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Black NWSL players speak: Darian Jenkins transcript

Darian Jenkins’ full conversation discussing life as a Black athlete in NWSL right now.

W-League Semi Final - Melbourne Victory v Sydney Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images

Ed. note: This is a transcript of Darian Jenkins’ interview with Bria Felicien, discussing life as a pro Black athlete in the National Women’s Soccer League during a period of turmoil in the US. We thought it was important to publish her full comments for readers, as Jenkins expands on topics like Black identity, the stress of educating people on anti-racism, existing in predominantly white spaces, and more. You can find the original article here, and the transcript of Bria’s interview with Taylor Smith here. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

All for XI: How are you doing? How are you feeling?

Darian Jenkins: I’m okay. I’m not gonna lie, I felt a little strange on Monday, our first day being here, our first day training. Because we didn’t really talk about what was going on, we kind of just jumped into training. So it was difficult. It has been really difficult, I guess, for me to feel mentally there when, you know, you come home and turn on the news or open your phone and you see everything that’s going on. I’m feeling a little bit better. I’ve got some good friends that I’ve been speaking to, my Black friends that I’ve been speaking to, and I just have to realize that where I’m at is where I’m supposed to be right now. I can use my platform to actually talk about these things. So kind of just have to keep that in my head, and things are feeling a little bit better.

AfXI: Your friends - they’re by phone or text?

DJ: Some of them are here and then I have friends on other teams, and then my boyfriend is Black so we’ve been talking a lot about it and how his coaches are handling things. So yeah, it’s a lot of people to relate to right now which is good.

AfXI: I was gonna ask this question because I’m struggling - I’m working from home, but to get motivated to work, that’s just my mind and sitting there, but you have to get your mind and your body and like your soul, just everything, to go play. Is it affecting you physically?

DJ: Not so much physically. I feel good physically but it’s been hard to feel present here. And emotionally when my heart is aching for everything else that’s going on, and I’m not actually a part of it or doing anything. But like I said I have to keep in my mind that in like, YouTube, we have this platform, which is amazing. And two Black women sitting here talking about it, I really am glad that you reached out to want to do this interview. So I think that’ll kind of help me feel a little more settled in the situation.

AfXI: I saw you said if you could protest you would. How do you deal with that, feeling like you want to do something but can’t?

DJ: I’m not big on social media. It’s pretty much soccer. But I was like, you know what, I’ve got so many kids that follow me and little Black girls and boys that are watching my career and what I’m gonna say and do, so I was like, you know what, let me educate…. My state, where I’m registered, Utah isn’t voting right now. But encourage people to vote and read these books. Read Tony Morrison, read James Baldwin, etcetera. Just try to give information even though it’s not my job to. That’s, I guess, helping me kind of ease the fact that I’m not able to actively participate.

AfXI: That’s something I’ve been thinking about too. I think I started to get over that. Because I was kind of adamant like, I don’t have to teach you anything. I was getting so aggravated. People were like, oh my god, this thing that’s happening, and I’m just full of rage. I’m like, it’s been happening. But now I’m like, okay, this is how I can help, or at least let me say something that’s useful instead of just sitting here. I’m curious, what do you want to see from people? Because especially how you talked about “I don’t want to see just you posting.” Whether it’s soccer or otherwise, what do you want to see people doing more of?

DJ: For my white friends that I’ve spoken to, a lot of it is self reflection. It’s kind of crazy to me to think that people didn’t realize things like this were happening until now. So taking the time to self reflect and think about that and think about a Black person’s perspective - I wrote something down I thought might give people a little bit perspective on this. When I mean self reflection, think about when you’re scared watching a scary movie and you hide under the covers at night, scared of whatever Freddy Krueger, etcetera, might come and get you, imagine how a Black person feels daily. Turning on the news, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and seeing people that look like you being murdered in broad daylight by those that are meant to protect you - imagine walking around with that in your mind, that weight on your shoulders and that fear in your heart. So with that being said, I hope that people can think about the things that they’re taking for granted and really enact change. Go vote, sign petitions, have tough conversations. My mom is white, my dad is Black. I don’t have a relationship with my dad, so I’ve never been exposed to that, and I grew up in Utah. So, predominantly white. I’ve always felt kind of lost and until college and even recently, I’ve had a lot of self discovery. And even having conversations with people in my family and having to say, “You can’t say things like that, that’s racist.” And I know they’re not racist, but what you’re saying is racist. Helping educate people around you. Even people you don’t know, your friends, your family. I think that’s just the way to actually start change.

AfXI: I think that is something I’m also learning how to do too. I gotta do things that aren’t comfortable.

