Around the country, white people are quick to claim and consume Black culture, praising Black athletes, models, actors and musicians for their entertainment value, yet these same white people hesitate to fight for human rights. Vanderbilt’s campus is not immune to this disheartening reality. (Blair McDonald)
Around the country, white people are quick to claim and consume Black culture, praising Black athletes, models, actors and musicians for their entertainment value, yet these same white people hesitate to fight for human rights. Vanderbilt’s campus is not immune to this disheartening reality.

Blair McDonald

Inside an Athlete’s World: Black lives should matter on and off the field

How recent Black Lives Matter protests have revealed important race dynamics within the Vanderbilt community.

June 7, 2020

Columnist Blair McDonald.

When I reflect on the events in this country that have unfolded throughout the last week, I am immediately confronted with an onslaught of feelings and emotions. I feel sadness and fear because, again, Black people must plead, beg and bleed for the powers that be to respect the rights promised to every American. I feel prideful and excited because, again, Black people refuse to accept normalized racism, flooding the streets with rallying cries for action, justice and change. I feel joyful and hopeful because people around the world continue to echo and expose the extent to which institutionalized racism has rotted America since its inception. 

Every moment that I refresh my social media timelines, I see countless testimonies and videos of protestors who report the horrific actions of police who swore an oath to “protect and serve.” Yet, Black men and women are routinely denied the basic right to breathe because white supremacy exists only at the expense of Black inferiority. Today, our revolutionary Blackness fundamentally threatens the fragility of their whiteness, so they arrest us, beat us and kill us in the hope that we look the other way and remain silent. Instead, Black people and our non-Black allies have fought and will continue to fight back against the racist structures of government until they answer for their crimes. 

These are my immediate thoughts on the issue, but I, like many others, have questioned how I can join the fight for justice and change. I have continued to donate, learn and protest, but I want to do more. As I have found in the past, this column has afforded me the opportunity to articulate my feelings and analyze common experiences through the lens of a student-athlete at a prominent Division I university. This new wave of the Black Lives Matter movement has once again prompted me to write about life as a student-athlete at Vanderbilt, especially as a Black female.

For the last few days, Vanderbilt’s athletic coaches and administrative leaders have published several statements, exclaiming their solidarity and support of all Black people. Many teams, including the soccer team, have also held Zoom meetings where Black members of the team had the opportunity to further explain the validity of Black history, Black struggles and Black experiences to our non-Black teammates. 

The non-Black people who decided to join these open forums were refreshingly excited to learn about the dimensionality of their privilege, asking insightful questions to better themselves as allies to the Black community. In these moments, I couldn’t have been more proud to be a Commodore. After talking with peers on other Vanderbilt sports teams, however, we noticed a deafening silence from some people, specifically white teammates, who weren’t comfortable enough to participate. 

While I, and other Black teammates, were slightly disappointed to find that a few of our white peers were reluctant to join the Zoom discussion, unfortunately, we weren’t entirely surprised. Around the country, white people are quick to claim and consume Black culture, praising Black athletes, models, actors and musicians for their entertainment value, yet these same white people hesitate to fight for human rights. Vanderbilt’s campus is not immune to this disheartening reality. The events of the last week have reminded me of the blatant fact that Black people are unable to quietly sit on the sidelines because society will always remind and reduce us to the color of our skin. While our non-Black teammates exercise their privilege to ignore the problem, their Black teammates and friends struggle for safety and equality within a system that depends on their subjugation. Nevertheless, I am appreciative of the open dialogue initiated by the athletic department and the first steps taken by many non-Black student-athletes who are advocates for the BLM movement. There is, however, far more room for progress.  

While I am speaking directly to the white athletes of the Vanderbilt community, I am also addressing all people who want to help but don’t know how. It’s okay to feel nervous about these conversations, especially if you’re not particularly educated in issues related to race. However, change cannot happen until everyone, Black and non-Black, is willing to lean in and engage in these uncomfortable conversations. From this discomfort, we can begin to draft initiatives, goals and resources that attack the injustices that have plagued the black community generally and the Vanderbilt community specifically. Nervousness is okay, but complicit silence is not—even if you’re Black. Otherwise, your well-written texts and Instagram posts become hollow, performative declarations of inaction.  

The events of this last week have catapulted us all into a new era of accountability and justice. With the tools and resources we have at our disposal, it has never been more important for the Vanderbilt population to wield our influence with unrelenting courage and action. 

Many individuals and representative groups from Vanderbilt have publicly put forth their efforts towards change: Vanderbilt alumna and former Women’s Soccer captain Nia Dorsey thoughtfully harnessed the power of social media to pen her hopes for the future on Instagram. Further, Black Vanderbilt students and alumni drafted a formal letter to the administration and created a petition to hold Vanderbilt accountable for racial injustice.  

Vanderbilt athletes and students alike have a unique platform to speak out and act against systemic racism. We can inspire the people around us to watch movies, read books, listen to podcasts and ask questions in an effort to educate themselves. We can urge the people around us to donate to causes at the heart of this fight, including the Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block, The Bail Project and many others. We can critically challenge the people around us who insist on making racist jokes and comments. In short, we can do a lot more than create random, substance-less social media posts when there are more intentional ways to use one’s social platform. 

The future holds endless possibilities for the reconstruction and redemption of this country. Therefore, we must take advantage of the progress and momentum from these past few weeks, continue to push forward and forge a path towards meaningful change.  

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