Naomi, Sha’Carri, Simone And The Burden Of Perfection
Sha’Carri Richardson (Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Simone Biles (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) Naomi Osaka (Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images)

ESSENCE’s Gen Z editor Brooklyn White responds to critiques of Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open and Wimbledon, Sha’Carri Richardson’s disqualification from the Olympics and Simone Biles’ decision to pull out from the womens gymnastics competition at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Each has discussed feeling pressure during high points in their athletic careers.

Sanctimoniousness is telling. It exposes the cracks in one’s own armor instead of the shoddy craftsmanship of another’s, alerting that there are still gaps where understanding should rest. For some of us, haughtiness is a default, especially in public spaces. The “perfect” people and their human moment is the center of attention.

Strangers were disappointed when Sha’Carri Richardson tested positive for marijuana. Critics tried to reduce Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles to stock after their respective withdrawals from major competitions. The gall is laughable but moreover disturbing. Petty human judgement makes mountains of small people, exposing them to barely-there power they have no right to. The ego boost spreads to others, granting them serenity as they bang a gavel for hurting people they may never meet. So on the cycle goes, making it easier to think and speak ill of the next.

Read about why Sha’Carri Richardson deserves grace in the midst of her grief.

Disappointment indicates proximity to the person or event in unnecessary discussion. With the exception of few, we were never even close enough to the circumstance to see the pain of dreams deferred reflecting in Richardson’s eyes. We were not always privy to the mental state of Osaka and Biles. The self-appointed jury though, they consider them all as lunging, swatting and flipping entertainment, nothing more.

It’s easy to be let down by someone when you don’t see them as a person and make them a symbol. They and we are guilty.

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We love Black women who are emblems. They leave us free to err and give in to our humanity at whim. They also make heartache feel more distant from our reach and deep down, racial progress appear all the more tangible. Yes, white people can brutalize and embarrass us with their laws and tactics, but if we can offer up models above scrutiny, respectable little icons, then maybe existing in an irredeemably racist world on an unpredictable, dying planet won’t hurt so much.

But the characters of our fantasies, they are the ones who suffer.

Maybe we all projected onto Richardson, Biles and Osaka, taking their wins as our own but ignoring their vulnerability. We bowed our head and bent our bodies to the capitalism-based concept of grinding through personal hells. How lost we are, working against ourselves even when our hearts, bones and minds beg for reprieve.

One word followed eliminations and a withdrawal from Richardson, Biles and Osaka: pressure. Pressure makes diamonds they say. Or does it crush and chip away at fortitude? Heavy is the head that wears the tiara with “Black Girl Magic” etched into it.

Black women are to walk across crackling coals if it benefits someone else — even if the person is metaphorical. Endure for the nonexistent, collapse under the weight for a future generation. Are we not to set a new example? Should we not bring the imaginary, the impending fruit and still restless ghosts closer and show them a new way? The armor is heavy.

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