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To Be Young, Gifted, Black, and Woman

As many sports fans eagerly awaited to see who would take home the crown as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)’s Women’s Basketball National Champion, sudden and apparent racial bias went on display following Louisiana State University (LSU)’s victory. Sports fans took to social media to criticize the tact and sportsmanship of basketball star and most valuable player of the night, Angel Reese. Yet, the critiques failed to acknowledge a similar gesture made by Angel’s opponent, Caitlin Clark of Iowa University, earlier in the tournament. Angel unapologetically responded to the outcry and broader comments about her presentation as a Black woman and let the world know they could continue to be outraged – she would not change who she was as a Black woman. Angel’s sentiments resonated with Coach Dawn Staley of the University of South Carolina. About a week ago, Coach Staley responded to critiques of how her team plays basketball, which Iowa University coach, Lisa Bluder, described as “going to a bar fight.” In an interview, Coach Staley made it clear that her players, predominately Black women, “were not bar fighters, were not thugs, were not monkeys, and were not street fighters.” Though two different contexts, the underpinning messages resounded with Black women especially. 

In May 1962, civil rights leader Malcolm X said in a speech that Black women were the most unprotected people in the United States of America (U.S.A.). Malcolm X was attuned to the intersectional identities of Black women, though civil rights advocate, Kimberlé Crenshaw, did not coin the term intersectionality until decades later. Identifying as Black and a woman places many Black women up against systems that leave them undervalued, unseen, and unheard – and history shows this to be true. Whether it pertains to Black women’s womanhood, capability, intellectualism, or femininity – Black women have continuously bore the laborious task of reshaping the narratives about them. No matter the credentials, capital, or titles Black women collect – it all appears insufficient for society. 

This violence against Black women is not concentrated in one space or field either – it is systemic. Yet, society expects Black women to show grace and mercy, as former First Lady Michelle Obama eloquently embodied during her eight years in the White House. That is why Black women must continue to go high when they go low. To be sure, Black women have radically shifted the perceptions and narratives attacking their womanhood, capability, intellectualism, and femininity. Whether on campus, on the court, or center stage, Black women set the standards for themselves, and college has been a vessel for Black women to take up such spaces. 

Unfortunately, with college costs continuously rising, Black women, like many other students, are left with no other option but to take out federal student loans to cover the costs of their essential needs. According to a study by the Education Trust, Black women held, on average, $35,000 in federal undergraduate loans and nearly $60,000 in graduate loans – coupled with Black women needing at least a bachelor’s degree or higher to earn that of a white man with some college but no degree. These inequities and the blatant racism and sexism Black women endure are unacceptable. That is why Young Invincibles has prioritized advocating for student debt cancellation and led efforts in February to mobilize over 500 borrowers in front of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) for the People’s Rally for Student Debt Cancellation. The fight will continue in June as we await SCOTUS’ decision, but we are ready for good trouble.

It is past time to listen to Black women – how we are overlooked, harmed, and sick and tired of being sick and tired. Whether that is canceling student debt, seeing us as humans, or paying us our worth, the time is now to listen and move accordingly.

Satra Taylor is Young Invincibles’ Director of Higher Education and Workforce Policy