|Lolo Jones: source|
After coming in 4th place, Jones tweeted: “Stressed.5am no sleep post race. Almost went @britneyspears on ya & shave my head til I read ur tweets. Thx 4 lifting me up during this time.” Maligned in the New York Times. Outrun by her competitors. Scrutinized by the media. Shaded by her teammates, Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells. All of those connive to create the narrative available to mixed-race subjects after they fail: victimized, tragic, alone, and, possibly, mad.
Jones’ media savvy not only indicates her heightened awareness of the camera, but also points to the way the media’s gaze fits and retrofits people into the same old story. Colson Whitehead describes it in John Henry Days, cheekily laying out a schema for news stories where everyone’s name is Bob, and Bob only has several story options. Only this time Bob’s name is Lolo.
And, as a woman of color under a white male patriarchal gaze, she fits into few stock stories as do her teammates, Kellie and Dawn. As Kellie and Dawn noted during their interview, they had good up-and-comer or comeback-kid stories. Pardon my massive side eye.
They have good stories that play into another set of ableist overcoming discourses about women, race, and sport. Beware of the media, it exaggerates the gaze. Irigaray might add, “...more than other senses, the eye objectifies and masters. It sets at a distance, maintains the distance. In our culture, the predominance of the look over smell, taste, touch, hearing, has brought about an improverishment of bodily relations...the moment dominates. The look dominates. The body loses its materiality.”
Irigaray’s words echo in watching these women. My concern is not whether they courted the media (or not), whether they won (or not), but the idea that the media absolves itself from guilt in objectifying, commodifying, and selling their bodies. To think of the black body solely through the gaze of a majority white media is to already relegate it to being fungible. It wouldn’t have mattered how good your story was. I wouldn’t even have mattered whether Jones did shave her head. That would have become another one of Bob’s stories. The question for us as viewers is whether we can change the script about Jones’ body or Dawn’s or Kellie’s? And, if and when we do, will we succeed in changing the scripts about our own?
Therí A. Pickens is an assistant professor of English at Bates College and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.