Contact us by filling out our Contact Form or call 561-990-5590

SMA Blog


Written By Dr. Stacey Patton 

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Forcing humility on Black women is an American practice.

A lot of people hate LSU basketball star Angel Reese because they despise Black girls and women who don’t get crushed by the societal pressures of humility.

Forty-five years ago, the late Maya Angelou explored this phenomenon in one of her most famous poems. In “Still I Rise,” she posed a series of rhetorical questions to people who harbor resentment at Black women who have the gall to revel in their own magnificence.  

Let’s read these powerful lines together:

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Angelou wasn’t interested in getting direct answers. Her bold questions were a dare to anyone who tries to diminish the spirit of Black women to confront their own biases, insecurities, and projections. She was also prompting people to reflect on why the presence of confident, defiant, and self-loving Black women offends them like so.

“Still I Rise” has been echoing in my thoughts over the past couple of days as I witness the vitriol, once again, directed at college basketball superstar Angel Reese, whose unapologetic assertion of beauty, confidence, sassiness, resilience, and greatness are offending so many haters taking pleasure in her recent defeat and post-game tears.

Reese, who plays forward for the LSU Tigers, became a celebrity when she led her team to a national championship over Caitlin Clark and the University of Iowa Hawkeyes in 2023. The two faced off again in Monday’s NCAA Elite Eight Championship game. This time, Clark led the Hawkeyes to victory over Reese and the Tigers.  

At the post-game press conference, a teary Reese described the downsides of that celebrity.

“I’ve been through so much. I’ve seen so much. I’ve been attacked so many times, death threats. I’ve been sexualized, I’ve been threatened. I’ve been so many things and I’ve stood strong every single time.”

She’s often described in media as “an unapologetic trash talker.” But trash talking is commonplace in sports. As a former basketball player, I used trash talk as a strategic form of psychological warfare in high-stakes matchups. Talking trash to your opponent isn’t some kind of character flaw. It’s about asserting your presence, getting inside their head, demonstrating confidence in your skills, and letting your opponent know that you refuse to back down. The fixation with Reese as a trash talker in part of a larger effort to undermine her confidence and assertiveness.

The work to humble Reese started early, when she was a teen baller.  

Back in 2018 during her junior year at Saint Francis Academy in Baltimore, she got into a fight with an opposing player during a pre-season scrimmage. Not only was she benched for three games, she was also forced to apologize in front of the entire school. Mandating a public apology amplified the consequences beyond the typical disciplinary measure. It was not only excessive, but it was clearly an attempt to shame and humiliate the towering 6’3 Black female superstar and allow the administration to assert authority and dominance over her. The public display of contrition was about undermining a young Black girl’s sense of autonomy and self-worth, and reinforcing the narrative that Black female must be humbled and complaint.

During her senior year, a coach at another high school wrote nasty comments about the then-17-year-old on social media.

“She’s not the greatest player that’s ever come out of this area. She’s genetically blessed. And lacks any humility,” wrote Lisa Smith, former coach of the Archbishop Spalding High School team. “Celebrating a player (w god given height and talent) and zero humility or impulse control.  As a female coach of female high school ballers, I find this behavior repulsive, unacceptable, unflattering and unnecessary.  You can have swag while not acting like a punk.  Highlight some other girls in the conference who aren’t as genetically gifted.”

After winning the NCAA national championship last year, businessman and social media personality David Portnoy took to Twitter and posted a video clip of Reese wagging her ring finger at Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and called her a “classless piece of sh*t.“

Another Twitter user wrote: “Why, Angel Reese?  Why was showing up your opponent after the NC game necessary?  What a ‘poor winner.’ Obviously didn’t grow up with parents that instilled any kind of humility.”

A year later, more of the same: “Angel Reese was destroyed by Caitlin Clark and Iowa… she is a sore loser and lacks humility.  Playing the victim with fake tears.”

Enter “Angel Reese” and “humility” or “humble” in a keyword search on Google and you’ll get more than 100,000 results.  Do the same on X, Facebook, or other social media platforms and you’ll find a whole trove of commenters griping about her big ego, trash talking, lack of maturity, and now celebrating her being humbled by a loss. This is all just another way to call outstanding Black women negligent, stupid, and the ubiquitous “unprofessional.” What does it mean when Black women are asked—no demanded—to be quiet, to dim their light, shrink their shine, and lessen themselves for fearing of triggering others. 

Why are so many people obsessed with trying to make Reese and other young Black women athletes like Sha’Carri Richardson, Venus and Serena Williams, and others eat humble pie? Why are so many Black people bothered by those of us who make it big but don’t aspire to “upper” class aspirations and values? 

The answers are rooted in a complex interplay of societal attitudes, history, and racial stereotypes. Let me make it plain.

Women, especially Black women, are expected to be modest, prim, self-effacing, and humble. Any display of confidence or assertiveness is considered a deviation from these social norms. While Black women have long been stereotyped as aggressive and loud, they are also expected to downplay their accomplishments and show zero self-assurance, not only in sports but in all arenas of life. In contrast, white female athletes like Iowa’s Clark are celebrated for similar displays of confidence, dubbed swaggy, passionate, a breath of fresh air and some such.

Confident Black women make people feel threatened. That’s because Black women in America have been traditionally marginalized. We were enslaved for centuries. Beaten. Tortured. Raped. Lynched. They stole our breast milk and children from us. We’ve been excluded and used as demonstration projects in narratives about inferiority. So, a self-assured, autonomous Black woman like Angel Reese disrupts long-existing power dynamics.

