By Liz Dwyer | Word In Black
(WIB) – The late, great DMX probably never imagined that a medley of his hits would one day be the musical backdrop to a college gymnastics routine. But a recent floor exercise by UCLA senior Sekai Wright — complete with a final Black Power fist in the air — would surely have earned a 10 from the hip-hop icon.
Watching Wright effortlessly flip and vault herself into the air while keeping time to the music is the epitome of Black girl magic, and you will no doubt get your whole life while watching this video of her routine. Also? Can we get an amen for her proudly rocking her afro?
The power and skill and love of Black culture that’s on display in her performance is everything. It’s no wonder the video, which UCLA uploaded to Instagram a week ago has nearly 1.2 million views.
You might also feel some kind of way when you realize that Wright gave that level of performance despite experiencing months of racism within the school’s gymnastics squad.
Last year, after a white freshman member of the team made racist comments, members of the squad asked the coaching staff to address the situation. And they asked, and asked, and asked some more. Months of asking before taking to social media and putting UCLA on blast publicly. After all, UCLA, like many other American institutions in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, made big promises to address racism on campus.
Wright and teammate Margzetta Frazier, who has gone viral before for her gymnastics routines, talked about the situation in a recent appearance on the podcast “Small Doses with Amanda Seales.” They detailed how the white student used the N-word and excused it by saying that’s just how she grew up. She would also vocally rank other members of the squad on their “ugliness,” and the Black girls were always rated last.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, after the Black gymnasts at UCLA spoke up, the coaching staff expressed concern “about the mental health of the gymnast accused of using the N-word and urged teammates to be more tolerant.” The staffers also told the Black women that they had “intimidated” the white woman, reported the Times.
Seales pointed out in her podcast how Florida has a new bill barrelling toward its statehouse that would make it illegal to make white people feel “discomfort” or “guilt” about racism. That sort of bill is not in effect in California, yet still, UCLA did not, according to the students, take meaningful action and discipline the white student.
Frazier and Wright told Seales how Wright, who has also suffered from mental health issues, did not get the same support from the UCLA coaches. Instead, she was publicly berated and forced to apologize to the team for posting a photo with an unauthorized hat on social media.
In a statement, Chris Waller, the team’s coach told the Times, “As a coach and educator, my deepest concern is always the health and well-being of each member of this team, and I will continue to support these young leaders and do my best to give them the experience they deserve. My belief in the team is unwavering.”
No wonder Wright chose DMX’s music as the soundtrack. The lyrics, “Y’all gon’ make me lose my mind, up in here” never sounded so right given the situation.
According to NCAA data, in 2020, only 9% of Division I women gymnasts were Black. But the accomplishments of Olympian Simone Biles have raised interest in the sport among young Black girls.
“Simone has opened the eyes to so many women of color saying ’Hey, you can do this, too,‘” Biles’ co-coach Cecile Landi, told The Associated Press last summer. “It’s not just little skinny white girls that can do it. Anyone can do it.”
Yet, when you look at Wright’s routine, it’s clear that being able to “do it” is not the problem.
The ability to win has never protected Black athletes from racism, or protected Black anybody from being asked to soothe the feelings of white folks who have made racist comments.
Watch Sekai Wright’s performance again now that you know there’s more going on than an extremely talented gymnast doing backflips to a medley of DMX bops. That Black Power fist might hit just a bit differently.
Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.