A day after rallies around the country to protest the slayings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of police, two photos are emblazoned in my mind.
The first is of a woman standing peacefully in a sundress wearing sensible shoes while police in riot gear swarm to arrest her. The second is a photo of WNBA players for the New York Liberty wearing T-shirts bearing the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5. Both photos are stunning in their simplicity: Each is of women with more to lose than their male counterparts, as women in this country always risk more than men. This isn't debatable. For women, especially black women, everything, from hairstyles to the height of their heels to the lengths of their dresses, is a political statement, a stone cast into the vast ocean of male dominance.
I would learn later that the woman in the first photo—Ieshia L. Evans, 28—is a nurse from New York and mother of a 5-year-old boy. She was protesting the death of Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. Sterling was killed there after an encounter with police outside a convenience store where he sold CDs. Generally, nurses work 12-hour days on their feet, caring for the sick. What the uninformed don't know is that the smiling caretakers checking your pressure and bringing you extra pillows are also wearing compression socks under their scrubs because standing on their feet so long can lead to blood clots. Point is, the last thing any nurse wants to do is stand during her or his off-hours, and the last thing any mother ever wants is to spend a night away from her child.
But there Evans was, standing, back straight, head up, as the wind caught the bottom of her dress, unfazed by the two cops frozen midstride. It's not facetious when I say that Evans looks angelic, something akin to goddess stature. The photo of the calm woman frozen as cops swoop in to arrest her seems metaphoric for everything the Black Lives Matter movement is hoping to fix.
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Evans was arrested and spent the night in jail for protesting against the over-policing of black skin, surely a concern that she shares not only for herself but also for her son. For Evans, the movement was bigger than her discomfort, a sentiment shared a few hundred miles away by the brave women of the New York Liberty.
The Liberty woman stood in unified protest before they took on the San Antonio Stars Sunday, wearing black T-shirts with white lettering on the front. On the backs of the shirts was a hashtag with a blank line symbolizing the next name of a victim to be immortalized on social media.
Let's be clear about this: The WNBA is not the NBA. Although the league celebrated its 20th year, it's still not the premier league for women's basketball.
In 2015, seven-time All-Star Diana Taurasi sat out an entire WNBA year to play in the Russian Premier League where she could make more money. These players don't make millions; in fact, in 2012, the average WNBA salary was around $72,000. Since its inception, the WNBA has struggled to find a footing with a national audience, and last year, attendance was the lowest in league history.
Sunday's action was not a hollow gesture by celebrity athletes. This is not a group of women coddled and adored by countless fans. They don't make millions in endorsements should their basketball contracts fall through. These are hardworking women who fight every day to make sure the lights stay on in the places where they play. Women who were willing to risk ridicule, fines and possible suspension; who were willing to use their platform, no matter how fragile their footing, to protest against the police killings of unarmed black men, women and children.
"We do need people to stand up and understand and express that black lives are just as important as any other lives in America, and right now, that’s not being seen," Liberty guard Tanisha Wright said after the game.
Liberty forward Swin Cash's voice cracked as she spoke: "I think it’s a shame that we keep seeing people that want to make this movement as something that’s violent. Five cops gave their lives up trying to protect a peaceful movement. And in this country, I do believe that you can assemble peacefully and protest against injustice. So until the system transforms, we cannot sit here and act like there is not a problem here in America."
There is poetry in this protest. It's alive. It's being nurtured and supported, and it's growing. Every movement in the history of time has only been as strong as the women who support it. There's something freeing about these gestures and the risk they take.
This is what black feminism looks like.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a senior editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.