Clear as Gold

 

Simone Manuel reacts to winning gold in Rio (NY Mag)
Simone Manuel reacts to winning gold in Rio (NY Mag)

“If she got in the pool, it would have to be drained. For health reasons.”

 

This line is from the 1999 film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge describing an incident involving the aforementioned actress. Years before her story was shared, Dandridge would be the first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award.

-“What a lovely pool you have here.”

– “Ms. Dandridge, please.”

She playfully dips her toes into the pool as she bellows out a cheerful, yet taunting laugh. Later that night she walks past the pool to find Black hotel workers tirelessly scrubbing away at the pool she had “contaminated.”

*Splash*

In goes Simone Manuel, the 20 year-old native of Sugarland, Texas. Only 52.70 seconds later, her jaw drops in shock as her brain registers the news. In her first Olympic appearance, she had just tied gold with Penny Oleksiak of Canada in the 100-meter freestyle.

 

Simone Manuel during ceremony for the women's 100-meter freestyle final. AP/Michael Sohn
Simone Manuel during ceremony for the women’s 100-meter freestyle final. AP/Michael Sohn

“It means a lot.” The seven-time All-American tells NBC. “I mean, this medal is not just for me. It’s for a whole bunch of people that came before me and have been an inspiration to me. Maritza [Correia], Cullen [Jones] and it’s for all the people after me who believe they can’t do it. And I just want to be inspiration to others that you can do it.”

 

 

There aren’t many people that look like her to have come before Manuel; the names “Maritza” and “Cullen” refer to a  few swimmers of color from the U.S. to participate in the Olympics. The history of segregated pools in America runs deep, but that hasn’t deterred progress. Simone Manuel earned gold in Rio, but the prize was not for her alone. She won for a country whose fairly recent history resolves acid as the best way to rid brown bodies from a pool. The same liquid used to transport and torture African-Americans has been used to bring them hope.

 

 

After the race, Manuel spoke to media outlets: “It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality. This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”

Two hydrogen atoms converge with one oxygen atom to create a molecule. This molecule is powerful enough to give or take away life. A liquid without form or taste or smell. Colorless. On national television, millions watched as a Black woman and a White woman stand on a podium to celebrate one color.

Gold.

 

Simone Manuel and Canada's Penny Oleksiak show off their gold.
Simone Manuel and Canada’s Penny Oleksiak show off their gold.

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