Posted on June 14, 2024

As the WNBA Rises, so Do Tired Old Tropes About Black Women

Kevin B. Blackistone, Washington Post, June 12, 2024


Last Wednesday, it was Chicago guard Chennedy Carter, runner-up for the rookie of the year award in 2020. As Carter and her teammates disembarked outside a Washington hotel, a man aimed his phone’s camera at Carter and asked whether she would apologize to rookie star Caitlin Clark for bum-rushing her in a previous game, an act that caused all manner of consternation.


Banks is White. Clark is White. The WNBA is disproportionately Black, as represented by Griner and Carter.

But somehow, some way, it is Clark who needs extraordinary safeguarding in the workplace of professional basketball, a contact sport policed by on-court referees in real time and further arbitrated by off-court officials after the fact. It isn’t, instead, Black women such as Griner and Carter, who are villainized to the extent that they are accosted just trying to get to their basketball-playing jobs.

#WhiteLivesMatter more, still. Or, in this case, White WNBA lives.

Such responses to the events that have disturbed the WNBA’s newly expanded audience don’t come as a surprise to me. They all live down to truths about the dissimilar experiences of Black and White women in workplaces everywhere, and to stereotypes about Black women.

Or, as Nadia E. Brown — who chairs the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Georgetown University — expanded to me Tuesday: “[Clark] seems to be holding her own. She’s not asking for anyone to come to her defense. But it seems to be juxtaposed against these Black women, women of color, that are being the aggressors towards her, without thinking about how these women also came in … [to] their first [WNBA] job, too. But there’s an expectation, because of how Black women are stereotyped, that they can withstand, they have superhuman strength, they can withstand abuse and harassment, that they don’t have the feelings or emotions or the intellect to process. Therefore, the attention isn’t on [Black rookie] Angel Reese the same way it would be on Caitlin Clark.”

Clark, a tender 22 years old, is being fouled 4.4 times per game while averaging 32.6 minutes. But Aaliyah Edwards, the Washington Mystics’ 21-year-old rookie forward, who is Black, has been fouled 3.8 times per game while averaging almost 10 fewer minutes, and no one has leaped to her defense with a letter to the league commissioner.