Team USA swimmer Simone Manuel made history on Thursday night as the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming race. The 20-year-old swimmer from Sugar Land, Texas, also managed to break an Olympic record in the process, racing her 100-meter freestyle at 52.7 seconds. With her platform as an Olympic swimmer, as well as her historic win on Thursday, Manuel spoke out against police brutality and racism in the United States after winning the gold.
"I would like there to be a day where there are more of us, and it's not Simone, the black swimmer," she told Team USA. "The title black swimmer makes it seem like I'm not supposed to be able to win a gold medal, or I'm not supposed to be able to break records." And her win is huge considering the barrier she broke down on Thursday.
With the ongoing problem of police brutality facing the black community in the United States and the history of racism in this country, Manuel spoke out about how much more her medal means and why it's important moving forward. On her gold medal, she told USA Today,
It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality. This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.
Manuel's win was an emotional moment for the Team USA swimmer.
Manuel's win is especially significant given the history of segregation stemming from the 1950s and 1960s when it came to swimming pools. Specifically as Fusion reported, "Public pools were turned into private pools just to keep black people out of them." Just last year, a white police officer showed up to a pool party at a community pool in McKinney, Texas, a Dallas suburb. He was reportedly responding to a complaint from white parents about a group of young black teenagers who were invited to the community pool for a party. However, the officer escalated the situation and forcefully threw a 15-year-old African-American girl to the ground. The response was both brutal and unnecessary given the situation.
The United States has seen unprecedented levels of police violence, which have disproportionately targeted and affected the black community. Black Americans are killed by police at three times the rate of white Americans, and through policies of racial profiling and "Stop and Frisk," African-Americans are subject to police stops, searches, and interrogations based only on their race.
Despite what many white Americans believe — 38 percent suggest the necessary changes to achieve racial equality and justice in the United States have already been met — the country is not a post-racial utopia and there is so much work to be done. It's for these reasons and so many more that Manuel's historic Olympic win is so important.
"Coming into this race tonight, I tried to take the weight of the black community off my shoulders," Manuel said, according to Team USA. She added, "[It] is something I carry with me, just being in this position."
Manuel's next race is a 50-meter freestyle on Friday, Aug. 12.
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