It’s tempting (to some) to get comfortable with the fact that Black women and girls are not “in crisis”, especially when it feels like the world is one giant snowball of crises these days. In the last decade we have been seen outperforming other groups in educational achievement, starting businesses at 6 times the national average, and setting quite a few “firsts” such as Vice President, Emmy wins for comedy, Librarian of Congress, even a spokesperson for Lancome. In my own work, I spend a lot of time reminding educators why centering Black girls’ needs and experiences in the classroom is critical to their outcomes and beneficial to all students. We generally take for granted that these accomplishments come at a cost, and that we must be proactive in protecting Black girls from the damage that comes with their accomplishments. It is far easier to see the shine of the accomplishments than the collateral damage.
And then, we are reminded again that Black women and girls continue to exist under the oppressive double standards that limit our greatness at the hands of white supremacy. We knew Sha’Carri Richardson was being punished harshly, and collectively Black women and girls felt the punch to our guts and kept it moving. And here we are again with Angel Reese. This most recent display of double standards for womanhood is such a blatant example of how white supremacy uses black women as tools that it goes beyond a gut punch – it’s a total assault on our humanity. And while the media this time is more willing to make racism the center of the story (for reasons that might not be above the board), something truly precious is being drowned out – the JOY that these Black girls earned and deserve. Their unbridled passion and happiness at overcoming challenges and defying expectations has been eclipsed by a narrative of whether or not they should be allowed to express it.
I admit, I’m super late. It’s been almost a week so everything that could be said about why Angel Reese is being held to an unfair standard has been said on all the social platforms at today’s record news pace. I’m kind of busy living my life as a mother, small business owner, wife, daughter, advocate, while getting my yoga in and drinking water – you know, surviving role-overload. My husband sent me this clip (among others as he single handedly keeps me up-to-date on the news that falls outside of my local parents group’s posts about park playdates) and I’m super proud and cheering Angel on for speaking her truth and for the team standing firm in their worth. I’ve watched her say “So I was like, bet” I don’t even know how many times, and still feel triumphant and defiant each time.
I am also sad for her and her teammates. I am worried about them. It seems to me that no one wants to talk to them about the joy of their victory, the work they put in, the skill they demonstrated (in what can only be called a blow out) since the few minutes of post game sound bites after that final buzzer. This is something I know too well as a Black woman. Your accomplishments, your skill, your worth get swallowed up and are no longer yours; they now belong to everyone else as you strive to prove that someone who looks like you, sounds like you, or comes from where you come from can in fact do these things. Your excitement becomes exaggerated, your speech too aggressive, and your self-defense and protection is attitudinal. All of this happens because you can’t just exist – you and all you have done only exist in comparison to white women, black men, white men. Would we be talking about trash talk AT ALL if this were a men’s game? If both women players had been black, would anyone have noticed their behavior? Would there be a “victim” at all?
Black women and girls work hard for their victories, they nurture their talents, and they deserve to experience their own joy free of the weight of what it means to race relations, or women’s sports, or whether it will follow them forever. When I think of the women athletes who have defied norms of “womanhood” or “sportsmanship” and have suffered for it, they are all Black. I admit I don’t follow sports that closely, but I even tried to google the one white tennis player I vaguely remember being called a brat and all I got were articles about Serena Williams – including a white woman I have never even heard of criticizing Serena for not praising her enough.
So, yes, I am glad that we collectively (except Jill Biden, who must be even more out of touch with sports than I am), are beginning to see that Black women and girls are held to an unfair standard against their white peers. But we cannot stay there, that is not enough. We must shift this narrative from one in which Black women and girls need defending and protection, to one where we find inspiration in their unbridled joy, and where their accomplishments are valued for what they are – not just how they stack up to white women, or to men. These girls out-performed the entire Iowa team. Angel Reese demonstrated leadership and generosity to her teammates in this moment, which is the moment I choose to keep on replay and the one I believe truly represents this story.