Created By: Claire Constant
Amongst many other important things, this course taught me the power of sharing your story. Ernestine Hayes, Terese Mailhot, or Audra Simpson on Eunice Williams, are just a few of the inspiring story-tellers that have been introduced to me this semester. While my digital map does not have a deep Indigenous cultural background, the Indigenous histories are what have allowed me to tell my story.
Upon arriving at the University of Virginia, I identified myself as a soccer player. That was it. Not a woman of color, not as a scholar, not as a sister or daughter. I lived in this world full of fear that I was not good enough in any other category.
I excelled at sports at a very young age. It was something that I honestly didn’t have to try too hard at. I am naturally a very, very competitive person; I love to win, but hate to lose even more. I was lucky because my parents played sports growing up and from the start of my athletic career, they have been incredibly supportive. My two best friends played alongside me in almost every sport that I tried from the age of 12 to the age of 18. I had the perfect set up to make sports my entire life.
In fifth grade, the seed of my identity struggle was planted, and blossomed into a crisis very quickly. My friends started to talk to and “date” boys (I include quotes around date because at that age it was a Facebook status rather than a real relationship). I didn’t have any boys interested in me, not the ones that I wanted or the ones that my friends were interested in. The boys I am referring to were all white boys. Now, it’s not that I was necessarily getting rejected, I actually never put myself out there out of fear. I knew that they wouldn’t like me and I knew that I would not have been able to handle that rejection. This is a theme that would develop considerably and in many other aspects of my life.
Although my high school was extremely diverse, that didn’t really impact my predominantly white friend group. While I was able to make friends outside of my friend group that were of different races, I then encountered a new internal conflict. I was often told that I spoke “white” or dressed “white”; leading to this constant feeling of being “too white” for my black friends but “too black” for my white friends. This was hard for me as instead of being able to embrace who I was, I felt like once again I resorted to just being that “soccer girl.” I hid behind athletic awards and honors, making it so that my identity were my athletic accomplishments. This worked for me until I stepped into my first practice with the University of Virginia women’s soccer team.
When committing to college, at the time it was the norm to verbally commit to a school around your sophomore or junior year of high school. I made the decision to go to the University of Virginia (UVA) when I was 15 years old and when you really think about that, it is absolutely insane. All I knew about the school was that they had a very good soccer program and I loved the head coach. I did not know it was a PWI or even what a PWI was at the time. I had no knowledge of Thomas Jefferson or the history of the school. I was a 15 year-old girl who just knew she wanted to say she was going to play soccer for a top program.
In my first season at UVA, my playing time was inconsistent; I never once started and some games I played 70 out of 90 minutes, while others I played less than 6 minutes. This was an entirely new experience for me as I started every game I played growing up for every team I was on. I had never worried about if or when I was going to play. While I was aware that I was just not good enough to be on the field consistently, this first season led me to question everything. I found myself unintentionally losing the passion and drive for the sport that unlike anything else in my life, I had always been sure of.
This developing confusion lasted through the following spring and pushed me into what some might call a “darkness.” My lack of success on the field initiated a hunt, in which I was looking elsewhere to thrive. I landed in all the wrong places and instead of then pushing myself in the classroom or finding other hobbies that piqued my interest, I became a cliche; I got a boyfriend and pushed everyone and everything away. I truly did not know who I was anymore, I believed that if I could be the social butterfly that I wasn’t in high school and fulfill my dream of dating a football player that I would find happiness. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In 2020, I was ending my second year and going into my third. My second season was not much better than my first, nearly worse as I found myself struggling with injuries for good portions of the season. Injuries were another challenge I had not faced until college. My journey through this darkness was ongoing and while being home due to COVID allowed for some clarity, it was the horrific murder of George Floyd that lit a new flame in me.
The only other racially motivated tragic event that was discussed between my coach and I transpired right before coming to UVA. The Unite the Right rally that took place in August of 2017 was another event that I didn’t learn about until coming to college. When my coach called me just months before I was meant to report to grounds to ask if I was still comfortable to move in, I had no idea what he was talking about; Therefore, with a prompt “yes,” the conversation ended there.
