In this Keeping It Z column piece, editor Brooklyn White urges the world to have empathy for Sha’Carri Richardson following her testing positive for marijuana.

Like most, I was captivated by Sha’Carri Richardson’s June 19 performance at the Olympic trials. She darted down the track, running 100m in less than 11 seconds, becoming the fastest woman in America. What gripped most was knowing the young athlete had recently lost her biological mother, the awe of which was an exemplification of the obsession with Black women’s strength. It has also been revealed that Richardson learned of her mother’s death from a reporter, with the athlete calling the moment “triggering.”

Finding out Richardson tested positive for marijuana around the time of the performance (which is now removed from the books), sent a shockwave through the community, as if we’re entitled to our definition of endurance through grief. Richardson should be granted empathy because as she wrote on Twitter on July 1, “[she is] human.”

Once news of Richardson’s then-potential disqualification began circulating, certain corners of the internet weighed in with noses held high and diminished sensitivity. “I honestly don’t feel for Sha’Carri Richardson because she knew the rules,” wrote one Twitter user. The same Herculean effort to uplift her was used to re-cure the mortar of people’s perceptions of her worth. It is this disregard for mental and emotional health, and the preference of achievement, that dehumanizes Black people, whittling away at our complexity.

Read our column piece on the treatment of Naomi Osaka following her refusal to speak to press here.

“We have to stop being so judgmental,” said Kelly Buffaloe Taylor, a certified grief counselor. “People are looking at things at a surface level…they’re just ready to say, ‘Ah, I knew it.'”

Buffaloe Taylor believes we are not taught how to deal with grief, both as those traversing it and as people watching others walk through it. “The process of grief happens in a form we’re not prepared for and it’s a pain that sits dormant and pops out of nowhere at any given time,” she added. “When that happens, we’re searching for something to make us feel better without having any knowledge [on], ‘What is grief?’.”

Kassandra Frederique, the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, highlighted how little room Black women have when it comes to drugs.

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“Black women’s drug use never has space,” Frederique said. “It’s always looked at as ‘irresponsible’ and, ‘You didn’t make the right choice.'”

Cannabis is a booming industry, with over $15 billion having been poured into Americans’ legal selling of the drug since 2020. This number proved to have been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The monetary gains of the drug’s legality though, particularly how it is praised for aiding America’s economy, is out of sync with how Black people are condemned for consuming it.

“We see that in the way drugs [are] one of the driving forces of the exploding incarceration rate of women in the United States,” Frederique shares. In 2013, 30 percent of all women in San Francisco who were arrested for marijuana were Black.

Later in our conversation, Frederique mentioned the death of 26-year-old Marvin Scott III, who was arrested after he was found to be in possession of 2 ounces of marijuana. Once inside Collin County jail, Scott had multiple schizophrenia-related episodes, after which officers attempted to restrain him on his cell bed, pepper sprayed him and used a spit hood that covered his eyes, nose and mouth. He died later that day.

Had Scott III been treated as a human, rather than demonized, he would still be alive.

“Who am I to tell you how to cope, who am I to tell you you’re wrong for hurting?,” Richardson asked during her July 2 video interview with Today. Her question seemed to be a silent request for empathy, though she continuously shrugged off the idea that people wouldn’t understand what she’s dealing with. She mentioned our individual trials, (“We all have our different struggles, we all have our different things we deal with,”) showing compassion to the unknown predicaments of strangers.

My singular hope is that we can muster up that same warmth for her.

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