It didn’t take long for Fox News and Republicans to try to erase President Joe Biden’s success in securing the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner. The right-wing machine has spent nearly every moment since the announcement trash-talking Griner—who they claim “hates America”—and Biden, who they blame for the continued Russian incarceration of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.
According to lipless wonder Tucker Carlson of Fox News, Biden “chose Brittney Griner over Paul Whelan” because “Whelan is a Trump voter” and Griner “despises the United States.” And it doesn’t really need to be mentioned, but of course, Carlson mentions that Griner is “a lesbian” before quickly insisting that that should be irrelevant. Then why mention it, Tucker?
As The Root’s Stephanie Holland skillfully writes: “Griner is a high-profile queer Black woman who has been critical of the United States and the national anthem. Those are her rights as an American citizen, but for some, that meant she should be abandoned in Russia.”
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The two-time Olympic Gold medalist was held in a Russian prison for months on drug charges, but was freed Thursday and back on a plane after the White House successfully negotiated a one-for-one prisoner exchange for her release. Russia will be welcoming home international arms dealer Viktor Bout, cutting his 25-year federal prison sentence, CBS News reports.
Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” was arrested in 2008 in Thailand by the Drug Enforcement Agency. He was convicted of conspiring to murder Americans. CNN reports the Kremlin called his sentencing in 2012 “baseless and biased.”
But it’s Whelan’s release (or lack thereof) that has conservatives up in arms.
Whelan was detained in a hotel in Russia in 2018 and later sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The Washington Post reports that Whelan was discharged from the Marines in 2008 after he was convicted of charges related to larceny. He went on to work in corporate security. When he was arrested in Russia, his attorney said he had a flash drive on him with “state secrets.” Whelan told authorities he believed the drive held holiday photos.
“We never forget about Brittney,” Biden said Thursday. “And we’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who’s been unjustly detained in Russia for years. This was not a choice of which American to bring home. We brought home Trevor Reed, when we had a chance earlier this year. Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up,” he said.
Despite Biden’s efforts and his determination to continue working on Whelan’s release, people like conservative podcast host Benny Johnson and Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn want to divide the nation and pit one American against another.
Biden had no choice about which American he could get out of a Russian prison. He took the best offer he got. One American citizen is better than no American citizens.
Here’s the other truth: Whelan’s family released a statement supporting Griner’s release.
And it wouldn’t be a Black joy-killer if it didn’t include comments from former President Donald Trump.
“What kind of a deal is it to swap Brittney Griner, a basketball player who openly hates our country for the man known as ‘The Merchant of Death,'” Trump posted on Truth Social. “What a stupid and unpatriotic embarrassment for the USA,” he added.
What Trump should be embarrassed about is himself. At the time of Whelan’s sentencing, Donald Trump was the president. The Trump administration, famously friendly to Russia, couldn’t negotiate Whelan’s release, either.
And now this, from a man who rarely, if ever, had a kind word to say about any Black woman, much less a Black athlete. And let’s not forget Trump’s negotiation for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners in 2020. Kettle, meet the Black pot.
But we should not let them steal this moment from us.
As the author of the critically acclaimed book Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration, Tracey Michae'l Lewis-Giggetts describes her Black joy as “its own kind of resistance.”
Or, as Imani Perry wrote for The Atlantic, “Joy is not found in the absence of pain and suffering. It exists through it. … Blackness is an immense and defiant joy."