Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

Brittney Griner Is the 1st Black Woman America Thought Was Important Enough To Rescue

It took 10 months, but the #FreeBG movement finally has its prize.

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FILE - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner during the first half of Game 2 of basketball’s WNBA Finals against the Chicago Sky, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix. Russia has freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange, with the U.S. releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
FILE - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner during the first half of Game 2 of basketball’s WNBA Finals against the Chicago Sky, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix. Russia has freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange, with the U.S. releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Photo: Rick Scuteri, File (AP)


If there was a fly on the wall during The Root’s daily story meetings, it’d tell you there’s one writer who mostly loathes making stories out of what happens on social media. It’s me. I’m old-school enough to think that journalism for the most part isn’t keeping a running commentary of what people say on Twitter.

But occasionally, I run across a meme, tweet or post that, while not news, gives perfect context on something that is newsworthy. Today, that post came from a friendamine, a club owner in Cincy, expressing his thoughts about Brittney Griner’s release from a Russian prison camp after spending nine months locked up there. It said, “Excited for Brittney Griner...Imagine being important enough for your country to trade for you.”

And there it is. For the first time in anyone’s memory, and perhaps the first time in American history at all, a Black woman was singularly important enough to the interests of the United States to warrant a months-long diplomatic effort and a prisoner swap with the country’s biggest nemesis on the international stage. That that woman is queer, out and in a same-sex marriage—and that her negotiated release came on the same day that Congress passed a bill that will codify national protections for such unions—underscores the significance. Griner wasn’t just any prisoner, although she was among many classified by the State Department as “wrongfully detained” by a foreign government.

She is a celebrity and her fame certainly helped keep her case at the top of the White House’s to-do list. But more than that, Griner represents hard-fought social progress in this country—the sort that many people would still like to drag us back from. Consider that 36 U.S. Senators and 169 members of the House voted against the marriage equality bill just sent to President Joe Biden’s desk. Do you think those elected officials who voted against the requirement that all states recognize her choice of a spouse also supported the effort to bring her home?

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And consider what that effort required. The Biden Administration says it wanted to negotiate the release of Griner in concert with that of Paul Whelan—a retired Marine that Russia is holding on charges that he was a spy for the U.S.—but Russia made it clear that Whelan was never on the table. That put Biden in the position of choosing to trade a deadly international weapons dealer for Griner, the gay, Black basketball star while leaving a literal U.S. servicemember locked up in Russia with no hope, at least for now, of getting back the latter.

It’s hard to imagine another point in history where that would have been a viable choice for an American president, much less one with an approval rating below 50 percent who’s laying the groundwork for a second White House run. But in this day and age, it was the only viable choice. Griner’s legion of fans and supporters, from those who have followed her WNBA career since the beginning to those more invested in her open and frank takes on social justice and LGBTQ issues, would never have allowed Biden to live down passing on yet another opportunity to bring her home, no matter who else it meant leaving behind. Outrage over Griner’s detainment sparked a hashtag, #FreeBG. It was fodder for cable news all year long. It’s the subject of rap songs.

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If Griner hadn’t gotten on a plane to Texas today, Biden’s political fortunes were tanked.

It’s far-fetched to say her release saved a presidency, but what’s not a stretch to say that the resolution of Griner’s detainment showed just how important one Black woman is in today’s America.