Passing the Baton: Flo Jo, Sha’Carri Richardson and Inheriting “Runnin’ Space”

Al Joyner, after the untimely death of his wife, the woman affectionately known as “Flo Jo,” noted that she “passed the ultimate drug test.” In the late 80s, Flo Jo would become the fastest woman in the world, a title that rightfully revealed a lifetime of hard work but engendered predictable scrutiny from anti-black adversaries.

Black greatness has continuously engendered skepticism from those whose existence relies on racist mythos. Thus, the drug-use allegations that attached themselves to Flo jo immediately after earning the gold medal reflect the anxiety of many who believe that blacks should always place behind whites, if they place at all.

The myth of meritocracy exists solely to incite the mythos of white greatness. They get it because they “earned” it. I use the term “earned” here loosely because white settler mythos begins with abduction and theft obscured with colonial use of the word “conquered.” The myth of meritocracy says that the African-adjacent work hard to get what the black collective only attains in deception or theft.

The deflection is real.

The pervasive national belief with regards to Africans in America (and everywhere else) is that “you cannot do it by yourself, but , with regard to any negative circumstance or experience, you did it to yourself.” For Flo Jo, under the gaze of white mythos, could not have won the race without drugs, and this same gaze posits her untimely death as of her own volition. This heartless gaze exists solely for the self and esteem of the African-adjacent, and constitutes the inheritance of the American dream and those dreamt into a faux inferiority.

Black greatness creates what black poet and professor Sterling A Brown called “runnin’ space” where the anti-black actualize the depths of a baseless cultural inheritance. But while this remains what our adversaries run toward, perhaps this is a not so gentle reminder that we must run away from whites attempting to shape the black narrative.

Sha’Carri Richardson inherits the racial skepticism that follows black greatness and the racial gloating that follows confirming this mythos as true. This inheritance makes the societal meditation on what the world perceives as her downfall greater than that which surrounded her triumphs.

Though marijuana is not a steroid, the racial anxiety that seeks to discount Richardson’s talent by any means necessary regards this test result as indicative of other foreign substances. This belief is, of course, a reach, but its function is to appease the fragile self and esteem that only exists if black greatness proves to be the result of man-made enhancements.

Additionally, it feels remiss not to mention another way in which the white gaze attempts to deviate from black greatness. Meditation on black female physical appearance is a common deviation from the depths of her talents. This covert form of ridicule is also what Sha’Carri inherits from Flo Jo, and the countless black women circumscribed to a racist gaze that refuses to see them. Whether Ayanna Pressley’s hair, Michelle Obama’s derriere, or Flo Jo and Sha’Carri’s nails, the black woman remains confined to the superficial to ignore her as a complex being of substance.

Collaboratively, the media’s treatment of Flo Jo, Richardson, and the countless black women relegated on a national or local level, delineate an anxiety surrounding black people as personifying American greatness. This anxiety, of course, corresponds to the obscured anxiety surrounding those of African-descent as Americans at all. Given that American remains firmly ingrained in black subjugation, these images undermine four hundred years of white settle mythos. Thus, social denigration and systemic deviation is the African-adjacent’s desperate attempt to ensure their nation survives the black truth buried beneath white fiction.

Moreover, I remain convinced that there will be little progress until the praise for black bodily performance ceases to supersede ownership and intellect. Praise for bodily performance illustrates the magical negro trope—a controlling image that binds blackness to national fantasy.

The “magic” of the magical negro, is, of course, national power to benefit from black people doing the “impossible” or the “incredible,” before anti-black forces make the reverie for their talents disappear into the runnin’ space of a racist nation.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Marijuana has long been weaponized to over police our neighborhoods, criminalize our bodies, undermine our talent, creativity, and skill as something other than brilliant, genius, or a supreme display of human excellence, and deprive us of wealth-generating opportunities even as more states move to legalize it. But it’s the Australian “journalist’s” hateful spread of disinformation about Black women’s hair and nails that lets me know racism has no bottom. I really wished Sha’Carri Richardson would not have apologized but I also understand it’s more complex than that. Thanks for another outstanding post, sis. Keep saying the quiet parts out loud.

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