Yesterday, the US Women’s National Team won the World Cup in the world’s most popular sport. They accomplished this awash in superlatives…most Women’s World Cup titles, first team (men’s or women’s) to win back-to-back titles since the 1930’s, most goals scored by a team in a World Cup, and the list goes on. Women’s soccer has started to gain some following and star power, and the movement for these athletes to gain equal pay to their male counterparts is building momentum. Watching the win with our daughter, I felt proud and hopeful that whatever she chooses to do in her life, that she can do it with passion and that those around her won’t box her in with expectations based on her gender. If she wants to play soccer, become an attorney, get married to a man or a woman, stay single, stay home to raise kids, not have kids, or whatever gender she expresses at whatever point in her life, my hope is that she can pick any of those unconstrained by what she believes others want her to do…including me.
I am thankful that the soccer players on the US team represent this to our daughter as a girl, the ability to choose what you want to do and be. But I am less certain what they represent to our daughter as a half-white, half-Filipina girl when 20 of the 23 members of the Women’s National Team appear to be white and three appear to be Black. Unfortunately, the team does not yet represent the racial and ethnic makeup of our nation in the same way it stands for progress for the female gender.
Title IX and the growth of women’s and girls’ sports in the US have helped the US women become contenders on the world stage. Now we need to provide more support for our Black and Latina girls, and those of all other races. It is easy to think of this support as identifying “exceptional” girls of color and funding training opportunities for them – this is often the model we enact when we are seeking to increase diversity. And diversity and inclusion for the sake of having different faces and cultures in the mix does has some value in its own right. But diverse teams, organizations, and cultures are ultimately still based on the dominant, white culture. It is when we truly move toward equity and transformation that we build something new, a culture that values and builds from the races and ethnicities coming together.
This kind of transformation can only occur when we start at the root of a problem. In sports, that doesn’t mean just identifying and funding the development of a few exceptional athletes. In our larger culture, it doesn’t mean just funding some movies by exceptional artists of color, or “allowing” a few exceptional scholars of color to enter predominantly white colleges. In each of these cases, it means starting from the ground up, by addressing funding and other systemic biases at the base of the system. It means funding robust sporting programs in all of our schools and community centers. It means providing healthcare and education funding at an equitable level, in other words providing more funding where the need is greater. It means holding a true national conversation about race and reparations. It means ending mass incarceration policies.
In a society where we have taken these steps, the need to identify and promote a few people of color falls away, because we would have achieved a culture in which all young people can thrive. We would see Black women and white men becoming doctors at equal levels. We would see people of all races mixing and unmixing in communities based on personal choices instead of segregated housing patterns driven by wealth and income disparities. We would see a US Women’s National Team that reflects the Latinx, Black, Asian, Native, Middle Eastern, white, and all other races and ethnicities that make up this nation. And we would see a culture where someone born a half-white, half-Filipina girl would feel equally able to bring either and both sides of their culture, all of their gender expression, all of their sexual identity, all of who they are to any situation in which they find themselves.
So my emotions in this simple moment of sporting triumph are complicated – grateful at what this symbolizes about our progress on gender, yet unsatisfied but still hopeful at the progress we still need to make in advancing true societal transformation in race, gender, and sexual identity. And when I look at our child, and what this ultimately small moment means, I am inspired to work for so much more.
Please follow this blog by subscribing at the bottom of this page. And please follow me on Twitter and Instagram: