Ryan Lochte and privilege in paradise


In this Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016 frame from surveillance video released by Brazil Police, swimmer Ryan Lochte, second from right, of the United States, and teammates, appear at a gas station during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Brazil Police via AP)

Have you heard the one about four grown white men walking into a Brazilian gas station, destroying property and lying about the whole thing? Yeah, me neither.

In case you missed it, Ryan Lochte and three of his teammates from the US Olympic swim team had a wild night out in Rio where they got drunk, relieved themselves on a wall, vandalized a bathroom and attempted to evade security guards when asked to wait for police. Lochte then told his mom and others a completely fabricated story about being robbed at gun point while out on the town.

When Lochte got caught all the way up and issued this wack non-apology statement, the spokesman for the International Olympic Committee issued this equally wack response which reads, in part: “We have to understand that these kids came here to have fun. Let’s give these kids a break.”

A photo posted by Ryanlochte (@ryanlochte) on

Many are questioning what the reaction to an international scandal of this caliber would have looked like had it involved black members of the men’s basketball team. In reality, we need not look any further than our own borders to see what happens when black kids act like black kids, never mind black men.

On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown died the way that unarmed black men know how to die; aged only 18, arms outstretched, with violence done unto them, blood seeping into the concrete of the country his ancestors built. This is how we came to know Mike, a man.

On Nov. 22 of that same year, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed for being a kid who came to the park to have fun. He did not get a break. His family has not been served justice.

Lochte, however, the picture of white male privilege and American exceptionalism at the ripe age of 32 years old, is a kid to our media outlets and the International Olympic Committee.

The danger of another white man’s lies, however, goes far past comparisons to domestic terrorism against black bodies. Folks who live in Rio are dealing with contaminated water, unequal access to housing, the Zika virus and an international narrative that feeds off of alienation of their suffering.

The picture of four white American Olympians being held up by corrupt cops “over there” plays on dangerous tropes in the process of othering against primarily black and brown bodies overseas, and is ironic considering many Americans’ refusal to recognize their home nation’s police force as corrupt. When white America cheers on racist policies like the ones suggested by Republican nominee Donald Trump, they do so because they understand brown bodies to be dangerous, to be criminal, to be the kind of people who hold up Olympic swimmers in a foreign city from having themselves a night.

Lochte and his pals are not kids who went to Rio to have fun. They are grown men who went to Rio to compete on an international scale and represent this country. Perhaps in their acts of deceit and disrespect, they did the best they could to represent a country that executes black and brown children in the street, while making excuses for 32-year-old “kids.”  

Lochte needs to do much more than just apologize. He needs to learn a lesson that he likely will never have to because of what he looks like.

Haddiyyah Ali is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at haddiyyah.ali@uconn.edu.


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