Some view ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” as a rite of passage on the road to redemption for white celebrities. Paula Deen joined the cast when her prolific use of the N-word became public knowledge. Bristol Palin appeared on the show following her stint as an abstinence-only advocate in the midst of her teenage pregnancy “scandal.” Tom Delay graced the stage in 2010 after his money laundering conviction and resignation from Congress.
In a few weeks, Ryan Lochte will attempt to shimmy his way back into our good graces on this season of “Dancing With the Stars.” Maybe his gorgeous smile and bovine demeanor are all we need to forget that he and his teammates almost caused an international incident?
Watching the Lochte fiasco unfold in the media, I thought, indeed, this would be the end of his career. Given our unrelenting commitment to the boys in blue, there is no way the American public would forgive a man who blatantly lied to law enforcement (and his mama.)
The home of the brave has no respect for a dude who would steal away like a coward and leave his boys hanging out to dry.
Inevitably, our staunch demands for truthfulness from our politicians would translate into anger when we saw the gas station surveillance tape debunking Lochte’s story, forcing him to admit that he made the whole thing up.
As Americans, we stand firm on our pledge to seek justice for all, and the court of public opinion would make sure Lochte and his teammates paid for their actions.
But, our nation’s collective consciousness has proven time and time again to be short term.
It seems that we’ve already moved on from Lochte’s “bad behavior” in Rio. We’ve chalked up the 32-year-old’s actions to youthful ignorance and justified his missteps using the age-old adage “boys will be boys.” So, I’ll brace myself for the barrage of commercials, memes, and clips that will inevitably flood my timeline during Lochte’s tenure on “Dancing With the Stars.”
What’s the road to redemption while black folks transgress in the eyes of America’s court of public opinion. Will we open up a spot on “Dancing With the Stars” for Lochte’s fellow Olympian Gabrielle Douglas? When she didn’t grin or posture to our liking in Rio, we coined the term “Crabby Gabby.” We hurled the all-too-familiar “angry black woman” slur at her when actions (or her edges) did not fit into the picture-perfect frame we constructed for her four years ago.
What path does America’s favorite weatherman, Al Roker, walk now that staff at NBC are reportedly unhappy with him for calling out Lochte’s lies on “The Today Show?” Although Roker upheld our nation’s values by demanding truth and justice, his actions were interpreted by many as out of line for his role as an unbiased media professional.
For decades, the court of popular opinion has criticized African Americans for calling out micro (and macro) aggressions in our workplaces, in popular culture, and in courtrooms across the country. Time and time again, we’re labeled as too “passionate,” too “outspoken,” too “angry,” or just plain “too much.” We saw Melissa Harris-Perry and her staunch advocacy on behalf of black folks cost her a position of influence and power in the mainstream media establishment. It looks like we have to laugh to keep from crying when Dave Chappelle’s “when keeping it real goes wrong” rings true.
Womanist scholar Audre Lorde once said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” How important is power and influence in a system that was not constructed to prioritize our survival?
I’ll take comfort in speaking my truth over redemption any day.