I have a bad left knee. I moved earlier this week, and I didn’t want
my knee to look like a cauliflower, so I decided to use a gym pass that
I had been saving for a rainy day.
I figured that a little yoga and a little steam room would help
old lefty feel better.
The gym facility was beautiful. A summer camp for adults in the
form of a gym.
This morning I was in the locker room, with affluent, older white
women to my left and to my right and I don’t remember the last time
I felt so conscious of how Black I was. The browness of my skin.
The non blondess of my hair.
I couldn’t help but catch glances of other women’s bodies, the
cellulite, thighs, muscles, amazing six packs and I began to think
of my own self consciousness around being about 7 or 8 pounds
lighter than my normal weight. When I get stressed out, I stop eating.
The last two months things have been stressful, but they are
getting back to normal, thank God. I noticed several things on
my country club field trip. The first thing is that initially I felt
uncomfortable. I received slow glances from some
of the staff. Then the longer I was there, and moved about the
facility, I felt less like their glances mattered and I felt more like a member.
I also noticed the presence of entire families. During the week
in downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan it is common to see Spanish,
Caribbean and African American women with white children, on the train, on
the street in the parks. Today, it was such a sight to see so many white
men playing an active caregiving role with their children. It dawned
on me that affluent white folks take their children to the gym with them.
I began to think about the message that it sends to young people.
I also thought about African American women, and our unwillingness
to exercise because we do not want water ANYWHERE near our
hair and the impact that this has on our health.
Finally, I was refreshed. Mascara check. Blush Check. Hat titled to the side
30 degrees, check. I prepared to leave. As I started walking out of the
facility I noticed a group of Black men in the lobby. There was a hum
in the room. My thought was “Oh there are some Cauuuties, ok, girls
look alive.” Then I thought to myself, hmm, why is there a high school
basketball team practicing here and dismissed it. Then, as I walked further and
gazed at a 6 ft 7 tall drink of water, he gazed back at me, and then
I saw the purple and gold warm up suits. I realized that it
was The Lakers.
A wave of adrenaline rushed through me.
I immediately and inconspicuously started looking for Kobe,
who I noticed was on the low, wearing a hood. I walked to
the coat check lady and said “Nikki, do you see who just walked in?”
So many things rushed through my head. I thought of the power
dynamic between athletes and the women they are attracted to.
I thought about what it must feel like to be a woman who receives
attention from a person who is catered to and revered by so many
people. As the player walked past me, me with my duffel bag, lap top
bag and Shiny Black Girl handbag, it was electric. I was myself and
still getting the eye.
I felt simultaneously like a groupie, feminist, sociologist and a writer.
I thought of Kobe’s rape case and the emotional terrain
involved with hanging out and having sex with a professional
athlete. In our society, women are raised to think that “landing”
someone with Hollywood credentials is the ultimate success.
I thought about what it feels like to be a powerful man in a culture
that simultaneously resents you for your wealth and respects you
for your athletic ability. No one talks about the power dynamics
involved in dating such a person. I thought of how historically
women who have been (allegedly) being raped by athletes and
famous men in general are typically blamed for the (alleged) rape
in the court of popular opinion.
Mike Tyson. R.Kelly. Kobe Bryant. Mystikal. 2Pac.
It is one thing to run into Hollywood folks out in the street, and something
completly different to encounter an entire basketball team comprised
mostly of Black men in a gym. Especially if it makes both me and the
team members the only Black non staff folk in the room.
Ms. Black feminist goes to the country club, gets a lesson, in class,
race, affluence and power.
Oh, and my knee feels better.
Have you felt your ethnicity, hard, recently?
Athletes, women and power, any thoughts?