What If We Were Free?: Riley Curry and Blackgirl Freedom


Unlike many of my homegirls, my love with basketball goes far beyond the 2000 film featuring Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps. While I have never been able to play worth a damn (I’m an artist, not an athlete), my mama and older sister were basketball stars in our small town (my sister famously played on the boy’s team when we were in middle school, and gave them all they could handle). Work, life, bills and responsibilities (and the fact that I have not been fully wed to a professional team since the 90’s Bulls), I am generally disconnected from the NBA until this time of year when I jump on somebody’s bandwagon. This year was no different. I’ve been tuning in to the playoffs and post-game press conferences to see what’s what. Last night was no different. Enter Riley Curry, the two-year old daughter of 2015 NBA MVP Steph Curry.

While it is not uncommon for athletes to attend post-game interviews with their mini-me’s in tow, Riley Curry has sparked some interesting controversy following her father’s post-game interviews this week. On one hand, I get it. Reporters are frustrated because they are trying to do their job and the intermittent interruptions of a two-year old is a distraction. I have certainly been that chick at the restaurant, in the mall, or on the airplane who has wanted nothing more than for a parent to “control” their energetic and restless child who was kicking my seat, talking too loud, whining or wailing, invading my personal space, or otherwise vying for attention. I have also been around my fair share of two year olds (they don’t call it the terrible twos for nothing), and therefore find it unreasonable (and ridiculous) to expect a restless, bored and rightfully self-centered toddler to be still or be quiet. If anything, Riley’s presence has made an otherwise run of the mill presser entertaining. I also find it troubling that it is not until a little blackgirl is in the spotlight that it is suddenly a problem to bring children to the podium. The daddy-daughter dynamic seems to be less appealing to sports reporters than father-son.

PJ ain’t about that life


So, since this didn’t cause a controversy, I guess this is what “respectable blackgirls” look like in public.

There are several dynamics happening, 1) an attempt to controversialize black male athletes’ relationship to media (remember Marshawn Lynch?), 2) an opportunity to recalibrate how black athletes have been characterized as fathers of small children (remember Adrian Peterson?), and 3) a policing of blackgirls via politics of respectability. I don’t think people know what to do with a blackgirl who is free and a father who is fostering, rather than stifling, that freedom.

Politics of respectability require a two year old to “act like a young lady.” Society wants her to do what society expects all women (and evidently girl-children) to do in public. They want her to sit, look pretty, be quiet, not take up space, not demand attention, not make a scene, not talk (back), and not move. If Riley were a mute prop, her presence on the stage with her father would be welcome. If Riley were a boy-child, her antics would be dismissed as biologically inherent peacocking. If she were white, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Children are unpredictable which is what makes them wonderful. They are expressive and creative and hopeful and forgiving, and until they are taught to be otherwise, free. But black children are not often allowed to be free. They can’t afford to be free. Their parents have to teach them the rules of being a black child, not for respectability, but for survival. So for many black children, their behavior is restricted from an early age. They are conditioned, especially in public, to be seen and not heard. These lessons and warnings, however, are missed on a toddler. She doesn’t understand that people are reading and scripting her through stereotypes (misogynoir for blackgirls), and she is not concerned about the ways her ease and comfort make others uncomfortable. She’s free and I, for one, celebrate her freedom as rebellion against those who don’t want her to be as free as she is, perhaps as free as she’ll ever (get to) be.

Come through Ms. Riley, the world is watching!


36 thoughts on “What If We Were Free?: Riley Curry and Blackgirl Freedom

  1. I laugh every time I watch these clips. It’s hilarious to watch a little black girl completely disregard respectability politics. She seems like any other 2 year old that wants her dad’s attention. Now, do I think she might have been showing off? Oh yes! She’s got us all wrapped around her finger. And it’s awesome!

  2. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” May Riley Curry always be free.

    1. Oh! That quote belongs on my wall and constantly in my heart! Amazing!

  3. Yes, come through Riley! I love your analysis around misogynoir and white supremacy’s constant work to police/script black bodies. Tied to the contempt for this precious child’s precocious behavior is the fact that Black children lack the same assumption of innocence as their white peers. While we condemn Riley’s behavior and her father for “allowing it,” we miss that she’s actually exhibiting traits of a very well-adjusted child whose social/emotional functioning is off the charts. Free Riley and all Black babies thriving despite an unwelcoming world.


  4. Every word of this! Yes! We have to fight to ensure our children remain as free as they want to be.

  5. “If she were white, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

    This thought crossed my mind before I even read this sentence, though it did so in the interrogative rather than the declarative. I wonder if that were actually true–whether there was some recent example of young white children with their dads at the post-game presser. I wonder whether others would have the same reaction — or maybe your point stands because we don’t hear about it as much.

