Here’s why that tweet from the San Jose Mercury News is such a slap in the face to black women in America. To black people in America, period.
This isn’t a commentary on the overall inept Olympics coverage by NBC of African American swimmer and gold medalist Simone Manuel’s historic win— the network missed WHY her win is historic. In fact, journalists everywhere are missing the point. And we won’t even elaborate on that offensive tweet initially posted by The San Jose Mercury News in which the news organization identified her only as an “African American.”
Here’s what is being left out: The racial history of American swimming pools.
Dorothy Dandridge was a beautiful singer and dancer who performed in the most exclusive nightclubs and hotels in the country, but couldn’t get a room in any of them, or even use the pools. Night clubs were happy to have her, and other black performers, to entertain white patrons, but only if they came and went through the back door and didn’t use the bathrooms. Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, an HBO movie, based on her life story, contains a gut-wrenching scene in which Dandridge dips her toe into a Las Vegas hotel pool, which is then drained and scrubbed– by black maintenance workers.
Tell the whole story. Give the context that is the backstory to Manuel’s historic win.
Journalists need to tell this story, and yes, also include her commentary on today’s #blacklivesmatters movement in all interviews a groundbreaking woman of color gold medalist is expected to give knowing that she has a global platform.
Do better, NBC News. Do better other journalists in general. I know you have a gazillion and one researchers, video archivists, journalists and editors who can understand this. <insert snark>
Cynthia Liu is the founder of K-12 News Network, an award-winning civic tech grassroots education website. She is also a political blogger and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.