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Essay: Simone Biles and raising righteous daughters

Simone Biles competes on the balance beam during the U.S. women's national gymnastics championships. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

It is summertime, and we sit in pure awe watching Simone Biles erupt across the Olympic stage. In purple and fuchsia shimmer, she is rebellious and brilliant in her body -- puncturing the air with pointed toes, she is transcendent, illuminating, whipping her legs above her on the balance beam, soaring from bar to bar -- leaping and lunging toward the gold.

We watch her pivot and spin, create intricate flips known as "The Biles," she invents new ways to move -- locomotion and hot-wired, she's electric on the mat, she's pure renegade on the vault.

My oldest daughter, Araceli, is 6 years old, and she watches Biles beside me. We study her red, white and blue leotard, smile and wink when she pretends to bite into all those gold medals. She stunts and lets loose -- her body growing wings. Celi, as we affectionately call her, sees herself in Biles, yes. But, she also sees a young black woman, because we talk about it explicitly.

We name it.

Araceli is a brilliant and beautiful brown girl. At home we celebrate her identity -- honor it by naming her ancestors, and all the lands and places she comes from. As a white woman with mixed-race ancestry -- my mother is Assyrian and Italian -- my two daughters are of Filipino descent like my husband, we are a family that lives in the many slash marks of identity. In our home, origin stories are valued and get told over and over.

In America, race is a constant conversation, and the culture of white supremacy is intertwined in our media, our magazines and beauty products, in our history lessons and our constant news cycles. It is insidious, and we must be talking about and raging against it with our children, our colleagues and with ourselves.

This is why we need to learn history outside of our own. It's why the books we choose to read, and read to our children, the art we choose to celebrate and hang on our walls and the conversations we have around race and its constructs are imperative, especially for white and mixed race families.

It's our job too. We are not exempt from the conversation -- in fact we need to do more work, go deeper, be unafraid to talk about our shared history.

In our home, we are talking about the past while we are navigating what's current and looking to what's ahead. My daughter is in the first grade now, and brings home: "Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story by Ruby Bridges," and we read: "Martin's Big Words" by Doreen Rappaport from our own shelf.

She asks about how Ruby must have felt as the only African-American in her school, and simultaneously sees Biles complete more powerful runs and flips than her competitors. She witnesses Biles win four gold medals and become the 2016 Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.

Look, we are saying -- look at the world outside of yourself. She understands how revolutionary it is to be Biles in the world. She can praise her mythical moves, and begin to understand what it took for her to make it to the Rio Olympics in 2016.

We make it a point to talk about what injustice looks like, and what equity looks like. We are navigating the complicated history of race in this country, and we are doing so while watching a legendary athlete blow the competition away.

The conversations we have at home are critical. The athletes we study and honor, the stories we choose to highlight and tell -- all of it is essential to building socially conscious young people. Black history is vital. Showing our daughters how to celebrate young women who master extraordinary feats is crucial to making strong and vibrant daughters.

Biles is a record-setting gold medalist. She's the most decorated American gymnast of all time. She tears down assumptions. She smiles while executing the most complicated tumbling passes.

She is the first female African-American all-around world champion, and knowing all of that is necessary, so we keep the conversations going, and we look toward Tokyo in 2020 to see Simone break down more walls and collect all the medals she rightfully deserves.

Ellen Hagan is a Kentucky writer, performer and educator. Her latest collection of poetry Hemisphere, was published by Northwestern University Press in Spring 2015. She is the recipient of the 2013 NoMAA Creative Arts Grant and received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts.