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He’s an Olympic gold medallist and deserves every respect!

Gregory A King

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

On Sunday, August 14, 2016, the world watched as Usain Bolt made history, winning his third gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in the 100m. The patrons in the pub where I was having an adult beverage erupted with shouts of excitement — they were white people in Ohio. Suffice it to say I could only imagine the reactions from Jamaicans everywhere. And if I know Jamaicans, our contagious pride is colossal.

When I got home, the footage of revelry confirmed what I felt to be true; Jamaicans basking in the glow of Bolt’s gold medal and, as a Jamaican, the celebratory national pride felt good.

The following day, Omar McLeod also made history winning the 110m hurdles. His powerful start and consistent stride sent him over the finish line, giving Jamaicans another reason to boast, brag, and beam with joy — at least it should have.

Sadly, his gold medal also encouraged idiotic speculations and hate mongering. He had earned a gold medal at the Olympics — an international arena where the top athletes from all over the world compete and where a win earns you the status of being the best. Paradoxically, that accomplishment warranted a tweet that confirmed what some have come to abhor about the island which parades itself as a paradise of perfection.

Make no mistake, the spotlight belongs to McLeod, because he worked his entire life for those 13 magnificent seconds.

As for the tweet, which was cheeky, charmless, obnoxious, uncouth, and tacky, I take issue with the tweeter and those who seemingly condone it. The intent and subliminal context in which the tweet was written is more harmful than the tweet itself. The person who tweeted his stream of consciousness attempted to spit in the face of McLeod’s achievement and in the face of Jamaica’s progress — an insult that is accompanied by the awkward action of the graceless swipe.

I must admit, after reading the tweet (which is not even worthy of repeating), my pride was replaced by the temporary feeling of disappointment. The 40-year-old man that I am was forced to relive some of my not-so-pleasant memories that still toxify my belief that the intolerant Jamaicans I grew up around still exist. That, unfortunately, the culture of bigotry has not diminished. In that moment, I cringed at the possibility that the resentment and venom some may have towards those who dare to express alternate lifestyles still run rampant through the land of my birth — even when it is mere speculation.

On the biggest stage, on the biggest day of his life, we celebrated our countryman with negativity, and for that we should be ashamed.

Some may overlook the situation as comedy, but with such a narrative, the subtext bleeds prejudice and narrow-mindedness. Although I was jolted back in time to being a scared 16-year-old boy living on Plantain Avenue near Waterhouse, among people who wanted to hurt me because I may have dressed differently, walked differently, or spoken in softer tones, I dreamt of living, and I lived to escape. And I’m still dreaming. But, this is not about me — it’s about the 110m hurdles Olympic gold medallist, Omar McLeod, and giving him the respect he deserves.

I don’t know McLeod, but he is a representation of triumph for all Jamaicans. I have no doubt he will become a symbol of hope for millions of little boys and girls who dare to dream. We must remember that with each win, we possess the power to uplift and support our countrymen and women. And with that responsibility, we must choose to be better because we are better than people who choose to lurk at the bottom of the moral totem pole spewing judgement at people who choose to live life on their own terms.

There is something honourable about our people. Jamaicans are furnished with regal manners and, even in our inadequacies, we have the capacity to survive and thrive because we have always been about community. My hope is that the focus will be on the fact that a Jamaican chose to represent his country, and because of his win, we all won. My wish is that every Jamaican will recall the vision of Omar McLeod atop that medal podium, singing the Jamaican National Anthem, knowing that in that moment, the world watched as we shared in his success as he lived his dream.

From Jamaicans at home and abroad, congratulations, Omar McLeod. You have won a historic gold medal. May your stars continue to shine bright because you have made us very proud.

Gregory A King, MFA, is assistant professor of dance at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.