The great sports and culture writer Jemele Hill has watched Brooklyn Nets embattled star Kyrie Irving for a long time. And while she has been careful to note the difference in orders of magnitude between the activism of Irving and, say, that of the NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Hill has been nevertheless quick to shout out Irving’s positive efforts in the past.
Back in 2020, Hill admirably cited how Irving set up a $1.5 million fund to support WNBA players who lost their livelihoods during the Covid-19 lockdown.
So Hill, to be clear, is no Irving hater. Nor is she of the belief that athletes shouldn’t express political opinions — just the opposite, in fact.
Which is why she has tried, with a layered article for The Atlantic, to contemplate what leads a man like Irving, who considers himself a “seeker of truth,” down the conspiracy roads he so often travels. Hill does a very succinct and searching job of dissecting the Irving situation.
I watched the documentary and am baffled it ever got platformed. Amazon needs to also be held accountable. https://t.co/YRarW6NO8n— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) November 5, 2022
Hill writes that “Irving has joined a troubling club of high-profile Black male celebrities—also including the rapper Kanye West—who have stubbornly embraced conspiracy theories, particularly anti-Semitic ones, under the pretext of seeking a deeper truth about their own origins.”
That this pretext of seeking the story of their own origins allows perverse theories to sneak through is hardly a surprise — because when you are trying to think about the unthinkable, the mind is put in a vulnerable position. And what could be more unthinkable — unimaginable — that a history of slavery and racial bias so heavy and so plainly and painfully wrong that anything that ventures to explain it — in Irving’s case, anti-Semitism — can seem worthy of consideration, even if — of course — it is truly not worthy.
“There is nothing wrong,” Hill writes, “with Black men examining their roots to better understand their place in history or in the world, but it’s hard to believe that this can’t be done without advancing ideas that denigrate others.”
It is hard for Hill and others to believe, yes, but it has proven all too believable — this temptation to embrace denigrating ideas. How else, but through convenient lies, to explain the unexplainable?
Hill laments Irving’s “couching ideas in shallow intellectualism, or just claiming to be misunderstood” and thinking that it’s “enough to shield him from any real criticism.” As her own article proves, Irving’s couching is no shield from criticism. But criticism is having a hard time stopping the denigration, too.