By Marlena Okechukwu (Follow us on LinkedIn)
“Be a humble champion”
“LSU = NO class”
“You mocked her, you disrespected her”
“We’re both women in the same space, let’s support each other”
“What a fu–ing idiot”
“A sore loser is never a good look”
“Regardless of who won…she could have clapped for the winner”
The first several comments were directed at Angel Reese after her “you can’t see me” gesture towards Caitlyn Clark at the end of the recent Women’s NCAA National Championship game. The second few were leveled against Angela Bassett after her Oscar loss to Jamie Lee Curtis, and she had a disappointed look on her face and didn’t stand up to applaud. These sentiments and comments only scratch the surface of the vitriol that is regularly directed at Black women who dare to show and bask in their greatness.
The common theme here is the idea that Black women need to show deference and humility in the face of opposition, competition and even in defeat. That they somehow owe a form of civility in every situation in which they find themselves even if that civility extinguishes their own right to emotional agency. In other words, if a Black woman is disappointed for example, as Angela Bassett was when she lost the Oscar, in the spirit of civility and making others feel comfortable, she should stifle her own emotions in that moment.
When Angel Reese and her team defeated one of the top-ranking female college basketball players in the country (Caitlyn Clark and her team) her response was immediately met with backlash. How dare she relish or revel in her win. How dare she give Caitlyn a taste of her own medicine. Why didn’t she humble herself? Why wasn’t she a “gracious” winner? Despite repeated attacks on her appearance, demeanor, and personal style throughout the season, Reese had no right to feel vindication or gloat in her win. How dare she take a victory lap. And while it is sometimes easy to brush off hurtful comments and criticisms, it’s impossible to ignore the elephant in the room surrounding these sentiments: who they came from and why.
One of the problems with calling out something as racist or steeped in racist thought, is that the onus is on the victims to call it out and then prove it. Unless it is systemic and can be traced via policies and practices that produce disparate outcomes for the affected group, for example redlining, it often devolves to a back and forth between perpetrators and victims. In the wake of the controversy surrounding Angel Reese, it is likely that no one that is commenting would accept the fact that their comments are primarily based in racist perceptions of Black people in general and Black women specifically.
Based in popular culture, the black female iconography has been the saviors, cooks, cleaners, caretakers of their children and other people’s children, the ones responsible for making things better that we didn’t mess up in the first place, the sex objects, superheroes, the magical negro, the ones that are everything to everyone while operating under a public gaze that has constructed this superhuman stereotype. Without being conscious of it, our culture’s imagination is eager to distort black women and dehumanize us. (Livingston, 2021)Livingston, N. (2021, April 4). Black Women Are The Mules Of The Earth – Zora Neale Hurston. Nile Livingston. https://nilelivingston.com/black-women-are-the-mules-of-the-earth/
In their finest hour, the women of the LSU basketball team were expected to consider and honor the feelings of everyone but themselves. They were dehumanized and expected to have and show no emotion. Just take your trophy and go. The problem with that is Black women are not the mules of the world. We have the right to celebrate, feel defeat, acknowledge pain, experience heartache, shine, win and lose in a way that feels most authentic in that moment, and do so publicly without remorse or reproach. The loads and expectations of the world are not ours to carry.
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.