For White Women Who Demonize Black Men, Even After Death
An open letter to those who insist on remembering Kobe Bryant at his lowest point
Dear White women,
You won’t believe this, but I’m going to say it anyway: It’s okay to take time before you speak on something. That pause — that period of respectful restraint — doesn’t sweep things under a rug. It doesn’t cast a different light on those involved. In times of mourning or celebration, it’s totally fine not to immediately bring up someone’s demons. Some issues, some people, and some pasts are nuanced.
Shortly after the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant — who died in January in a devastating helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, and seven others — dissenting messages began to punctuate the social media flurry of shocked, sympathetic posts paying tribute to the basketball legend and those who perished. These contrarian comments, many of which were posted by White women, sought to remind mourners of Kobe’s 2003 sexual assault case.
Back in 2003, Kobe checked into a hotel and spa in Edwards, Colorado, where he met a then-19-year-old employee of the lodge. Both of their lives were changed forever. The unidentified woman accused Bryant of sexual assault. He claimed they’d had sex but that the encounter was consensual. The criminal case was dropped and a civil case was settled out of court; ultimately, Kobe issued a heartfelt apology to the victim, his family, and his fans, allowing that his understanding of the situation had been flawed. From then on, he became a famed champion of women in sports — including his own daughter. He coached Gigi’s basketball team and a clip of him schooling her on the X’s and O’s of b-ball became a meme in December. Still, the asterisk next to Kobe’s name grew in the wake of his death.
There’s a time and place for everything. There’s also an appropriate manner in which to express yourself — and this just wasn’t it. Your critiques lacked sensitivity for the Bryant family, as well as the understanding that one’s wrongdoings don’t represent the totality of their personhood. People represent more than just a good-or-bad binary, yet that seems to be forgotten when it comes to Black men.
As John F. Kennedy Jr., the president’s son, once told a friend, “It does seem to me, as I read these biographies of great men through history, they were not particularly great at home. Even my father was no model — and I think it would be a much more interesting challenge to see if I could make myself into a good man.”
The list goes on and on — all prominent Black men whose flaws you habitually remind us about, while you stream Ted Bundy biopics and listen to another podcast about serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
But how do we seek out the goodness in greats? Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movement but also cheated on his wife. Malcolm X committed a series of burglaries that left him incarcerated prior to joining the Nation of Islam. Michael Jordan’s gambling habit is rumored to have led to the murder of his father. Mike Tyson went to prison for rape. Tiger Woods’ marriage imploded due to his many infidelities. The list goes on and on — all prominent Black men whose flaws you habitually remind us about, while you stream Ted Bundy biopics and listen to another podcast about serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
A lot of great men work to be good — as in noble, righteous, and upstanding. And they should be remembered as much for the good as the great. In addition to Kobe Bryant’s NBA accolades and Olympic medals, he’s quietly donated money to various families in need, granted more than 200 Make-a-Wish requests, and served as official ambassador for After-School All-Stars, which provides extracurricular programs for 72,000 inner-city children.
But beyond everything he did, Kobe and other Black men with complicated histories should be remembered as human. Humans make mistakes. Humans do dumb things. Humans do bad things. Yet when the humanity of Black men comes into question, you seem to forget the balance of a moment and a lifetime. Comedian Neruda Williams put it best: “In my opinion, this all stems from the fact that America can’t see Black people as human… Humans can be redeemed, humans can be exonerated, and humans can be forgiven. Monsters and beasts cannot.”
The list of difficulties in living on this planet as a woman is endless: the fear, the pain, the harassment. You shouldn’t have to suffer any it — not as an individual, not as a group. However, Black men know those difficulties as well. We’re sexualized, demonized, and disbelieved. We’re Emmett Till, the Central Park Five, Walter McMillian. We’re guilty at birth. We’re forced to fight for our names, our rights, our lives, and our truth. We have to fight for our humanity, in life and in death. Our highlights will constantly be eclipsed by our lowlights. Our failures will always supersede our successes. Our times of strength will always be marred by our moments of weakness. Our work to be great will only serve to you as a reminder of the times we weren’t good.
We don’t want you to fear us. We fear you. We fear what you can do to us from a whistle or a jog or an event we weren’t even at. I’ve seen the muddied waters of even making a white woman uncomfortable. I’ve been that Black guy reported to HR for “walking aggressively” to Starbucks. I’ve watched that same story morph into claims of bursting into a White woman’s workspace and yelling at her — anything to make me sound erratic, unhinged, or animalistic. Everyone waits for the I-told-you-so moment in which they can prove the preconceived notion that Black men are bad. And I get why you do it. Words aren’t as effective as narratives, so the stories grow and change.
Your comfort will always come before our truth. That’s the power in being uncomfortable for you. I get uncomfortable being around you as well. I don’t know if this is the moment you call the cops, the moment you get scared. I sincerely try to walk past any White woman I see in public so she knows I’m not a threat, so I don’t become a viral video or a hashtag. We know each other’s dangers, but only your fears get amplified. The world listens and believes because there were so many times where we didn’t and it was awful.
But we ask that you listen and believe us when we tell you who we are and who we’re trying to be. We can be sexual without being predators. We can be angry without being thugs. We can be dumb without being stupid. We can make mistakes, make bad decisions, misread situations, stereotype, have poor judgment, be sorry, regretful, terrified. We can face consequences, we can be redeemed — we can just be.
And honestly, that’s all we really want. Not a pass. Not an excuse. Not forgetting our troubles and wrongdoings. Just the acceptance of being flawed humans in life and remembered as such when we move on in death. If you need to scream into your pillow to face your traumas, then please do it. Maybe one day we’ll be able to scream with you. But for now we want to live and mourn our heroes and legends—because beyond their greatness, beyond their goodness, they were human.