Simone Manuel tears vs. Simone Biles tears

(I cry a lot I guess.)

My mom cried when Halle Berry won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2002 for her performance in Monster’s Ball. I was still a teenager (sorry) and didn’t really understand the gravity of the occasion, because I lived in a total bubble—I thought we were already post-racial. My my boyfriend was Filipino, and our circle of friends were Nigerian, Chinese, a half-black half-Cuban, Japanese, hapa, poor white, preppy white, middle-class white, everything. Race truly didn’t matter, or so we were told. As my mother quietly sniffled, I felt hot and ashamed; I didn’t understand.

My mom is Mexican and grew up going to public school in Pasadena, ashamed of the beans and rice she brought for lunch, and my dad is as white as can be, from a family that hails from South Carolina when it was a colony. But race was never really a thing, until it came time to apply to colleges and I was forced to pick from two mutually exclusive check-boxes.

Last night, Simone Manuel, a 20-year-old swimmer from Texas, became the first black American woman to win Olympic gold in an individual event, the 100-meter freestyle. Being a little older and a little wiser, my tears were certainly jerked as I watched the event live. Earlier in the day, Simone Biles had won a gold medal and I cried at my desk, but those were epiphanic tears. She was by no means the first black American gold medalist, thanks to Dominique Dawes and Gabby Douglas before her, but she was so clearly, out-of-this-worldly beyond anyone else in the field—a full 2.1 points ahead of her teammate, Aly Raisman. Those were seeing-the-glory-tears.

But when Manuel bawled to the NBC interviewer in her post-pool interview, she echoed Berry’s Oscars speech. She said to Michelle Tafoya, “the gold medal wasn’t just for me. It was for people that came before me and inspired me to stay in the sport.” She went on,

I would like there to be a day where there are more of us and it’s not like ‘Simone, the black swimmer,’ because the title ‘black swimmer’ makes it seem like I’m not supposed to be able to win a gold medal.’

This time, my tears were the opposite of epiphanic. They originated in some nameless emotion, deeper than recognition, like hearing someone speak the truth after all you’ve ever heard is lies. The feeling is a stereoisotope of shame. Of course she could do it; why would you or anyone ever think otherwise? They were the same tears my mom cried in 2002, and they’ll be the same tears I’ll cry when a woman is elected to the highest office in the land (editor of The New Yorker). I can’t wait to stop crying!!!