Black people just aren’t allowed to have nice things.
We couldn’t get one hour to celebrate the release of WNBA champion Brittney Griner before people started complaining about the nature of the prisoner exchange. On Thursday morning, it was announced that a deal was made with Russia to bring the Phoenix Mercury center home. The 1-for-1 swap took place in the United Arab Emirates, with convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout sent back to Russia in exchange for the basketball star’s release.
For months, rumors have swirled about the possibility of a deal that entailed Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan being exchanged for Bout. There has been a very public back and forth between the two countries, making a swap seem unlikely. Of course, that didn’t stop pundits from proclaiming that no swap should take place because Griner deserved what was happening to her. Now that Brittney is headed home and Whelan, who has been imprisoned for almost four years on espionage charges that the U.S. says are false, was not included in the exchange, those complaints and criticisms are getting even louder and uglier.
Brittney Griner is a high-profile queer Black woman who has been critical of the United States and the national anthem. Those are her rights as an American citizen, but for some, that meant she should be abandoned in Russia. It doesn’t matter how many times the president and his staff explain that the Kremlin would only make a deal for Griner, refusing to even discuss Whelan, there are those who will see this as a white Marine being left behind in favor of a Black queer woman. I’ve been covering this story since day one and can tell you it is not that simple, but we live in a world where Black people are not allowed to have something good without white people having a reaction. To them I say, compassion and joy are not mutually exclusive emotions. You can feel one for Paul Whelan while simultaneously feeling the other for Brittney Griner.
Let me make this clear for those of you who want to be willfully ignorant, just because Brittney has been released, it doesn’t mean the president is giving up on Paul Whelan. In fact, both President Biden and Brittney’s wife Cherelle Griner made a point of saying they would continue to advocate for Paul and his family.
“Today my family is whole, but as you all are aware, there’s so many other families who are not whole. BG is not here to say this, but I will gladly speak on her behalf, and say that BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today as we celebrate BG being home,” Cherelle said. “We do understand that there are still people out here who are enduring what I endured the last nine months of missing tremendously their loved ones.”
And before you try to pit the Whelan and Griner families against one another, Paul’s brother David spoke to CNN about Brittney’s release. He revealed that the White House called him to tell him about the news on Wednesday. He also said, “It’s wonderful news. I’m so happy for Brittney and Cherelle. It’s a wonderful day.”
No matter what that ugly section of the internet tries to tell you, this does not need to be a Black woman versus white man conversation. The United States has had no control over these discussions. They’re basically in a take-it-or-leave-it situation with Russia. To pretend otherwise, use it to insult the Griner family, or even worse–use it to ramp up racial tensions–is disingenuous and uninformed on the process.