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Brittney Griner-Paul Whelan Russia’s prison release debate misses the point


The release of Brittney Griner from a Russian penal colony on Thursday in a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was widely celebrated. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after vaping cartridges and cannabis oil were found in her luggage at the airport. President Joe Biden’s announcement that Griner was safe on a plane to the United States means the gay WNBA star will miraculously return home with his wife and family in time for the holidays.

Unsurprisingly, the basketball star’s exit was also met with (another) round of backlash.

But perhaps unsurprisingly, the basketball star’s exit was also met with (another) round of backlash. Many of these criticisms, which gained traction online, again focused on Griner’s perceived lack of patriotism. But that kind of litmus test has long been rigged against black Americans. As with the culture war on critical race theory, conservatives are quick to weaponize criticism of US history or misconduct in an effort to control Americanness and keep the world at bay. black advocacy against racism and white supremacy.

In 2020, amid widespread Black Lives Matter protests denouncing police brutality and racism, Griner said the national anthem should not be played during games and refused to be on the floor while playing. . Griner is an articulate athlete and her intent has always been clear. “I don’t mean that out of disrespect to our country. My dad was in Vietnam and was a law officer for 30 years,” she told The Arizona Republic at the time. “I wanted to be a cop before basketball. I’m proud of my country.

And yet, we have tweets proliferating on social media accusing Griner of disrespecting the American flag (she didn’t) or kneeling during the national anthem (also wrong).

According to these conservatives, Brittney Griner does not deserve our sympathy — or even release from a Russian penal colony — because she has reservations about how black people in America have historically been treated.

“So we left the other American who was there FOUR YEARS, gave Russia back their arms dealer, and all we got was a kneeling anthem that can’t pack a suitcase without putting drugs in it?” aspiring GOP lawmaker Sam Ditzhazy wrote in a tweet that was liked more than 14,000 times.

“I wonder if she’ll respect our flag and our country now,” said self-proclaimed Trump supporter Collin Rugg. wrote in a tweet that was liked 21,000 times.

“You just freed the Death Dealer in exchange for someone who cavalierly broke the laws of the country she was visiting and won’t even put up with the US national anthem,” Twitter user Joe Colangelo said. . tweeted (8000 likes).

The hard truth, of course, is that America is not, and never has been, a perfect country.

The hard truth, of course, is that America is not, and never has been, a perfect country. White Americans fought tooth and nail to preserve slavery here. Blacks did not win the right to vote without enduring white violence. Schools in America were not desegregated without angry mobs of white people who gathered to mock and spit on little black children.

As a result, Griner is just one of many athletes who have used their cultural status to protest civil rights abuses. In 1996, Denver Nuggets star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf declined to perform the national anthem because he thought the flag was “a symbol of oppression, tyranny”. Bill Russell and four other Boston Celtics players boycotted a game in Lexington, Ky., after being denied service at their hotel cafe. Players’ refusal to participate in the American Football League All-Star Game in segregated New Orleans in 1965 caused the game to be moved to Houston and ultimately accelerated desegregation efforts in the Big Easy. After declaring himself a conscientious objector to military service, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into the American war in Vietnam, which cost him his heavyweight titles, banned him from boxing for three years and resulted in sentencing an all-white jury to five years. years in prison. Public opinion was not in favor of Ali’s protest. Nevertheless, in 1971, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in a unanimous vote, proving that popular opinion is not always aligned with what would later be considered to be on the right side of history.

Brittney Griner-Paul Whelan Russia's prison release debate misses the point

Civil disobedience is patriotic. Peaceful protest is patriotic. Call out injustice is patriotic. Arguing otherwise, ironically, goes against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This logic has never gelled with conservatives who support free speech — but only when they agree with it. Black Americans like Griner, who have wealth, power and cultural influence, are accused of treason in a transparent attempt to silence and smear them. They are told to be good patriots and then shouted at for exercising the fruits of that patriotism. The game is rigged.

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In July, former President Donald Trump called Griner a “potentially spoiled person” who traveled to Russia “laden with drugs.” Does that make him a real patriot? Or a failed politician who would do anything to try to stay relevant? Luckily for Griner, Biden doesn’t have time for such performative cruelty.

There will most likely always be white people who believe that being American means ignoring your problems. These are the same people who believe that progress is scary and that social equality threatens. Such outdated definitions of patriotism dishonor the national anthem and flag more than any peaceful protest ever could.

Ultimately, Brittney Griner is many things. She is a Black American LGBTQ, wife, daughter, lawyer, Olympian, and world-class basketball star. But most importantly, she’s coming home.

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