doesn’t subscribe to such nonsense.
“It’s important to teach our female youth that it’s OK to say, ‘Yes, I am good at this,’ and you don’t hold back,” Biles said. “You only see the men doing it. And they’re praised for it, and the women are looked down upon for it. But I feel like it’s good (to do) because once you realize you’re confident and good at it, then you’re even better at what you do.”
If Biles subscribed to what everyday folk deemed appropriate, she more than likely would not be where she is. Athletes are not supposed to be her size. When she stands next to her brothers and sisters in sport, she looks like a small child looking for an autograph.
Until you look at her legs, the locale where all her powers lie. She is perfectly built for her sport. Light on her feet, explosive in her legs, she is a gymnastics coach’s dream. There is nothing within her sport that she cannot do. She is dominant in every phase, every aspect, and those that watch and understand what it is she is doing, can only watch in amazement as her competition recognizes that second place is the best — and only — place for them.
She annihilates her competition because nobody can do what she does. And she knows it. We try to muzzle those that are great because society tells us to. It is frustrating when everyone else can applaud you but you cannot applaud yourself.
If I am a musician, and you like my music, why shouldn’t I listen to my music, too? If I am a writer, and you like my writing, why shouldn’t I read my writing, too? We place truth within the same space as arrogance when they do not belong there. There are only a few spaces where there is nothing arbitrary about who is the best at that particular skill. There can be arguments made all day on who are the best basketball, football, baseball, and tennis players. But gymnastics? There is no discussion.
Simone Biles is better than everyone else.
Blessed with the blood of kings and queens and ancestors who fought oppression at every waking turn, she is the embodiment of the magic. The hashtag-turned-rallying-cry among black women to fully claim and express the magic they have always possessed, #blackgirlmagic is an embodiment of truth that permeates throughout a society that is finally — but still too slowly — celebrating the contributions that black women have given us. And women like Biles — 20 years the junior of Dawes — continue this underappreciated lineage of greatness, of grace, of magic.
Biles shares Serena’s misunderstood confidence. The societal psychosis of how to interact with confident black women oftentimes blinds us to the overarching truth of their greatness. Biles lets her work speak for itself. Serena lets her work speak for itself. Both champions. Both dominant like no other performer in their sport before them. It isn’t until someone doubts them, tries to throw shade on their accomplishments, downplays their greatness, or asks an average question from an average mouth, that the confidence ever crawls from their pores for the world to see. We finally get a peek into what it takes to be their particular level of excellent, then the very people who asked for their feelings about themselves are the ones upset when these great athletes answer from a space of honesty, a space of assuredness, a space of confidence, a space of magic.
Biles is 4-foot-8. Her voice has to be mighty for it to be heard. Biles is African-American. Her voice has to be mighty for it to be heard. Biles is a woman. Her voice has to be mighty for it to be heard. And this is where the tragedy lies. But like JAY-Z said, “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” So if she wanted to be silent within her greatness, smiling and nodding as those average folk ask her average questions, and to keep up appearances, responding as if she is average, too, she could. There would be nothing wrong with it.
But that isn’t her. It isn’t those who have risen among the giants to scream, “I belong.” So, unless she is lying, unless she is speaking inaccuracies, unless she is spewing nonsense that cannot be backed up, we should be the ones smiling and nodding. For Simone Biles is a giant among us, embarking on a level of dominance only a select few ever get to accomplish. And we will celebrate her for it.
And she should be allowed to celebrate, too. For she is magic, and magic doesn’t follow the rules of average folk.