A series of tweets by ESPN reporter Jemele Hill on Monday, which called out Donald Trump’s white supremacist behavior, led to ESPN distancing themselves from her remarks. The sports network issued a statement on Twitter the following day calling the veteran journalist’s actions “inappropriate.”
Some of Hill’s colleagues have noted that her comments are against ESPN’s social media policy, which prohibits political statements from their employees’ social media feeds. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chimed in Wednesday calling Hill’s tweets “outrageous” and a “firable offense.”
However “inappropriate” or “offensive” ESPN or Sarah Huckabee Sanders may find Hill’s tweets, Hill has made it clear that raising social issues on her public platforms is not off-limits.
She has argued in the past that social issues are not necessarily political ones, thus they wouldn’t violate ESPN’s policy. Beyond technicalities, Hill has been adamant about not sacrificing her dignity for sports fans’ escapism.
On a Sports Illustrated Media Panel last month, Hill asserted:
“I know there are sports fans looking for me to provide them with an ‘escape,’ but as a woman and person of color, I have no escape from the fact that there are people in charge who seem to be either sickened by my existence or are intent on erasing my dignity in every possible way.”
The blow back from ESPN and the White House demonstrates precisely what Hill has increasingly highlighted since Trump took the White House: in a white supremacist system, being called racist is treated as a worse offense than actually being racist.
Hill’s comments on Trump, which were prompted by replies to a tweet she authored about Kid Rock’s use of the Confederate Flag, helped elicit a thread of nearly 2,000 replies. Many of those replies are riddled with defenses of the president and claims of reverse racism.
Despite people’s feelings on Trump’s racism, these are the facts. There are reports of Trump denying Black people access to his rental properties. He bought full-page ads across New York media promoting the criminalization of innocent Black and Latino youth. He finds “very fine people” among white nationalists who call for Black genocide. He has, in fact, closely aligned himself with white supremacists, like white nationalist media publisher Steve Bannon and segregationist Jeff Sessions.
There is precedence for the pearl-clutching, hand wringing, and outright denial by Whites when confronted with facts about racism.
For instance in 1963, while America was still in the throes of de facto segregation, 60 percent of White Americans told Gallup pollsters that Blacks were treated equally with Whites in their communities. One year before a White racist murdered Martin Luther King, Jr. that number reached 75 percent.
Still, many White Americans have a knee-jerk reaction in which they vehemently defend Trump from charges of racism instead of critically examining the many consequences that the reality of racism bears on the subjugated.
For these people, facts are mere road blocks in the fast route to white denial and, ultimately, the maintenance of white power. Interrogating the racism of the president, a man who likely speaks just like the uncles, cousins, brothers, or husbands of many White Americans, would require confronting one’s own prejudices, failings, and perhaps unwarranted successes.
Admitting that racism exists destroys America’s propagation of a meritocracy.
Recognizing that racism is a widespread problem that reaches up to the White House means that there is a reason for Black people to fight back. And a fight for equality means White people must relinquish their stranglehold on America’s systems of political and economic power.
Instead of energy that can be expended addressing the root of the problem, Black men and women who already bear the burden of systemic and overt anti-blackness must also shoulder the emotional load in race conversations. When Black Americans have discussions of race with Whites, and even other people of color, we often find ourselves catering to the feelings of hurt white people.
Those who are blunt about white supremacy, such as Jemele Hill, or Colin Kaepernick, or Michael Bennett, or Muhammad Ali, or Kanye West, or former NBA player Craig Hodges and other Black people in industries where we are viewed as mere entertainment, are quickly prodded to fall back in line.
But in a world where white supremacy tears Black families apart, kills innocent children at the hands of police, destroys our health, disproportionately incarcerates Black men and women, and stymies our employment and economic opportunities, we cannot afford to prioritize out-of-touch corporate policies, white feelings, or racist laws over our own well-being.
As Hill would argue, this is not about politics. This is about upholding a moral compass. It’s about a sense of duty in a fight for one’s humanity.
Civility and courtesy are not more important than pushing back against people who sympathize with groups that call for Black genocide. And that includes the president.