There is a famous woman in African-American pop culture that no one knows anything about, mostly because she rose like a phoenix and flamed out, never to be heard from again.
I call her the “Right On!! Woman.” She came to fame as a regular audience member during the filming of the 1970s Good Times sitcom, which, as we all remember, was “filmed in front of a live studio audience.”
She punctuated poignant moments of the show with a sassy “Right on!!” whenever a cast member uttered something — a swipe at high unemployment, police brutality, for instance — that stilled the laughter and momentarily shifted the focus to more pressing issues that Black folks have learned to laugh about in order to keep from crying. This is all she is remembered for.
I don’t want 2017 NBA Finals and former league MVP Kevin Durant and other African-American athletes opting to not meet with President Donald Trump when it is time to visit the White House as the champions of their respective sports to become the Right On!! Woman. However, if they choose to not meet with Trump, this is who these great athletes run the risk of becoming.
In avoiding the White House, you will get your social justice moment. The 24-hour news cycle will cheer your symbolic-but-non-substantive heroism, regurgitate it when another athlete repeats it, and then be done with you. Black barbershops will buzz about you for keeping it 100 from time to time, but mostly this is going to be the extent of its impact.
Let me suggest something a little bolder and far more ambitious.
Change your mind, and don’t tell anyone why; that will suck the media in. You and your boys are good at not commenting on things, so you don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why you now all of a sudden intend to give Trump an audience. This creates intrigue, builds the requisite buzz celebrities thirst after, and sets the Internet aflame with unquenchable anticipation.
The NBA champs usually make their trip to the Rose Garden prior to a game with the Washington Wizards. Durant and his Golden State Warrior teammates face the Washington Wizards on Feb. 28, so the visit is likely going to take place during Black History Month — perfect.
The trip amounts to little more than a photo op, so the players usually just shake the president’s hand, snap a few photos and then leave. However, if Durant is there, the media will once again want to know why he did his 180.
Durant could state that the president, while scavenging for votes, asked African Americans in typically condescending fashion, “What the hell have you got to lose?” in voting for him. Durant could tell the media that he wants to know why Trump would suggest such a thing then but now be willing to aid and abet white racists in Charlottesville, Va.
He could ask Trump about the Feb. 27 meeting with 70 presidents of historically Black colleges and universities, a meeting in which Trump vowed to “absolutely prioritize” Black colleges. If this is the case, why is the oldest one, Cheyney University, on the brink of extinction under your watch? Was this little more than a Black History photo op you took on the advice of trusted aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman?
Durant could tell the gathered media, if Trump is so interested in uniting a country that is as deeply divided as it has been in decades, why did he tweet out an inflammatory picture of a masked, dark-skinned man pointing a handgun that included the lie that in 2015 Blacks were responsible for 81 percent of white homicide victims. This was information he pulled from a “Crime Statistics Bureau” in San Francisco that doesn’t even exist.
You know how all of this would be received; it’s what is known as a bombshell. An athlete shows up in the Rose Garden and delivers a series of questions that the president hopes never come up or that he has indelicately avoided. This doesn’t evaporate harmlessly in the barber shops from Compton, Calif. to Camden, N.J.; it sticks around — for years and years.
And most importantly, it is not a “Right on!!” moment.