Think racism is dead in America? Think once we elected a black man as POTUS (twice!) we had all joined hands, sang “Kumbaya,” and decided we’d no longer judge people on the color of their skin, but by the content of their character?
Ashton Brooks of Midland, Michigan, knows this all too well. She’s a star kicker for the Dow football team, rivals to Midland, and second-ranked team in the league at 8-1. She came out for football for the first time this year, and was assigned as placekicker — where she’s only missed two kicks in Saginaw League games, coming up at 29 of 31 extra points so far this year. This is more than anyone else in the league.
The high school senior is the first girl to play varsity football in town — for either Dow or rival Midland. Both her older and younger brothers played football for the Chargers, and she says she just has “this drive to try new things and dare to be different.” Her coach is quoted as saying that she’s “the best kicker in the program. And she’s one of the best kickers we’ve had in a long time.”
Ashton not only plays football, she also anchors two traveling soccer teams. She has soccer practice Monday and Tuesday, football on Wednesday and Thursday, Friday night football games, and then Saturday and Sunday soccer games. This is a girl with a serious athletic schedule that leaves her with zero days off. She’s driven to succeed — there’s no doubt about it. And her drive has paid off; she earned a partial soccer scholarship to Northwood University, where she’ll also receive a scholarship based on her academic merit. Basically, with her 3.2 GPA, she’s your high school overachiever with a serious football talent.
But Ashton isn’t immune to racism. This week, at the Midland-Dow football game, Instagram user mollymuuck posted a photo of herself with a boy in a gorilla suit, with the caption, “got a pic with dows kicker ;)” The boy wears Midland-blue shorts over his suit; it’s not clear if he wore the suit explicitly to mock Ashton, or if he was just a teenage boy in a gorilla suit at a football game. As of the time the screenshot taken by Shaun King, who first brought the event to media attention, eight people had liked the photo. The photo has since been removed, and no disciplinary action has yet been taken.
Ashton is a student who deserves nothing but accolades, for her academics and athleticism. But even still, racists attempt to drag her down into the mud with the old gorilla association — the idea that black people are physically stronger than whites, but less intelligent. Complete and utter hateful bullshit.
When Ashton joined the football team, she was welcomed as one of the team. Her coach agrees that she’s not “Ashton, the girl kicker, she’s Ashton, a member of the team.” Brooks said, “I’ve gotten to know the guys — and a lot of them I’ve know since I was little — they’re really accepting of me now and the community supports me.”
It’s easier for a girl to be accepted as a member of an all-male football team than it is for a successful Black girl to avoid virulent racism.
Racism is alive and well in America. It lives and breathes and has its being in small towns (and cities too, of course) all across this great country. And if you don’t believe me, think of Ashton Brooks.