Monday, February 12, 2018

Why Maame Biney Matters in 2018

Why Maame Biney Matters in 2018

In this dark time of Trump, it is perhaps poetic justice—or just karma—that the rising star of the US American team is an 18-year-old immigrant born in Ghana, the first black speed skater in US history at the Olympics (along with Erin Jackson, long-track, whom we shouldn’t forget).

But I want to talk about Maame because she defines what this country is about.

Her parents are separated, her mother in Ghana, but her father in the US.  While she still talks to her mother, she fell in love with the US, and at 5, chose to live with her father.  He took her to a skating rink on a lark, and when she proved to have talent (albeit in speed skating, not figure skating), he worked extra and gave up much to support her immense, budding talent.

To complete her training, she was taken in by a white host family in Salt Lake City, who her father waxes poetic about as not caring about race, but perhaps he shouldn’t.  In the current environment, I understand, but Maame is America: the ambitious immigrant.  She doesn’t need apologies for making the team.  Increasingly black athletes are finding standing in sports once considered mostly white.  Gymnastics saw it with Gabby Douglas, then Simone Biles (the latter of whom was also known for her infectious personality).  Now we have Maame and Erin in speed skating.  The white-power narrative will argue that blacks are “taking over,” but this is silly, a fear reaction because territory once perceived as theirs is no longer white-washed.

That helps everyone.  Athletes seek to excel, or should.  Greater competition means athletes are challenged to excel more.  Whining about increased competition is a sign of weakness and insecurity.  Do white athletes need a “handicap” in order to make the Olympic team?  I don’t think so.  The US sends her best.  Any color.  We’re fortunate to have a large enough population to send so many athletes.  200+ compared to some countries excited to send just 3-4, none of whom have any chance of medaling.  Just to participate is enough.  We shouldn’t whine.

Back to Maame.  She hails from a continent/country the US president recently labeled a “shithole,” and why should we let in people from such places?  To make it worse, her father isn’t rich.  He put everything he’s earned into his daughter’s training.  They are not the Trump White House’s idea of “ideal immigrants.”  Yet when she earns medals in South Korea, I wonder what the current administration’s reaction will be?  Will she get an invitation, with Trump trying to coopt her victory to lessen backlash for his “shithole countries” remark?  Or will she be politely ignored?  If she’s invited, frankly, I hope she declines, but that is her decision to make.

In the end, Maame is just a girl, a high school senior.  And like any other girl, she has dreams.  She wants to win gold, and then she wants to become a chemical engineer.  And if a lot of people at universities all across the US dream of the latter, very, very few have any hope of the former.  Yet it’s the later on which I think we should focus.  Maame is special, she has a rare talent, but she’s also just like any immigrant in that she wants a better life, and has dreams shared by a lot of other Americans, from truly Native Americans, enrolled in any of the recognized native tribes, to Americans from older immigrant groups dating back before American independence, to more recent immigrants, whether through Ellis Island or other venues.

America is about people with dreams.  And to my mind, the best thing Maame brings to the Olympics and this country is her laugh, her hope, her drive, and her dreams.  In short, she brings herself.

Go, go, go, Maame.  You are this country, this United States.  We got your back, girl.  Go win some Olympic hardware.