When I see Black people on social media talking about how Reese and other Black women athletes need to be humbled, it tells me they are suffering from internalized racism. These critics have normalized seeing Black women in a space of chronic long suffering and struggle.

They resent the hell out of Black women who reject the belief that their worth is inextricably linked to their ability to conform to white-dominated standards of gender, beauty, education, behavior, and financial success. These people stupidly believe that Black women must prioritize humility as a strategy for acceptance and validation in a racist capitalist world. We must suppress our own talents and never openly display confidence, pride, joy, or give a gel-manicured middle finger to the politics of respectability that were forged in a system committed to hating us regardless of what we do. 

If we think about the questions raised in Maya Angelou’s poem, the people who demand humility from Black women are reflecting their own feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. They are struggling to reconcile with free Black women who brazenly embrace self-love and autonomy, and their own subconscious pathetic yearning for white acceptance and validation.

Let’s be honest: Black people have been bullied and pressured into respectability for generations and it hasn’t liberated us. And while some measure of that forced “respectability” served as a survival mechanism during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, we’re in a very different era now. 

These young Black women enter the sports arena with unabashed swag repping a ‘hood aesthetic—weaves, eyelashes,tattoos, long elaborate fingernails—that telegraphs pride in their roots, their upbringings, their unfiltered culture. They’re not remaking themselves for the white gaze. They’re not toning themselves down in appearance or behavior to make themselves palatable. 

Recall Reese’s famous declaration on the heels of winning the NCAA championship last year: “All year I was critiqued about who I was. I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit in a box which ya’ll want me to be in. I’m too hood, I’m too ghetto.”

In response, Reese and others are hit with the weapons of intersectional indignation: How DARE you acknowledge your greatness? Who do you think you are, loving yourself despite our disapproval?

How dare you love your blackness more than the white gaze?


All of this reminds us that we’ve tried every version of respectability and where has it gotten us collectively?

As a 90s kid I endured the same criticism. I attended a wealthy boarding school on a scholarship and played ball there. The opportunity helped me escape New Jersey’s foster care system. White folks were always in my face griping about my ego, my mouth, my cockiness, that invisible chip on my shoulder, and they were deeply concerned that I cared less about other people’s perception of me. They didn’t know my story. They didn’t know where I had come from and about all the losses, pain, and trauma living in my body. Sports was all I had to bring me joy and to help me realize my power and potential. From high school to college, there was always a coach literally telling me how much they wanted to break me, or they were comparing my playing style some kind of animal or manipulating me with the lie that their players were “like my children” or the team “was like family.” They made me hate the game and the emotional violence took a toll on my mental health.

Now we’re in this redemptive moment where these Gen Z Black women are embodying the characteristics that we’re taught are wrong, bad, unacceptable. And I’m here for it—cheering them on, glorying in their sense of unfettered freedom in a world that can’t stand to recognize and celebrate their shine. 

They’re not just breaking the rules of Proper Negro Decorum—they’re rewriting the playbook on their own terms. They’re rewriting Zora Neale Hurston’s “Black women are the mules of the earth” narrative into a more empowered vision of lives not defined by being long suffering. They’re creating powerful possibilities for the little Black girls who are watching and taking notes. And, to be honest, for little Black boys who are also liberated by new ways of considering Black girlhood and womanhood. 

Seeing these young stars makes me flash back to my days in foster care when my outlet for survival was playing ‘hood hoops with the boys. We played hard because our circumstances were tough, our futures uncertain. And we peppered our moves with trash talk, bringing the tradition of signifyin’ to games to liberate our language and give us a space to feel free. 

I’m also inspired by the beautiful way that Reese’s teammates, Flau’jae Johnson and Hailey Van Lith, have had her back. “Man, let me tell you something,” Johnson said, sitting next to Reese at Monday’s post-game press conference and gently wiping herteammate’stears. “Everybody can have their opinion on Angel Reese, but y’all don’t know her. I know the real Angel Reese, and the person I see every day is a strong person, is a caring, loving person. But the crown she wears is heavy.” 

Van Lith, who described the racism her teammates face, said of Reese, “People speak hate into her life. I’ve never seen people wish bad things on someone as much as her, and it does not affect her. She comes to practice every day.She lives how she wants to live, and she don’t let nobody change that.” 


In that press conference, Reese made it clear that she has her village. “I have great teammates. I have a great support system. I’ve got my hometown. I’ve got my family that stands up for me.” 

She used her time at the mic to affirm her realness. “I would still sit here and say, ‘I’m unapologetically me. I’m going to always leave that mark and be who I am and stand on that. The little girls that look up to me, hopefully, I give them some type of inspiration … Keep being who you are.” 

Speaking of audacious style and gutsy glam, Reese chose to share her plans to take her talents to the WNBA with Vogue: “She could have dialed up a sports outlet or simply mentioned her decision in a press conference, but ‘I didn’t want anything to be basic,’ she says, speaking via Zoom from her off-campus apartment in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Reese says she was inspired by Serena Williams to break the news with a fashion shoot. (The tennis legend, of course, announced her retirement in the September issue of Vogue in 2022.) ‘I’ve done everything I wanted to in college,” Reese says: “I’ve won a national championship, I’ve gotten [Southeastern Conference] Player of the Year, I’ve been an All-American. My ultimate goalis to be a pro—and to be one of the greatest basketball players to play, ever. I feel like I’m ready.’

Does her haughtiness offend you?


Posted: 4/6/2024 7:39:46 AM by Jordan Davis | with 0 comments
Filed under: Basketball, Interview, NCAA, Women’s