Black men. Black boys. It’s okay to cry. It’s healthy to cry. It’s healing to cry. But for me, this week, it’s been hard to cry.
I’ve felt the impulse to shed tears with the families experiencing violence here in Durham; for those suffering from isolation, anxiety or loss due to the pandemic; for folks who have been battered by Hurricane Laura; for those reeling from the shooting of Jacob Blake; and for those mourning the deaths and injuries of protestors who were mowed down by a vigilante lynch mob in Kenosha.
I’m overwhelmed with heavy grief that has been growing, like a tumor, with every act of injustice. I have grief fatigue. I’m weary because, even in the eye of a hurricane, our Black lives are vulnerable to the tempest of racism. I’m exhausted because the pandemic hits different when you’re also suffering from the plagues of white supremacy and poverty.
I need a good, deep, long cry but I can’t find the tears. I have that feeling you get when you’re about to sneeze. I’m tense, with flared nostrils and labored breathing, in anticipation of a release that never comes. There is a levee inside me that is on the verge of bursting but I can’t find the vulnerability, to click that valve and release the anxiety and pressure. So I’m just, kind of, holding all that inside right now.
Then this week, I was on the phone with a dear friend when I heard that the NBA basketball team, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play, during the playoffs. This was bewildering to me. As a kid who grew up in a basketball Mecca like Durham, I couldn’t imagine one of our internationally renowned sports franchises boycotting the playoffs. Durham is home to two of the best coaches in basketball, with Coach Moton at North Carolina Central University and Coach K at Duke University. Basketball is such a huge part of life here—could you imagine players striking during March Madness?!
What makes this even more fascinating is the fact that Basketball is structured like a plantation — with mostly white coaches, white owners, white executives, and white-owned sponsors profiting hand-over-fist, while Black players sacrifice their bodies and lives for entertainment. You see these structures in the NBA and the NFL, but we also see them right here in Durham, through the NCAA. Gifted, young Black teenagers play sports for free, while the staff gets full-time salaries, the coaches get millions and the NCAA rakes in billions. The more money at the top, the more white it is.
At the bottom of the pyramid are gifted Black kids.
Within this plantation model, it was significant to me that The Bucks were the ones to lead this historic strike. A Buck is what they used to call a Black male slave. It’s a dehumanizing term. Slavers thought of Black human beings as chattel, as beasts of burden, so on the auction block, they would use the language of animals to describe Black men, as Black Bucks.
Buck is an enslaved man of African descent.
Buck is a term of endearment that Black men have internalized (i.e. “What’s going on Young Buck?”)
Buck is a slang term for the dollar bills Black folks have historically been denied because we aren’t owners in the sports we dominate.
Buck is sound of the gunshots that ran through Jacob Blake’s back and murdered two protestors in Kenosha.
So when I heard that it was the Bucks that led the charge to say: we’re not animals, we’re not here for your entertainment, we won’t shut up and dribble, we will Buck the system, it moved me.
This was not an individual player like Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during an anthem, or Muhammad Ali protesting war, but a whole team refusing to play. They were following the leadership of the WNBA, which has a long history of unapologetic, league-wide protest and solidarity movements. The Bucks’ historic strike has led to other teams, in other leagues refusing to play. Naomi Osaka stopped playing tennis. Baseball was halted.
The strike has me thinking about how local teams, such as the Durham Bulls, the North Carolina Central University Eagles, or the Duke Blue Devils can use their platforms to inspire change here in my hometown. Durham is a city of champions. How can our athletes and institutions embrace that responsibility and leverage the power that comes with it? How can we disrupt the plantation model, and build one that centers equity and humanity?
The Bucks have cast off their dehumanizing brand and stepped into their full Humanhood.
The strike moved me to tears.
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