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It was just supposed to be a good basketball game

Updated: Feb 24

I was riveted by the NCAA National Championship game between LSU vs. Iowa.

Though I may have remedial basketball knowledge, I can appreciate that those women are absolutely bad-ass.

When I saw the gestures Angel Reese made at Caitlyn Clark, I had the same response I do when a player makes a tough shot and pumps their arms for the crowd to cheer. Or when they score a three pointer and wave three fingers in the air. It just seems a little arrogant. Sometimes it tips toward poor sportsmanship.

But here's my bias: I have never competed at a high level. (Or really at much of any level). I struggle with the idea of winners and losers in general. Most of my exposure to competitive sports is sitting beside my wife - a former Division 1 basketball player who was very competitive but very modest - learning to dislike players who showboat.

Maybe it's the difference between confidence and arrogance. In my mind, one makes you feel good about yourself whereas the other makes you feel good by feeling superior.

But as far as sports culture and trash talk go, I'm no expert.

Regardless, how sad that a thrilling game of skill and athleticism between the top two teams in the nation was usurped by criticism over how a woman behaved.

Social media, in its merciless immediacy and massive scope, descended on Angel Reese's triumph, castigating her behavior not just with disfavor but with outright hatred.

Correction: white social media. And white sports commentators.

White-backlash they call this. I picture it like a bunch of pre-schoolers stomping their feet because they got served apples instead of cookies for snack. It smacks of entitlement and thinly disguised public shaming.

And the fact that she's a black woman just makes it so much worse.

Here's the thing: there was no public outrage when Caitlyn Clark made a similar gesture to another player earlier in the tournament. No white-backlash to be heard.

Which means this situation isn't about sportsmanship. It's about race. Which means it's about white supremacy.

It's racist when a white person can do it but a black person can't.

It's sexist when it's okay for a man but not for a women.

Because this situation is, of course, overlaid by patriarchy. If this had been a man, it would have been too ordinary to comment on.

Patriarchy and racism are the worst kind of friends, unified by their ring leader: capitalism.

Racism exists and persists in the U.S. because of money. "Race science was driven by social and economic interests, which came to establish cultural norms and legal rulings that legitimized racism and the privileged status of those defined as white" (DiAngelo, White Fragility). This faulty "science" was created to justify chattel slavery and the forced labor of captive black people, labor that created untold amounts of wealth for our developing nation.

It's this same wealth us whites believe we have earned. As though our intergenerational prosperity doesn't originate from the government hand out of millions of acres of land (given only to whites) in the Homestead Act of 1862.

It's this same wealth, status and protection was are always unconsciously trying to protect. It's why we unwittingly defend the hierarchy and enforce the boundaries.

So when there's a public uproar about the behavior of a black athlete on a national stage - one that holds her to a different standard as her peers and her male counterparts - it's not just about sportsmanship.

It's about power. It's about policing. It's about reminding people of color what boundaries they aren't allowed to cross.

James Baldwin said: “When the Israelis pick up guns, or the Poles or the Irish or any white man in the world says 'give me liberty of give me death' the entire white world applauds. When a black man says the exact same thing word for word, he’s judged a criminal and treated like one.”

These boundaries exist for one primary reason - to maintain the racial hierarchy. It's no accident that millions of white people took to social media to shun Angel Reese. The message was clear: you, as a black woman, are not allowed to do that.

We whites just can't seem to help ourselves when it comes to policing our fellow black humans. In fact, the origin of our current police system is rooted in the control and management of black bodies, beginning with the "slave patrol" which was responsible for repressing slave uprisings and apprehending runaway slaves. After emancipation, armed teams of white men enforced the Black Code - a set of rules of conduct to control the "freed" slaves. In the age of Jim Crow, this same system enforced segregation.

Sadly, not much has changed.

And as if our police system wasn't doing enough to harm black bodies daily, white culture is picking up the slack. White culture attacks blacks on a soul level, inhibiting their employment opportunities and rebuking their culture, speech and style. (All while revering their music, athleticism and cuisine.)

It's really easy to think, as a white person, that this problem is "out there." I'm not a hater on social media. I don't believe in discrimination. I treat everyone fairly. I vote for candidates who work for equality. I marched for Black Lives Matter.

I often defend myself mightily with these arguments.

But here's the hard truth: white supremacy lives in us. We are born into it, raised within its confines. And so, no matter how good our hearts or how generous our liberal pockets, if we aren't examining our whiteness, our unconscious bias, our privilege, we are part of the problem. We are cogs in a system that needs our unconsciousness for its survival.

Awareness is the only way to kill it. And that is an inside job because it lives in us, in our brains and in our bodies. We are afflicted with white supremacy. It's not our fault. But it is our responsibility.

Imagine if we white people put half the amount of energy into investigating our role in racism as we do in calling black people out.

Kudos to Caitlyn Clark for her reply. My favorite line: “Men have always had trash talk … You should be able to play with that emotion … That’s how every girl should continue to play.”

Recommended resources:

Caste (book)

Seeing White (podcast)

(To get more context on the specifics of how systemic racism works you can read this post.)

**Black youth are more than 4 times more likely to be detained or committed to juvenile facilities compared to their white peers. According to a 2017 report, Black men got 19.1% longer sentences for the same federal crime than white men between 2012-2016.

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