Angel Reese: Black Girls Get to Be Confident & Vulnerable All At Once

Girls for Gender Equity
9 min readApr 5, 2024

by: Toni A. Wilson, Director of Culture & Narrative Shift

“This is for the girls that look like me. That speak up on what they believe in. That’s unapologetically you.” Last year Angel Reese uttered those words, changed the game of women’s college basketball, and redefined what it meant to be a Black girl in sports. She dominated the 2023 season and with the help of her teammates, led LSU to the championships and won. She steadily maintained her confidence and cocky demeanor and let everyone know, critics and supporters alike, that she is a self-assured Black girl, is proud of who she is and where she comes from, and had no plans on changing to make herself more palatable for anyone.

Vogue 2024.

During the after-game press conference for the 2024 NCAA Women’s Championships, Angel Reese took the mic and when asked about how she was feeling after losing the Championship game, her season, and what the journey has been like, she was honest. She was vulnerable; which as a Black girl in sports you’re continually told you shouldn’t be because there’s no room for “weakness” in a male-dominated sport. Angel spoke openly about receiving death and rape threats, being sexualized and demeaned, and sexually harassed and targeted off the court. And because she dared to speak her truth for folks to recognize she’s still a human being outside of the fandom of college basketball, she was ridiculed and subjected to more misogynoir and sexual objectification. Angel Reese is not a villain but the people who have deemed her undeserving of humanity are.

Adultification and Sexualization of Black Girls

Since speaking openly about her racialized and gendered experience as a prominent college basketball player under scrutiny and surveillance, the media has continued to pick her apart and insist that she’s simply not strong enough to play the game and imply that by her confident attitude that she should somehow be able to withstand being persecuted. I’ve seen multiple people, from sports reporters to viewers, and entertainers, log onto social media to bash her and essentially put her “back in her place”. To be a Black girl and Black woman is to be hypervisible and yet still unseen; it’s to be treated as subhuman.

BroBible Sports.

“If you want to act like you grown…In sports you can’t act like the big bad wolf, then cry like courage the cowardly dog. If you want to act grown, pose grown, and talk like you grown then you gotta take the L like you grown.” Sports reporter, Emmanuel Acho, declared this to Angel Reese and it couldn’t be the most clear indicator of how people view Black girls who do anything other than be quiet, accept disregard and dismissal, and who demand to be treated with dignity and respect. How often have Black girls had to live through these kinds of remarks? The brash harshness Black women and girls receive simply for speaking up, defending ourselves, or being confident is almost always met with this kind of visceral. By referring to Angel as someone “acting grown” and attributing grown qualities to her by the way she expresses herself, Emmanuel and the media are intentionally failing to see the ways Black girls are adultified, dehumanized, and degraded.

Emmanuel exclaimed he was giving these remarks void of Angel’s gender and race without acknowledging that it is impossible to critique anything in this society, including Angel’s lived experiences over the past year, without including race and gender. As Black women, we can not separate our race from our gender or our gender from our race therefore creating a unique experience that only we understand. Intersectionality has taught us this time and time again. Adultification of Black girls leaves them susceptible to violence and harm because it allows for them to be seen as less innocent, less deserving of care and nurturing, and knowing more about sexual topics. You can not take a “gender neutral” or “racially indifferent” approach because to do so would be to erase Angel’s identities, how she moves throughout the world, and how people treat her, including Emmanuel and other sports reporters, due to those identities. And the repeated use of “grown” is anything but “racially indifferent.”

Chicago Sun Times.

Let’s be clear, Angel wasn’t making any excuses about how she played the game or why they lost. The narrative that Angel only cried because she lost is another agenda driven by the media to further dehumanize her and make her out to be a brick wall that’s now falling. She was pleading with the media, sports entertainment, and society to see her as who she is; a 21-year-old Black girl, student athlete, and human being. She was on a national stage begging the public to recognize that she’s been tormented by the masses for the past year and just last week found several AI images of her naked being used for pornography. She was exclaiming that yes she is strong, yes she is confident, and yes she is skilled and she is also a college student who is being sexually objectified, harassed, and defamed on the internet simply for being an outspoken Black girl playing college basketball.

