Raising Anti-Racist Kids

The Significance Of Black Girls Who Know Their Power

Angel Reese is not afraid to be authentic, to disrupt respectability politics, to shine loud and bright and audaciously — and that scares some people.

Raising Anti-Racist Kids

In the midst of my daughter recovering from her zillionth cold of the year, I tuned in to the final game of the NCAA women’s basketball national championship Sunday night. I’ll be real honest with you. This was the first year I didn’t ask, “What sport is March Madness, again?” The women’s basketball games were riveting and powerful, keeping my kids and me fully entertained. When the Louisiana State University Lady Tigers beat the Iowa Hawkeyes to take home the trophy, it became clear, though, that this game and the controversy it has stirred up isn’t just about basketball — it’s about how our culture views Black girls who are unapologetically themselves.

Earlier in the tournament, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark flashed the John Cena “you can’t see me” sign to her opponents — and received the wrestling star’s stamp of approval. But when 20-year-old LSU champion Angel Reese did the same to Clark during Sunday’s title game, the internet erupted. Reese got called everything from Keith Oberman’s “f**king idiot” to “classless” — and that’s just from the “professional” pundits. Those characterizations of Reese’s actions were not just unfair and tacky, they are racist. But us parents of Black children know that Reese’s behavior on and off the court is sending a clear message to our kids, showing them the significance and strength of Black girls who know their power.

At the core of the uproar is the belief that Black girls should not wield the power they possess because they’re undeserving of it.

As a mother to a little Black girl, I want to teach her that other people’s ideas about respectability have nothing to do with who she is, and that’s a lesson that Reese is demonstrating. She is unreservedly herself, even if that means deconstructing what people think she should be or how she should act. “All year, I was critiqued about who I was,” Reese said in the face of the backlash. “I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit in the box that y’all want me to be in. I’m too hood. I’m too ghetto. Y’all told me that all year. But when other people do it, y’all don’t say nothing. So this is for the girls that look like me. That’s gonna speak up on what they believe in. Is unapologetically you. … This was bigger than me tonight.”

Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Lady Tigers reacts towards Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes during the fourth quarter during the 2023 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament championship game.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

At the core of the uproar is the belief that Black girls should not wield the power they possess because they’re undeserving of it. Reese’s message upends the notion that Black girls must shrink themselves to fit into the sexist and racist boxes that society tries to force them into from when they are babies. Any interruption of these limitations is an affront to those who think that Black girls have a specific place that isn’t at the center. Those upset by Reese’s behavior are pissed off that this Black girl is not afraid to be authentic, to disrupt respectability politics, to shine loud and bright and audaciously. She is teaching Black kids that they are enough, exactly as they are.

While I applaud Reese and her teammates for calling out the unfair treatment on the court, it saddens me that, in a moment of victory, they had to field intense criticism for who they are. Even in their highest moments, they weren’t allowed to focus on basking in their hard-earned victory.

What needs to be said is that, even though many have framed this as a conversation about Angel’s behavior toward Caitlin, it’s not actually about these two young women. Clark herself said, “I don’t think Angel should be criticized at all. No matter which way it goes, she should never be criticized for what she did.” The negative response towards Angel’s actions — compared to the radio silence when Caitlin did the same — stems from deeply embedded racist ideals centered on society’s insidious mandate to protect white women at all costs. Though subconscious for many, this safeguarding of whiteness often means danger for Black people.

When first lady Jill Biden broke tradition and talked about inviting the Iowa Hawkeyes to the White House, as well as the true champions, the LSU Tigers, she may not have realized that this diminished LSU’s victory in the pursuit of the protection of white womanhood. But Reese and her teammates are teaching little Black kids how to set their own rules — they’ve noted their displeasure with the invitation and instead asked Michelle Obama, via Twitter, to host a celebration at her house. It’s an important lesson for our Black kids: When spaces don’t acknowledge and lift up your brilliance, you don’t have to take it. You can build your own spaces. You can go where you will be celebrated fully and entirely for who you are.

Angel Reese celebrates the big win with a teammate. Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Reese sends a clear message to our kids that their power lies within them; not in how much people like them, but in how true they are to themselves. By rejecting people’s attempts to corner her into an identity that shrinks her, she makes it clear that she is a winner on her terms. As one of the most talented college basketball players out there, Reese knows her power, her potential, and her strength — and she isn’t afraid to bring it to every game and space she occupies.

Reese and her teammates are the next generation of Black girls who are claiming space, building their own tables, and living life by their own rules. I, for one, am excited to see what they do and where they take basketball. All us Black mamas are sitting on the sidelines cheering them on — for themselves, yes, but also for our kids who are watching.

Raising Anti-Racist Kids is a column written by Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs focused on education and actionable steps for parents who are committed to raising anti-racist children and cultivating homes rooted in liberation for Black people. To reach Tabitha, email hello@romper.com or follow her on Instagram.