Juneteenth hit a little harder in 2020. Not only are we facing a pandemic, but we are also in the midst of the largest civil rights movement in world history. The celebration around the holiday was massive and the energy was infectious. While it was a time of great jubilation, people still did not forget the task at hand. There have been several discussions on major platforms surrounding many different topics. On Friday, the New York Liberty host a roundtable discussing everything from racial equality to voter’s rights.
The conversation was extremely informative. Angela Yee from Power 105.1 hosted a panel with Layshia Clarendon (Guard, NY Liberty), Garrett Temple (Guard, Brooklyn Nets), Topeka Sam (Founder of The Ladies of Hope Ministries) and Rapsody (Grammy-nominated rapper). For the panelists, Juneteenth was both celebratory and reflective. Garrett Temple pointed out that we are still fighting many of the same battles our ancestors faced. Rapsody added that she took some time out of the day to just mellow out to some Black music and think about how far we’ve come. She also recognized that there is still so much progress to be made.
Layshia Clarendon also offered her thoughts. Clarendon has never been shy about lending her voice to different social topics. She pointed out that Juneteenth isn’t universally recognized but she feels it definitely should be. And she’s absolutely right. The celebration of Juneteenth should be as commonplace as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Clarendon said she didn’t find out about the day and it’s significance until college. It’s amazing that such a pivotal moment in this country’s history isn’t a standard part of our education. If that is to change, Layshia feels that the language and narrative has to change as well. We need to start talking about it as if it’s a part of our normal lives and not an anomaly.
Topeka Sam continued by saying we should definitely acknowledge where we have come from. But she also added that sometimes it’s hard to be joyous considering the afflictions that Black people still face today. While these recent incidents have caused a tidal wave of solidarity across the world, they have unintentionally thrust Black people into another role. Black people have been tasked with educating White people about Blackness. Sams said that she has had more conversations with white people about race in the last few weeks than at any point in her life. While this can be exhausting, Sam says it’s necessary. “If we don’t educate others about the truth of who we are, we leave that to someone else.”
The conversation shifted towards voting. In the midst of election season, this information is vital to the country. Rapsody expressed the importance of pushing forward regardless of the obstacles we face. She also spoke of the importance of local elections. If we are to make progress we can’t let opposers agitate us enough to give up. Garrett Temple doubled down on the importance of local elections. While there is excitement and focus around the presidential candidates, he asked how many people could name their district attorney and local prosecutors? Topeka Sam probably delivered the most poignant information on this topic.
She said that many people are ill-informed regarding their voting rights. Different laws govern those rights from state to state. Clarendon piggybacked her sentiments by saying that there is so much that we don’t know about voting rights. She also addressed the much maligned topic of choosing between “the lesser of two evils”. She stated that while it’s frustrating, voting is sometimes boiled down to harm reduction. Abolishing systems is a process and we must operate within the framework that we have until an opportunity for something different arises.
Temple and Clarendon pointed out the differences in how the NBA and WNBA uses their collective voices to combat injustices. While Temple pointed out the NBA reaches a massive audience and the players being vocal on that grand of a stage could be beneficial, Clarendon spoke to the relative dismissiveness the WNBA has faced. She said that WNBA players have always led the charge. Clarendon added that it’s cool and convenient to say “Black Lives Matter” and “Follow Black Women” but will the support remain consistent when the ladies return to the court?
She also admonished people who try to treat sports and politics as mutually exclusive ideologies. Sports have always been political. These ladies put their bodies on the line for the sake of entertainment. The least people can do is listen to them when they talk about Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and other people who have been murdered by law enforcement.
The panelists offered some final thoughts on the array of topics. When asked what makes this movement different than those in the past, Garrett Temple said the biggest difference is people who don’t look like us are inspired to be part of the change. Rapsody stated that she feels she can make the most impact by using her music and platform to reflect the times. She also said that now is a perfect time to create unity and come together to work on this thing as one.
Clarendon urged us all to be self-reflective during this time and make sure we are constantly doing the work in fixing this issue. If you’re only fighting for certain Black lives then you are still missing the point. She even touched on how sports can inadvertently cause us to marginalize specific groups of people. You have to constantly work to be anti-transphobic, anti-homophobic, anti-fat shaming, etc. Whether it’s in your speech or daily actions, you have to do the work everyday to make sure you aren’t part of the problem.
The WNBA has been a force in this constant battle for equality. Renee Montgomery announced she will be sitting out the 2020 season to focus on her work in social justice reform. And this week, Natasha Cloud and Latoya Sanders also said they will also be forgoing this season to direct their energy towards social justice initiatives. The league doesn’t just allow the players to make these decisions, they throw their full support behind them. This will continue to be a topic of discussion for the foreseeable future. And with the WNBA’s purposeful approach and willful confrontation of these issues, they will continue to drive the narrative.