Cal Basketball: Ex-Bears' Star Layshia Clarendon Asks Us All to `Think Bigger'

Photo by Michael Pimental

Jeff Faraudo

Layshia Clarendon shares an every-day moment in her commentary, “It’s Time to Think Bigger,” recently published in The Players’ Tribune.

The former Cal women’s basketball star, a seven-year veteran of the WNBA, recalls walking out of Trader Joe’s one day with her wife, in the months before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Just another day.

We were giggling about something, walking to the car holding hands. As we crossed the parking lot I saw this guy start walking toward us. He was tall, white, and wearing camouflage pants with a black shirt. I was wearing a pro-choice WE WON’T GO BACK crewneck.

My wife tensed up. She squeezed my hand.

The man yelled out, `Hey!’ Full fight or flight mode.

Then as he approached us he said, `I like that sweatshirt. It’s dope.’

Sigh.

“If you aren’t tensed up reading this,” she writes, “it’s most likely because you aren’t black or a person of color.”

Turns out, I visited my local Trader Joe’s just the other day.

I did not have the same experience Clarendon and her wife did. No one gave me a sideways glance. No one followed me as I walked to my car. Never did I feel in any way threatened. Of course, I’m white. I’m straight. I don’t stand out.

So take a moment, as hopefully many of us have done in recent weeks, to imagine being Layshia Clarendon . . . or any of the countless other people who deal with these potentially harrowing moments on a daily basis.

This is the life they lead through no choice of their own. These are the fears the rest of us don’t generally have to face.

“All marginalized people know the experience of being out just running some errands, and having to worry about their safety,” Clarendon writes. “I would love to not have to ask myself questions like, Is that person following me around the store because I’m black? Or, Is that guy staring at me because I’m holding my wife’s hand? Is it because they don’t know my gender?”

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the suddenly mainstream acceptance to the idea that Black Lives Matter, Clarendon writes eloquently in her very personal 1,800-word narrative. And she makes the point that merely tweeting BLM is not good enough, that real change is needed on a broad spectrum.

She begins by explaining that her parents were black and white and told her as a youngster that gave her “the best of both worlds.”

“A well-intentioned attempt at a fairy tale of the mixed-race experience. It was one that, in the end, left me wholly unprepared to navigate the world,” Clarendon now realizes.

Now 29, her years at Cal provided an awakening, she explains, as she realized basketball was a haven where her race and sexuality did not make her stand out.

“If I had wanted to play tennis or be a swimmer, my experience likely would have been much different and I would have had to grapple with my racial and gender identity much earlier,” she says.

Layshia Clarendon of Team USA defends a Louisville opponent
Photo by Jamie Rhodes, USA Today

The recalls a heated debate with her father — with whom she remains close — on the topic of not why Colin Kaepernick chose to protest during his NFL career, but how he did so by taking a knee.

"What it came down to, for me," she explains, "was that if my dad, a white man who’s raised me all my life, can’t see beyond his own bias in this moment, then is there any hope for the racist white guy who doesn’t know any black people? Who’s never raised a black daughter? Who’s never been around anyone black?

As a result of all she has seen and experienced, Clarendon now believes the system must be torn down and rebuilt. Noting that even the WNBA once was hard to imagine, she suggests that "the most radical ideas aren't that far-fetched."

Here's how Clarendon concludes her piece in The Players' Tribune:

Thinking BIG is really what we need at this moment.

Can we dare to imagine a world where racism doesn’t pervade everything? I have to, in order to have hope. Because if not, what else am I fighting for?

I believe in the possibility of change.

I believe we can dismantle these systems, to their very foundations, and build something new.

I believe we can have social accountability without police.

We can have an America that doesn’t thrive on the exploitation of its most vulnerable.

It’s time to think boldly about what a reimagined world can look like. Because we have the political power to change it in ways my generation has never seen before.

If it doesn’t scare you, you aren’t thinking big enough.

And it’s time to think bigger.

.

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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