“Has anyone ever told you that you have an attitude problem?”

The landlord of my first apartment had been avoiding returning my security deposit for weeks. I was a polite 23-year-old but insistent about what I was owed — I think I may have implied a knowledge of real estate law and thrown in a “forthwith” or two. Unable to find a legitimate reason to just keep my money, he instead implied that the real problem was me, exaggeratedly wiggling his neck when he spat the word “attitude” like he was an extra on “Good Times.” And while he never said the words “angry Black woman,” I could hear them loud and clear.

I have told that story more than once in the week since Baltimore’s Angel Reese helped lead the Louisiana State University Tigers to the NCAA women’s basketball championship, mostly in conversation with other Black women with similar experiences. Reese was called an “idiot” and a piece of excrement by grown men for the same sort of trash talk that earned Caitlin Clark, the standout from rival University of Iowa, a cutesy nickname as the “the queen of clap backs.”

Like my landlord, they didn’t have to call Reese an angry Black woman. They just said “aggressive.” With the hard “R.” Black women everywhere, including more than few of Reese’s fellow native Baltimoreans, heard it, too. And we have her back.

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“I love how she’s carried things ever since they won,” said Nia Daughtry of Baltimore, who coordinates recreational activities for children at Police Athletic League centers in the county. “She refused to let them make her feel small, to think she had to humble herself and feel like less than the champion she actually is. She didn’t go out and throw boiling water in anyone’s face. She literally was a mirror, reflecting what she received. If anyone knows anything about Baltimore, that’s what we do.”

My friend Caron LeNoir, a Baltimore native who now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has three daughters, sees the city in her, too. “I love that girl! Angel Reese is a Black girl who comes off like a hood chick, this girl from Baltimore. She is completely unapologetic about the fact that she knows how good she is, and she’s going to talk back when someone disrespects her. She’s like ‘What’s your point? I still won.’”

More than one person has told me that the clutching of pearls surrounding Reese for behavior that was championed in Clark isn’t about race, but that’s simply not true. I think that for some white viewers, this extravagantly eyelashed and coiffed young woman is a symbol of an exaggerated Blackness that scares them. And for some Black people, she’s a betrayal of the respectability politics we were taught to obey — to hide our light under a smiling, non-threatening facade. But Reese, and many of her generation, are over it.

“This young woman said, ‘Nah, I’m good. You can keep that,’” said Cheryl L. Bedford, a Baltimore native who is now an NAACP Image Award-nominated film producer in Los Angeles and the founder of Women of Color Unite, which fights for access and fair pay for women in entertainment and media. And she feels the same way about herself. “You can shame me into acting some way you want me to act, but that’s never gonna happen.”

Some of you might not be familiar with the term “respectability politics,” but you’ve seen it in practice in how now-Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson had to sit stoically while Republicans berated her during her confirmation hearings, while Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Boebert can heckle the president and keep their jobs. It’s how Angela Bassett was recently criticized, as Daughtry noted, for “daring to be disappointed” when she didn’t win an Oscar and not immediately clapping for Jamie Lee Curtis, while no one seemed to notice that fellow losing actress Kerry Condon, who is white, didn’t immediately clap either.

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“My family is from the South, so a lot of that is baked in: to be gracious, not to be boisterous and not to overly celebrate,” Daughtry said. “It was always about someone else’s impression of what I was supposed to be, getting to be either gracious or stank about it. We have to perform niceness.”

No apologies from LSU star Angel Reese: ‘This was for the girls that look like me’

I think young people like Reese have seen their mothers and grandmothers swallow their pain to get ahead, to be nice, and still get crapped on, so they’re done hiding their light and commencing with just being awesome without apology. We’ve seen Reese refuse to accept the apology of first lady Jill Biden, who said she wanted to invite both Louisiana State and runners-up Iowa to the White House when usually only the winners come. I admit that initially activated my own protectiveness and respectability ― my fear that this could go badly for Reese if she wasn’t gracious. But that’s not for me to say.

”It’s not for young Black girls to give [Biden] grace. They don’t owe her that,” Daughtry said.

Bedford has a starker take. “What Jill Biden did was violence. She erased Angel’s accomplishments. Nobody is above being held accountable for their actions,” she said. “We’ve told young people to stand in their authenticity, not just at the times that it agrees with us.”

She’s right. Grown ladies like us did what we had to do to make sure that young women like LeNoir’s daughters or Reese don’t have to care if people throw their confidence and talent back in their faces. We taught them well, and now we have to let them fly.

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“I think that, yeah, I am protective of these women, but it ain’t our time,” Bedford said. “When they need us, they will ask us. I’m good with stepping aside. My one job on this planet is to make this world a better place for the next generation. We crawled so they could walk, and these kinds coming up are gonna run. They’re going to be better than we ever were. It’s our job to buck them up and get out of the way. They got this.”