    But I digress. I went to Davidson with Steph, and given his humility, high character and approachability, it doesn’t surprise me in the least he would be so open and patient with his daughter while continuing to be the consummate professional. Hats off to Riley for being awesome and adding even more things to celebrate during this great run the Warriors are having.

  6. I, too, question if this doesn’t also happen to white girls; my work with women tells me that this imposition of submission and “respectability” is universally applied. But, no, it is deeper …

    THEN I asked myself (since I don’t follow sports and am not familiar with these interview scenarios) if bringing children to the interviews is done by all players or only black ones as a mean of (consciously or not) humanizing and “de-thugging” themselves to overcome the racist tropes that plague them as black men, particularly big and fit, talented, successful, and wealthy black men that pose imagined threats on so many levels?

    1. This is a really good observation. It’s quite clear that the NBA has gone through a large “de-thugging” transformation in the past decade. You never see players dress or hold themselves out like Iverson or Latrell Sprewell anymore. Durant wears a backpack, Westbrook dresses geek-chic, and Wade like he just got back from Milan. I’m sure the league had a lot to do with it, but I’m sure the players who are chasing endorsement deals know full well the value of a non-“thug” image.

      Curry, Chris Paul, and others who bring their kids… I find it hard to be cynical about that because it probably is difficult for them to play on the road a lot and not see their families much. Sure, non-millionaire working people might have it worse in terms of being away from their kids, but guys like Curry have the ability to some father-daughter time while giving a press conference, so they do (I’d do the same if I were him).

  7. That interview was awesome it showed that kids will be kids. Let them have their freedom and they will grow into the person their parents want them to be. I back her actions up 100% she was just happy to be with her daddy and in a room full of people who were their to praise her dad, what’s wrong with that.

  8. Such. A. Reach. My goodness. The author begins by saying she understands journalist are just trying to do their jobs and then basically captions the pic of Kobe’s older daughters sitting quietly as respectability politics in progress. WHAT? Nobody expects a 2 yr old to “act like a lady,” they expect to be able to do their job without a toddler interferring point blank, period. You gave several examples of black players with their own black kids who have never had an issue and then tried to make it about race. Huh??? I 100% agree allowing children to be children, but that needs to be in an environment that allows them to do so, not a got dern press conference. She does not embody anything or represent any thing other than a 2 yr old being two. Let’s not make this more than what it is.

    1. I don’t know….the writer may be on to something here. Maybe this wasn’t an example of the policing of black bodies- I have not witnessed the criticism in this case so I can’t say for sure. However, I do know that our society prefers to restrict women and people of color-mainly blacks, A a black woman, I have always felt pressured to “control” my black children in public as if I had to prove something to a very white world…that we are civil or capable of being orderly. This was because I feared being judged. All the while I would see white children being children-playing,cutting up/acting out in public and receive no stares of judgment and disgust.

      1. I agree Michelle. In certain environments, we as Black women may feel we need to bite our tongue on certain issues that need a voice because we may get the “angry black woman” sterotype. This article definitely shows how the two tie in to each other.

      2. I dunno. I have judged all parents – black, white, asian, hispanic – when they are lackadaisical in supervising their children. As well as been judged – by again pretty much anyone you can think of – , when others didn’t understand the reasoning for my actions/inaction. Furthermore, if you travel through the world in many places parents have a lot more pressure to supervise and teach their children how they should behave in public.

        That isn’t to say what is right or wrong, but simply to say that as a parent that judgement goes around.

        Also, this isn’t to say that Steph did anything wrong either. I think this is something that has received more attention that it needs. Riley is a child, and children have all different types of personalities. Twins can be totally different. Perhaps Riley is a bit more extroverted than most children. There are plenty of shy children that would not even peep when seeing a crowd of adults. We don’t know what happens at home, so its really none of our business.

  9. I especially enjoyed my time with two toddlers at an 8th grade graduation. My Eritrean friends grand female child and my friends white grandson. At the best time with my black niece and nephews. Watching these kids running around during ceremony lightens my heart. All child distractions do.

  10. The only people making this controversial are the misguided who have to fill a blog.

    The press are narcissistic, as are those who write to get press.

    It was a tired little girl who was bored, not a platform for ill-advised political commentary.

  11. Write on, my sister!!! And a huge thank you to Steph and Riley, Riley’s obviously awesome mommy and her grandparents. Her freedom is a reflection of them all. Looking forward to seeing her little sibling exhibit that beautiful Curry freedom, too!

