Commentary: Jemele Hill’s fight goes beyond labels

Giovanna Z. Rinaldo, Editor in Chief
Giovanna Z. Rinaldo, Editor in Chief

When President Donald Trump’s personal crusade against the media recently evolved into yet another chapter, it was not surprising nor a mere coincidence that his latest target was a female, African-American journalist: Jemele Hill, the co-host of ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Despite hiding behind the pretext of being offended by a Twitter post in which Hill called him “a white supremacist surrounded by white supremacists,” the underlying reason for the commander in chief’s resentment does not seem to have been the content of the tweet, but rather the fact that a black woman stood up to his entitlement of white male power, soaked up so deeply in all of its privileges – publicly and unapologetically.

After all, Trump did not seem to mind when David Duke, admittedly a white supremacist and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, declared his utmost support for the now-president throughout his campaign.

Not even when Duke went as far as to draw parallels between their ideas, interpreting Trump’s victory as a proof of allegiance to his cause and saying in a Sept. 29, 2016, interview to the Los Angeles Times that “the fact that Donald Trump’s doing so well, it proves that I’m winning. I am winning.”

Instead of vehemently denying the title of white supremacist leader extended to him by default or rejecting any ties to the movement or the KKK, Trump took the safe option of claiming to know nothing about the man, the group or the cause, flirting with the label enough to make it seem fitting.

This, of course, was a very different response from the incident with Hill, where the White House as an institution chose to instead publicly start a witch-hunt against a private individual, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders encouraging ESPN to fire her.

The contrast between the two widely opposite responses proves this is not a fight over words and labels, but about black uprising.

It brings back to the historic tendency to silence and suppress the African-American population’s voice, with Trump sending a message loud and clear that the predominantly white men who run ESPN should do more to keep their people of color in check and establish order through conformity, which then gets rebranded in public statements as “rules, policies” and “inappropriate.”

Trump illustrated that once more on Friday when urging NFL owners, another predominantly white male demographic, to punish players who choose to kneel during the national anthem, using their large platform to protest the issue of police brutality.

“Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, he’s fired,” Trump said.

“Get that black man causing an uproar and punish him for not adhering to the behavioral code we expect,” is what Trump likely meant.

This sounds a bit too familiar to anyone who understands power dynamics and their historical context in America.

While the president insists on praising the “very nice people” among neo-Nazi groups and calling those who peacefully protest racial injustice “sons of b******”, he will always remain the poster boy for racism.

This inability to truly condemn white supremacist groups and individuals and at the same time can incite anger toward African-Americans merely fighting for their rights shows his true colors.

Unfortunately for Trump, ESPN and the NFL, African-Americans are unequivocally determined to not allow injustices to go unseen and unheard, and are willing to expand way beyond the territorial and conformity lines drawn against them.

Unfortunately for white supremacists, media giants and those who do not like sports being politicized, we are living in a social climate where being neutral or “objective” is being complicit, and breaking free from pre-established constructs to change the power mechanisms is much more than ideal – it is necessary.

Lastly, unfortunately for those who do not want change because it does not directly benefit them, people whose mere existence is still taken as an act of rebellion will keep living life out loud until it is too thunderous to ignore.

Not only will Jemele Hill not stop speaking up and Colin Kaepernick not stop kneeling down, but they will continue to take thousands more with them in the world of media, sports and beyond to gear up and join the fight.

Giovanna Z. Rinaldo, a senior journalism major, is editor in chief for the Campus Times. She can be reached by email at and on Twitter @giozrinaldo.

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