Dr. Carol Marie Webster, PhD

Though for more than six months she has been in my daily prayers/meditations, I have not been in that time able to write a single word on Brittney Yevette Griner; not in my journals (in which I have compulsively written since the age of 11) nor in notes I make to myself (such as “make sure to search the news on developments in Griner’s unjust imprisonment”).  I have not had to do the latter because I have been compelled each morning to eek out whatever sliver of information appear in the news in the US, UK, and Canada.  Importantly with Griner’s detainment, there has been no national or international outcry.  No protests. Silences is what Russia has demanded and what has prevailed.  And, because of the silence, each day her situation becomes more and more precarious.

Arrested on February 17, 2022, Griner’s detention coincided with the onset of the Russia/Ukraine war; and, along with the lives of African/African-Diaspora Students trapped in the Ukraine, immediately making captives of black bodies was implicated in the framing, making, and strategic impulse of this particular twenty-first century white-world war-making exercise.  Griner’s eight year relationship playing basketball for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia allowed her access to economic benefits not allotted her gender in US. The years and relative ease and comfort made her comfortable in her travels. But, what she did not know and would not be made aware until it was too late, is that it also made her a vulnerable, usable and disposable – immigrant to Russia.  The imminence of war sent the sibling nations (whose citizens call each other brother, sister, cousin) to view the African diaspora bodies in their midst with the same cultural logic: distained disposable pawns. On one side of the border, in the Ukraine,  20,000 to  40,000 African Diaspora students were violently barred  from fleeing the war – not by explicit government mandate but by shared cultural ethos of ordinary citizens. On the other side,  Russia had taken Griner into custody.  As the world barely pause, speculations was abound as to what law Griner could be said to have transgressed.  Quite naively, many assumed the Russia’s challenge with LGBTQ+ rights/equity would be the lynchpin on which Russia would hang its right to detain.  But even Putin knew that that problematic positioning, was likely to run a foul: but linking Griner’s African-American (Black body) with illegal drugs would grant a level of international impunity and silence that much else could not.  After all, the symbolic pairing of the black body with illegal drugs and illicit sex has been diligently worked into the psyche of the West.  Russia, and the Ukraine, simply played on symbolism already in existence.    

With Griner’s thirty-second birthday just a couple of weeks away, one is hard pressed to imagine how she and her family will continue to cope without a decisive date for her release. White Americans who voluntarily traveled to the Ukraine to fight on the behalf of Ukrainian sovereignty and became prisoners of war in Russia, are now back in the United States safe and sound. But Griner, who represented Russia for eight years in international sporting competitions across Europe, and whose transgression was the carriage of “vape cartridges with 0.7 grams of cannabis oil” onto Russian territory, has been deemed a greater enemy of the nation-state than those who actively took up arms to fright against the nation. The calculation of less than one ounce of cannabis oil (the value of which is range between $25 – $45 U.S. ) verses military arms against the nation-state should not be understated given the number of African-American/Black lives destroyed in U.S. historical war on drug and problematic gun laws.

What is more, what appears to be the lethargy of the US government to fully work on behalf of freedom for this stellar award winning US citizen drives home the message that AntiBlack Racism is an integral part of geopolitical national and international policy and identity.

October 17th will mark Griner’s seventh month of incarceration in Russia; October 18th her 32nd birthday. We know that when she is allowed to returned to the US (and to her loved ones), she will not be the same Britney Griner; after all, she has had to endure levels of betrayal that few of us will ever have to negotiate in our lifetime. Among other things such as having been handcuffed, jailed, and tried on foreign territory, she will return with an international portfolio forever tainted with a conviction of drug trafficking.

In praying/meditating for Griner’s safe return to her loved ones, I also pray for her to be supported by wisdom and steady spirit as she navigates forward.

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