By Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead
There are always moments that serve as reminders that for all of the talking that America has done about racism and sexism, it still exists.
We host conferences on race and lead workshops on anti-racism. We write articles and publish books about sexism; still, there are moments when it feels like we are back at the beginning. When Black women say that we are tired, we mean that we are tired of having to defend ourselves; tired of having the same conversations; tired of having to explain again why white fragility is the child of white supremacy, the sibling to toxic masculinity and the play cousin of white tears.
I got tired again on April 2 during the NCAA women’s championship basketball game.
I have been following Angel Reese and the LSU team with interest since the moment the tournament started. I love the way they play the game: their drive, the trash-talking, the emotion, the pure talent. I used to love watching players like Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Dennis Rodman, and Reggie Miller dominate the game, trash talk the other players, and never back down from showing up and showing out.
My dad, who loves Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, used to say, “Don’t let your mouth write a check that your talent can’t cash.” That was basketball: you write checks, then go to the hole and cash them, and nobody complained.
Nobody said it was “ghetto.”
Nobody said it was “hood.”
Nobody said it was “classless.”
And if someone did, they made sure nobody was listening.
The difference is that these are male athletes, and it is ok for them to be passionate and larger than life. It is a part of the game, and everybody understands that. When asked about his famous crossover of Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson said he did it because, on the court, he had no fear.
“I feared so many other things off the court but nothing on the court. (That crossover) was indicative of how I felt as far as being fearless on the court. We was at war,” Iverson has said in the past.
That is it right there: We. Was. At. War.
When you are at war, you do what you can to get into your opponent’s head because if you can beat them in the head game, you can beat them on the court. You can beat them at the mound. You can beat them on the field. You can beat them on the strip.
But again, we are talking about male athletes. For female athletes, Black female athletes, there are always rules and limitations. There are always reminders that no matter how talented or passionate you are about your game, you must stay within the tight racial and gendered guidelines designed to keep you in your place.
There is a song that Sweet Honey in the Rock sings that says, “You can steal my tongue–go on and try to hush my song /My scream of freedom will flood the air of your children centuries unborn.” That is what I thought when I saw Serena Williams stand up and push back; what I felt when I first read about Assata Shakur; how I feel when I read the work of Angela Davis; and what came to my mind when I listened to Angel Reese respond to her critics.
It was in 2010 that Moya Bailey coined the term misogynoir—that perfect blending of the words misogyny and noir—that speaks to that moment where misogyny intersects with race and gender. It is the framing that is needed at this moment. When the critics applaud Caitlin Clark, an amazing and dominant Iowa State basketball player who trash talks, ignores other players, and works to get inside the head of her opponents while criticizing Angel Reese for the same behavior, they are doing it because of racism.
The reality is that Caitlin is white and Angel is Black, both female athletes who display behavior that male athletes are applauded for. When both of these factors (race and gender) intersect, that’s misogynoir, and that is why it is so tiring.
Angel Reese is unapologetically Black. She is unapologetically herself. She is bold, and she is brilliant. And she is Baltimore. She should not have to defend herself, but in this culture where white people want her to stay silent because she is Black and men want her to stay quiet because she is a woman, she cannot.
She must speak to the critics, and we must join her. They cannot silence us all because when they try to cut out your tongue and hush your song, you must do what Angel did when she took the tools that Caitlin used and used them to dismantle her house and shut down her game.
Y’all we at war—again and this time, since they are going low, we will take it all the way through the floor.
Bending Toward Social Justice,
Karsonya Wise Whitehead (email@example.com; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the Founding Director of The Karson Institute for Race, Peace, & Social Justice at Loyola University Maryland and the 2021 Edward R. Murrow Regional Award- winning radio host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM. She is the author of the forthcoming book, “my mother’s tomorrow: dispatches from inside Baltimore’s Black Butterfly.”
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