I am thinking about the vast difference between the Internet’s reactions to the behavior of gymnast Gabrielle Douglass and swimmer Ryan Lochte at this year’s summer Olympics in Rio. Of course, as many people have already pointed out, the willingness to hate on Douglass for not putting her hand over her heart during the national anthem (note: I always thought that standing at attention was perfectly acceptable?), for not smiling enough, for not having neat enough hair is in stark contrast to the willingness to forgive Lochte for destroying property in a drunken rage and then lying about it. After all, according to the IOC, Lochte (who is 32 years old) and his crew were just being “kids“:
They had fun. They made a mistake. It’s part of life. Life goes on. Let’s go.
Um, let’s not.
Of course, very smart people on social media are already calling this out.
But I am specifically thinking about how this incident demonstrates the way that privilege operates through assumptions about intention.
When Douglass didn’t put her hand over her heart, the public was happy to read intention into that action. They said that this action revealed that she hated America, was unpatriotic, was a poor teammate, etc.
In Lochte’s case, the IOC warned us against reading intentions from the (violent, duplicitous) actions he took.
We have to understand that these kids came here to have fun. Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you make decisions that you later regret.
The white man gets the benefit of the doubt even when his actions have demonstrably caused harm. I wonder why that might be?