Now fast forward to the summer of 2020; the Black Lives Matter is in full swing and the combination of COVID, Zoom, and the political climate sparked what I would call a “trend” of conversation within teams, companies, etc. The reason I call it a trend is because almost every single discussion initiated by my coach felt almost like an obligation or a poorly rehearsed script. Now this isn’t to say that my coach didn’t care about what was going on and the feelings of the three black girls on the team, I just couldn’t help but ask, “Why now?”
Although I live by the saying, “better late than never,” it was definitely frustrating to be going into my third year with this team and only just now having these important conversations. It was even more disappointing when every Zoom meeting to discuss the Black Lives Matter Movement, the racist history and current climate of the university fell to the three black players. With that being said, I can’t lie and say that this didn’t force me to dive deeper into my own personal feelings with what was going on and develop a real curiosity. This was the beginning of finding an identity at the University of Virginia and on the women’s soccer team.
Colin Kaepernick lost his job for peacefully protesting injustice; In 2017, after protesting police brutality for about 5 months by kneeling for the national anthem, Kapernick would not be signed by another NFL team. While obviously gaining national attention, his actions drew a more negative response than a positive one. It didn’t help that only a few athletes of his stature seemed to stand with him. In 2020, more and more athletes took to kneeling during the national anthem as a form of protest. This, once again, was met with backlash but this time the sheer number and range of athletes that were taking part countered the negativity.
In Zora’s Daughters Podcast, Brendane Tynes and Alyssa A.L. James helps define the term ‘praxis’ and help listeners better understand by putting it in context. To recap, praxis is a non-linear practice that also combines theory and values (Zora’s Daughters Podcast). Praxis is an ongoing process rather than a destination. I was able to connect this lesson from Tynes and James to what I experienced that 2020 season.
Due to COVID, our soccer season that normally takes place from August to early December, was spread out over both the fall and spring. The conference tournament ended our fall season but we would be competing in the NCAA tournament in the spring. The NCAA tournament concludes with the national championship which draws national attention. When we began our 2020 fall season, about 85% of the team got down on one knee while the national anthem played to start each game; but, by the time we got to the NCAA tournament, 3 of us were still kneeling.
Tynes and James talk about the concept of rehearsal versus performance; James makes a controversial point about trying to understand “allies” as coming from a genuine place of rehearsal rather than labeling them as “performative” when they say the wrong thing. This was the first time I had heard someone put into words the thought I had been having since 2020. It made me reflect on the aforementioned 2020 season as I had felt a level of animosity towards my teammates who stopped kneeling, and wondered if I had been unfair.
My feelings were valid.
Rehearsal requires vulnerability. When I asked a few of the girls why they made the decision to stop protesting I got these answers such as, “I honestly just forgot”; and, “my uncle who served in the military is coming to the game.” These responses proved what I had thought to be true when I looked around and realized that I was just one of three still kneeling, some of my teammates had proven to be performative activists. They lacked the praxis that they had once loudly applied. We worked hard to get to a stage this grand that could amplify our voices, knowing that we would be on display and more exposed than ever. While I know that life is cyclical and that according to Leanne Betasamosake Simpson there is no final big moment, this seemed like a moment of opportunity to progress in this journey of liberation.
It is now 2022, I am finishing up my fourth year and am preparing to come back in the fall to play one final season. I still kneel for the national anthem; additionally, I continue to learn and educate others about not just my history but also the narratives of those who remain silenced. This course has given me the opportunity to start conversations about the Indigenous lives that have and continue to be disrupted. The stories of Indigenous people deserve to be heard and understood as it is what share’s one’s truth.
My story has shaped me into the person and player I am today; I am the starting center back for a top 10 Division I team, I was voted to be on the leadership committee within my team, and I am graduating from one of the best schools in the United States. Despite all of those accomplishments, I am most proud of who I am and where I come from. I am half-Haitian and I am half-American, I am Claire Constant.