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Olympian Gabby Douglas – the gymnast is golden, but her family is obscured

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Despite the ritual cleansing of America’s racial past implicit in Costas’s remarks, try as she might, Gabby can’t control what others write or say about her. Even as many across the globe have warmly embraced and celebrated her victories, age-old stereotypes about black families have been insinuated in her life story.

Gabby grew up with a “single mother,” Natalie Hawkins, we have been told. Such a moniker when attached to African American children typically is seen as a never-married mother, a derelict father, and multiple signs of family dysfunction. Some assume that Gabby’s story is no different.

Trudy Rubin, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer on an NPR program in discussing Gabby’s achievement offered: “Her father doesn’t seem to be in the picture.” Based on what verifiable information, I ask?

She also referred to Gabby’s host family (Travis and Missy Parton), who took care of her for the past two years while she trained in Iowa, as her “foster parents” – even as she expressed admiration for both families. And yet, “foster parents” is a term usually reserved for caretakers of children who are wards of the state.

Writer Lisa Suhay questioned Ms. Hawkins’s choices as a mother. Commenting on how Hawkins conceded to her teenage daughter’s desire to move to Iowa to train with coach Liang Chow, Ms. Suhay wrote in The Christian Science Monitor: “It made me ask, ‘Who’s the parent?’”

But according to Ms. Suhay the silver lining is that Gabby got to trade in her dysfunctional family of origin: “Perhaps the stability and not just the coaching is what this child really needed coming from a home where her mother, who according [to] the Virginian-Pilot divorced the same man twice and has struggled on disability to provide for her needs.”

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