I Am Human.

on Sha'Carri Richardson, Black girl magic, and unseen pain

“I am human.”

These are the words Sha’Carri Richardson tweeted on Thursday, July 1st, the day she reportedly tested positive for marijuana during a routine drug test. Now, the 21-year-old has been disqualified from her dream of competing at the Tokyo Olympics.

You will of course have seen all the viral images and videos of Sha’Carri from last month — long lashes, orange hair with laid baby hairs, long nails — streaming across the 100-meter finish line, earning her spot on the US Olympic team and effortlessly blooming into the fastest woman in the world at 10.64 seconds.

The week the clip of her win made the rounds, the week that she became a bonafide sports star, I felt something unsettled stir in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t quite place what it was. I was of course happy for her, happy for the exuberance and enthusiasm with which her talent was being received. But I couldn’t let go of the fact that she had had to push through immense sadness in order to get to this point.

At only 21-years-old, having just lost her biological mother, Sha’Carri said during her post-win interview:

“This year has been crazy or me. Going from, just last week, losing my biological mother, and I'm still here. I'm still here. Last week finding out my biological mother passed away and still choosing to pursue my dreams, still coming out here and still making sure to make the family that I do still have on this earth proud. Y'all see me on this track, and y'all see the poker face that I put on but nobody but them and my coach know what I go through on a day-to-day basis.”

People hear Black women say things like this all the time but don’t seem to truly receive it, to truly comprehend the level of numbness that one must get to in order to cope with the weight of emotional boulders and still perform. The cliche of the Strong Black Woman in our culture is well known and well critiqued at this point, and yet the mainstream (white) culture still remains most giving, most accepting, most enamored with Black women who seem superhuman.

And so our pain just becomes a backdrop, an embellishment, a minor plot point to an overall feel-food story. Our pain becomes the thing we overcame to win a shiny prize, a thing to be commodified, rather than something we actually have to live with every day. I wasn’t surprised when Sha’Carri revealed during her Friday morning interview on the Today Show that she had smoked weed as a means to cope with her depression in the wake of losing her mother (horrifically, she learned of her mother’s death from a reporter during an interview).

“I would like to say to my fans and my family and my sponsorship, to the haters too, I apologize,” she said on the Today show. “As much as I’m disappointed I know that when I step on the track I don’t represent myself I represent a community that has shown me great support, great love and to y’all I failed y’all.”

I’m sad that she even had to explain all that. I’m sad that she feels like she has failed anyone, simply for trying to cope with the part of her that people seem far less invested in holding, in seeing.

And so, the tweet:

Those words, “I am human,” in their definitive simplicity, really struck me when I saw the tweet yesterday. They struck me not just in their stark vulnerability and truth, but in their juxtaposition with the comments I read in response, comments ranging from love and support to straight up violent disrespect. A few:

I don’t really know what it is about human beings that makes us able to talk to whole strangers in this way. It can’t just be the nature of internet culture, the anonymity that makes typing something cruel and judgemental on the internet to a stranger as easy as flicking a light switch. We’ve always been this way, especially in regards to Black women who become highly visible for being talented in some way. There’s the build up and the breakdown. There’s a flattening of nuance that we all engage in. I certainly have. And it all makes me so deeply uncomfortable.

Where can Black women go to find tenderness outside of ourselves?

And of course there’s the injustice of it all. Obviously, she broke “rules.” And yet I can’t help but think about how Lance Armstrong can dope for several years, an ostensible open secret, and go on to win numerous cycling competitions before ever having to face consequences. But this young lady is disqualified for smoking marijuana, a plant medicine that has been made legal in several states across this country, including Oregon, the state Sha’Carri was in when she smoked it.

It all just feels off. It doesn’t make sense. Of course, over the past week, it’s become clearer and clearer to me that the one true constant of this world is that it is nonsensical, determinedly chaotic. The only way to survive, I’m learning, is to be able to accept the chaos instead of trying to run away from it, to understand that several things can be true at the same time.

A week ago, several of Sha’Carri’s old tweets revealed that she had defended Chris Brown in relation to his infamous abuse of Rihanna, told people who support Lil Nas X to unfollow her, and made several homophobic comments (one in particular about how men who wear pink are “gay asf”). I really don’t fuck with any of that. I don’t like it at all. I want her to say something, hold herself accountable, especially considering the fact that she herself is a young queer Black woman. And yet, there’s another part of me that also wants to make space for humanity, especially in a world in which Black women are often afforded the least amount of grace and space to grow, to fuck up, to learn. I think that maybe that’s naive, but these days I am so tired of being angry out of context.

People often use the phrase “I’m human” or “I’m only human” as if to say “It is in my nature to make mistakes” or “To be human is to be inherently imperfect.” But I see “I am human” as something else — a declaration more than an excuse or explanation, a reminder of a simple fact of existence. To be human is to be right and wrong all at the same time. To be perfect and imperfect. To be divine, and yet so incredibly corporeal. That’s the beauty of this experience. I think it is the simple reality that Black women exist that makes us magical. We exist, in all ways. And that is enough.