  12. TeamRiley!!!!. Too funny how people take the smallest things and run w/ it. Maybe this child just wants her Dad to herself and was fighting for his attention. She could have been so much worse, I really think they are mad cause Dad allowed her to just be her.

  13. This is getting so annoying! “This little black girl” ” this black girl” effing hell.

    This little adorable girl is just beautiful and so freaking cute.

    I have eyes no need to emphasis.

  14. Anyone having a problem with Riley being on stage with her dad can have a seat ..Too damn bad if you’re reporter supposedly trying to do a job.. Reporters find ways to do their jobs and dig up unnecessary dirt on players.. They find ways to gossip about players … Reporters often work for outlets that cheer lead and act as stenographers for those in power..where they rarely challenge and raise the difficult questions.. As a journalist who has had to do interviews under the craziest of circumstances.. tear gas, gun shots, in a room with 50 other people vying to get a question in..in a place where you get to ask no questions at all.. etc, you figure out a way to get your story, get your quote and move the f–k on..

    To be honest a really good reporter worth his /her salt wouldn’t need a press conference to get an interview or quote with Curry or any other player.. Lets focus on that aspect for a minute..

  15. Thank you for this! I remember what happened with the amazing and beautiful little girl, Quvenzhane Wallis, who was nominated for an Oscar from Beasts of the Southern Wild. She was 9 years old when some piece of dung, made a “joke”, “Everyone seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of a cunt right?” Remember that?!!! Most of us were horrified, while a lot of people laughed it off, after all, the comment came from a known online satirical source. I understand that some are “afraid” to come off as making race about everything, and we are living in a society that at this time and place, race is just about almost everything! Black women and especially Black little girls are under attack every day. When our first Black First Lady can’t attend a fantastic event, “Black Girls Rock” without being criticize for being “non inclusionary.” We got some problems. At this point, we have got to stand strong around our females and give them the place to: act silly, be kids, and we need to tell the media and “fools” to sit down and shut the hell up!

  16. “The daddy-daughter dynamic seems to be less appealing to sports reporters than father-son.”
    You failed to establish any foundation whatsoever for this assertion. In fact, a female reporter can clearly be heard making a rude “This again??” comment upon seeing Riley at the last press conference with her Dad. Yet no one has held that female reporter to account yet. It is not okay to casually exploit Riley Curry for your own personal political beliefs, no matter the intent. Other than that, it was a good commentary.

  17. This is a bit much. I think a quick search of the internet will tell you that America thinks Riley Curry is the MVP of the NBA playoffs by a large margin. There have been a couple sports journalists that have made noise, and they have all been roundly mocked as self-important blowhards. This is especially true among sports fans, who detest the sports media with a passion. Skip Bayless vs Cute and Precocious Toddler? No contest, Riley wins by a landslide.

    Also, notice that the NBA isn’t saying anything negative about this. There are Riley videos on the NBA.com website. Sports leagues don’t force athletes to do post-game pressers because they believe in the sanctity of sports journalism, they do it because it’s free publicity. Riley is better press than the NBA could ever hope to buy (look at how Riley has won the internet– many people didn’t even know the playoffs have been underway until they saw the videos). Under Armour made a special pair of toddler-sized Curry One’s just for Riley–you can bet they love the publicity. They’ll probably start encouraging all the stars to bring their kids to pressers.

    The best take I saw was on the WSJ, with the headline “Sports Needs More of Riley Curry”:

    “But her mild hijacking of the postgame tranquility has been a reminder that the overly serious and consuming business of adults getting paid to play games could also use a little bit of levity. Too often we treat sporting events like they’re open-heart surgeries; we buy into the cringe-worthy war metaphors; grown humans pummel each other in parking lots over contrasting taste in mesh jerseys.”

    Yep, sports is really all just about playing games. Playing. Games.

    I understand your concern about politics of respectability, but in this case I think the vast majority of people (the non-morons, anyway) just see her as an adorable and hilarious little girl.

    (btw, yes I am a huge GSW and Steph Curry fan. Riley is probably the most popular person in the Bay Area right now, so I might be a bit biased)

  18. I’m not black, nor am I female, but the “seen but not heard’ method of raising children was used on me. I think, perhaps more in the white community, a more tolerant child rearing model is now prevalent, and I don’t deny there are real pressures on black parents to warn their children about the dangers racial prejudice that so obviously exhibit, but if I had acted like Riley Curry when my Dad was talking, there would have been heavy consequences and my parents would have been embarrassed by their peers. I am very thankful that things have changed, and I think for the better.

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