What Goes Through My Mind As An African-American Olympian When I Get *That* Question

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tori franklin

Ever since I’ve made the Olympic team I’ve had multiple interviews with various magazines, news stations, etc. Eventually, they all come around to the same question.

Interviewers Everywhere: “So, Black person in America, how does it feel to be representing the United States in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics?”

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Me, a Black person: *Stares as a million thoughts rush through my mind about social injustice, racism, and representing a country where a portion of the people still wants to see me hanged*

Interviewers Everywhere: *Smiles with excitement*

What DOES it mean to me to represent the “great” country of America? The country where I’m still asked, “but where are you REALLY from?” as if only those who are pale in complexion have the right to “pure” American blood. The land of the free that locks children in cages as they cross the border.

The home of the brave who make fake social media accounts that they use to threaten and harass people. The nation that my ancestors were dragged to, but were never allowed to be a part of. What does it mean to me to represent such a country?

Me, a Black person: *Looks down at my medal, my ticket to Tokyo. Then back at the reporter*

Interviewers Everywhere: *Glances around nervously*

Whenever I get a version of this question, I feel conflicted. I know that there are millions of amazing, good-hearted, loving, people in my country.

The people of America have fought for laws to be changed for the betterment of its citizens. We have supported each other in protests and gathered together in times of mourning. We are the country that people dream to one day see. We are the American dream. I am living the “American dream.”

Chicago, the city that I grew up in, feels the most like home to me. The skyline tickles my distant memories and brings a warmth of nostalgia every time I see it.

My mother’s side of the family moved here from Arkansas. My father’s side is from Chicago as well, by way of Arkansas and St. Croix, US Virgin Islands before that. This land is all we know.

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Yet, I feel eyes on me everywhere I go. How can the same country that I call home be filled with people that tell me I don’t belong?

America isn’t perfect and I know no country is. But our police are militarized, politicians lie, colonize, sell weapons, and cause wars. Am I supposed to be proud to represent that?

They say if you love someone, the best thing you can do is, to be honest with them. You can’t coddle what you love or it’ll never grow, it won’t ever improve. So, I can’t just say “yes I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” I can’t represent a false image of my country. I won’t.

The Olympics is about recognizing our similarities. It’s about people from all corners of the world coming together to compete, to fuel each other in the pursuit of shared goals. In a world that often lacks empathy, where those who are different are labeled as “other”, it’s a reminder to see each other as people, to share stories about loss, and love, and triumph.

My story, my experience as an African-American woman, my family’s history, my American history will all be seen through three letters atop a red, white, and blue uniform.

Me, a Black person: “I’m honored to be amongst the 613 other athletes who earned the right to represent our country. I am proud to represent all of the greatness that is America and all the amazing people that reside here, but I can’t do so without acknowledging all of the hate, racism, and bigotry that comes with it.

There is a population within this country that would rather me not represent them because of the color of my skin. The 613 athletes that make up this team are Black, White, Asian, Latinx, Muslim, and everything else under the sun. America is a melting pot of culture and it always has been.

I’m glad that I get to show the world a piece of America through the skin I live in and my athletic performance. I hope I can make everyone proud.”

Interviewers Everywhere: *Squints eyes, purses lips, and nods in agreeance* “Wow. Yes. So true.”

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Tori Franklin is an American Record Holder in the Women's Triple Jump. She is also a Public Speaker on Mental Health and Dream Chasing. Her first book is coming soon.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.