Douglas, who’s 16, spent her first Olympics with her hair straightened and swept back into a ponytail. If you read that and thought, “And … ?” you’re not wrong. All Douglas did with her hair is what her white teammates and international peers did: attempted to keep it out of her face. To do this, she probably used gel for hold. She probably used a lot of gel. From the looks of it, she probably used a lot of the wrong gel, because Douglas’s ebony hair took on the lacquered, ridged texture of a nut whose shell had been spray painted. Complaints ranged from nappiness, to too-straightness, to not straight enough.
There were screams about specific aspects of the hair that led us from civilized discourse about pressure and expectation and propriety into the poetic, alienating argot of black hair care — edges, kitchens, naps, stuff like that. Among the things we love about Michelle Obama is that she is almost certainly the only First Lady who knows what SoftSheen is. Her bouncing hair has raised the bar for everybody. What made some people mad about Douglas was that her hair was all sheen and scarcely any soft.
When I interned at The Globe a decade ago, they organized these lunches for the interns weekly with staff writers, editors and other big shot kickass folks at The Boston Globe. Anyway, Wesley was my favorite person we met with that entire summer. He was mad cool and told us fun stories.