Be Humble or Be Silent

The best attribute of Black girls like Angel Reese is their confidence; the cocky spirit and bravado they are able to exude speak for them before they enter rooms. It’s my favorite genre of Black girl! Much like myself, a large part of Angel’s brand is that she is unapologetic in her Blackness and hood attributes. And let’s be clear, Angel is proud to be a Black girl from the hood who talks and moves like a Black girl from the hood is no different than any of her male counterparts who are also Black, from the hood, and lets their bravado and cockiness drive their game. Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, and Kevin Garnett are quick players that come to mind. The media and sports world have spent the past two years calling LSU ghetto, hood, classless, and every other racialized and gendered stereotype there is — all racist coded words for Black. LSU lost this year’s championship game and they’re still not bowing their heads; something society expects Black girls to do when they lose and are told they’re not enough. So in Angel not bowing her head from defeat, being cocky on the court and bragging, and showboating; she is now deemed a “villain.” She’s a villain because she refused to let media, trolls, and commentators break her and dictate her game.

ABC30.

America is not new to forcing Black people, especially Black women, into humility. If there is a chance to remind Black girls to take up less space, America takes it. And by the flock of grown Black men that are also contesting Angel and not coming to her defense, we can see just how internalized it is within our own community as well. The truth is, Angel Reese has made tremendous strides for Women’s College Basketball, practically making it the most watched college game of college ESPN history and her reward for rebranding women’s basketball has only been having the displeasure of dealing with incessant racism coupled with sexism. Men in sports poke out their chests and gloat day in and day out. So much of the core of sports is rooted in the competitiveness of it and the mission to see who is the best. And when you know you’re doing something well and beating your competition, you celebrate. So why is it villain behavior when Angel does it but when Caitlin Clark does it as a white woman or male counterparts do it, they aren’t told they’re villains or being “too grown.”

Teen Vogue.

Black girls are far too often punished for being confident, assertive, and sure of themselves. Trash-talking, a typical behavior built out of competitive sports, shouldn’t be seen as something that makes someone a villain on the court and it absolutely shouldn’t be a driving factor in how you’re treated off the court. Chastising Black girls for taking up too much space is business as usual for any industry. Society has an unusual obsession with humbling Black girls and women but even with this being true, I hope Angel Reese continues to go against the grain and show up as her whole self. Always.

Protect Black Girls

No one supports and rallies around us like us. The foundation of Black sisterhood is what keeps so many of us going in our respective industries, families, and day-to-day living. During LSU’s press conference, Angel’s teammate Flau’Jae spoke up in her defense to the media painting a villain image of her. Angel was in tears describing what she’d been through and Flau’Jae declared, “The person I see every day is a strong person, is a caring, loving person. Yall don’t know Angel Reese like I know Angel Reese.” Flau’Jae proceeded to wipe the tears from Angel’s face. So often there is little, if any, empathy given to Black women and girls. It was beautiful and powerful to see Angel’s teammates and sisters support her and come to her defense but it shouldn’t always have to be like this. Black girls should be protected the first time.

The U.S Sun.

The problem here is that viewers were able to watch that video of Angel breaking down into tears about her mistreatment off the court and saw nothing wrong with it; there was no compassion held for her on a large scale. This is what adultifying Black girls does. In order to see someone or something as deserving of empathy you have to first see them as someone or something that feels pain and needs love and tending to. Adultifying creates the message that Angel, and her teammates alike, don’t deserve empathy or better yet, they don’t need it. Which is the furthest thing from the truth.

Black girls deserve the defending and support Flau’Jae gave Angel. Black girls deserve protection that’s loud, that’s intentional, that’s public, and that’s grand. Black girls deserve protection done on main stages and that makes national news. Black girls deserve protection that is rooted in care, safety, and dignity. Angel is a young Black girl and deserves space to get her education, play basketball, grow, and learn.

Sportskeeda 2024.

On Wednesday, April 3rd, Angel took to social media, in a Vogue magazine shoot, and announced that she will be ending her four years playing college basketball and joining the WNBA draft! I am so excited to see what Angel’s journey in the WNBA looks like and all that’s in store for her. She continues to have a bright future in basketball and I’m looking forward to seeing all the ways she continues to grow her brand and expand her vision for herself. She will continue to be remembered in college basketball for the groundbreaking foundation she laid out, being a national champion, being one of the best rebounders, and for being someone little Black girls and young people can look up to. She’s leaving college as one of the most decorated players in the past two decades along with being one of the most endorsed and she deserves all the good things coming to her. The sky isn’t even the limit for Angel Reese because her talents, gifts, and leadership skills know no bounds. Angel’s star power supersedes a basketball court. Keep dunking and stunting Bayou Barbie and we’ll keep cheering you on!!

“I’m leaving college with everything I ever wanted; a degree, a national championship, and this platform I could’ve never imagined.

This was a difficult decision, but I trust the next chapter, because I know the author, Bayou Barbie out!” — Angel Reese

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Girls for Gender Equity

Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) is an intergenerational organization centering the leadership of cis and trans Black girls and gender-expansive youth of color.