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Diversity Diva

The Olympics and the Distribution of Pride in America

Michelle T. Johnson
Contributor: Michelle T. Johnson
Posted: 08/12/2012
Pride is a funny thing in this country.
During the Olympics, we can get all giddy about national pride. "Let’s go, USA!"
In wartime, when our troops are on the front line in the International corridor, we’re all about America.
And when it comes to traveling overseas, there are a lot of Americans that presume that just being American on foreign soil provides them with an automatic gold star.
But on American terra cotta, do you ever notice how when different groups of Americans choose to self identify as something other than just "American," a lot of folks can get very annoyed?
If I’ve read or heard once, I’ve read or heard hundreds of times how irritated people get, for example, that many blacks prefer to be called "African-American." The comments run along the lines of, "Why isn’t just being American enough?" ; "If they identify so much with Africa, maybe they ought to move there."
I’ve heard a lot of well meaning people get annoyed and offended because people refer to themselves as Arab-American or Mexican-American, etc.
My question is: who gets to decide which identifications are acceptable and which are not?
Why is that we can cheer for the USA to win the gold in....well, anything and everything, but when a person of color, for example, takes pride in being the first of their race to achieve something, people get their hackles up?
Olympic fever, as it does every four years, gets a lot of coverage in our society and Americans get very invested in winning. Winning the gold, or at least the silver or bronze. Breaking records.
People can root openly and fearlessly for America to beat a country they may not even have heard of, let alone, visited. They can get all warm and toasty that our country won and another got beat.
But nationalism is an identification that most people in the world have fallen in to. Whether they embrace it, take it for granted, or just think about it every four years during the Olympics, most people didn’t pick their home country, unless we consider being born a conscious choice.
However, it is a form of identification. Just like race is an identification. Or religion. Or sexual orientation. Or political party. Or a thousand other ways that people choose to associate in the world.
In the workplace, employee resource groups based on race or ethnicity tend to be among the most popular.
That’s because the uncomfortable fact is because, next to gender, ethnicity is the most obvious difference that people can see. And both historically and currently, decisions are made based on these differences.
At the core of who we are as humans, we really are the same. Prick the arm of an American and of a Bulgarian, they bleed red. But in the Olympics, their national identification still matters.
Prick the skin of an American who descendants come from a country in Africa and of an American whose descendants come from Germany, they bleed red. But in any aspect of American where they choose for it to, their ethnic and cultural identification matters - to the extent they choose for it to.
The other day, a friend expressed dismay that a co-worker wore large dangly, crucifix earrings to work. It bothered him to see that overt a display of religion at work. I asked how he felt about a co-worker wearing Muslim garb to work. He found that equally as troublesome.
I pointed out that in both cases - legal rights aside - those individuals had the right to self-identify as they saw fit. And, what symbol of religion should be allowed to suit his comfort level - smaller earrings?, a crucifix necklace? a What Would Jesus Do bracelet?
If we as Americans are going to root for people we don’t really know for no other reason than they are on Team USA, maybe we need to back up criticizing or allowing ourselves to get offended by people who have other parts of their identify that matter strongly to them.
The other day, a commentator was upset because Gabby Douglas was identified as an African-American but we don’t see Michael Phelps being identified as a German-American.
Frankly, I have no idea how either Douglas or Phelps self-identifies racially or otherwise.
But the communities that any and all Olympic athletes represent take pride in who they are and what they’ve accomplished.

And whether we’re talking a hometown, a high school, a team, a group of people trained under one coach, or an ethnic group, we can’t pick and choose how pride is distributed.
Michelle T. Johnson
Contributor: Michelle T. Johnson
Posted: 08/12/2012