DJ: And it is really uncomfortable. And I mentioned the LGBTQI+ community because I’ve been very much a loud ally for that. And I feel like it’s almost backhanded that I haven’t been as outspoken about racism and what makes me personally uncomfortable. Even being around friends that say the N-word, not calling them out right then and there and being like, you can’t say that. Even if you’re saying it in the song, you shouldn’t say that. You absolutely have no right to say that. And then educating them why, I feel like I have also been timid and in a way, gave them approval to say it more often. They say it in front of me, imagine when they’re not in front me how often they say those things. That’s something that I’ve definitely had to realize is, I need to get a lot more comfortable being uncomfortable when educating other people and just calling somebody out when it’s blatantly not okay to say or do.

AfXI: I’ve been thinking about that too, just in terms of action. Like, Black trans women need to be protected. And I’ve always felt that and thought that. But how often have I donated before now?

DJ: And Blackout Tuesday. I think it’s great, but social media is the bare minimum you could be doing right now. It’s a great platform, obviously, to reach out to people that you don’t know and just who happen to follow you or whatever, but we have to do more. I’m really curious to see. I hope and pray that things keep changing well after this isn’t trendy to post about anymore. I really, really hope so. This whole thing has made very clear to me who is an ally and who isn’t. Who I want to put energy into having conversations with and who I won’t. So that’s been a really big wake up call to me personally.

AfXI: In terms of the soccer world and women’s soccer specifically, what do you want? Whether it’s from the fans, the club, in a perfect world. I thought about this a little bit last year when I started really getting into covering, but to make this a world you want to be in.

DJ: I guess the starting point would just be acknowledging that this is going on. You know, I’ve heard that some of the teams in the league, their coaches and GMs are acknowledging it and making sure that the players are okay. And saying that they’re aware of what’s going on and here’s resources and how can we help. Opening that dialogue even though it’s uncomfortable and difficult. And yeah, it’s a predominantly white sport. Our league especially is very loud about the LGBTQ community and the Equal Pay Act. So having that same loudness and support constantly starting from the top with our owners, our GMs, our coaching staff, our players, our fans. That’s what we need recognized in order to keep this moving forward and to make your players of color actually feel like this is a legitimate thing. No more selective equality for certain things that fit who’s in the league. This must be as much of a priority as these other things that we also want equality for. So that would be my biggest thing moving forward is seeing that support from every angle in this league, because this is something that has gone on for so long. This year, this is the most Black women I’ve ever had on a team. So the fact that it’s become more and more diverse and colorful, this definitely must be a priority.

AfXI: Did your team at any level acknowledge it even from like the coaches at practice or anything?

DJ: They have not yet. [Ed. note: As of the date of the interview on June 4] They posted a statement and tweeted about it, which I appreciate. But no, I haven’t heard anything yet. But I know other teams have. I know other GMs and owners and coaches have reached out to players and checked in…. I guess what’s been difficult for me too was because I have been such an ally, I was expecting a lot more when this all came about, or I have always expected more, but it has never had this much momentum. I guess that’s a little on me. I can’t expect anything, but I can act and be an example.

AfXI: So would you consider yourself an optimist?

DJ: I would, in some ways, yeah. I would say, a mix between an optimist and a realist. I don’t think I’m pessimistic at all. But if I’m going to look at a situation like this it’d be very easy to be like, angry and shut off and no, it’s not my job to explain to you. But know what, I’ve got a platform. I can reach a lot more people. I should be talking about this. So yeah, I guess I would say I am.

AfXI: I don’t know, I think I used to be. Since I graduated in 2014, I just keep seeing worse and I’m just like, this doesn’t even make sense. I can’t understand that. I mean, some things are worse, and some things are better. I didn’t want to have a conversation with you about hope and all this stuff. But I also was wondering if your mind was there, looking forward.

DJ: I mean, I do have hope. It’s hard to talk about that right now, because you think about the past so much and this is terrible that it’s happened to George Floyd, but how many Black people have we watched on our social media pages being killed? When’s the last? When have we seen a white person being killed on social media that’s been circulated? That’s terrible. How desensitized are we? So it’s hard to not be angry about that. But at the same time, I’m glad this is picking up momentum. And let’s not forget about everything else that has happened. And yes, this is horrible. But there are also so many microcosms of this that happen everyday to Black people. So I’m hoping that this brings to light the murders especially, but also everything else that happens daily that white people don’t have to think about. I hope this sheds light on every part of it and a lot of police reform and different training. I listened to this really cool podcast today on The Daily and I think it was titled “How the police are protected.” It’s like 20 minutes long. Everybody should listen. It’s actually crazy. Derek Chauvin had 17 reports against him in his 19 years that we know of, and he was still out. How was that a thing? And he was a part of, I think, one or two other deaths of people. Like how is he still hired? So just bring to light these things and really enacting change. I hope that people actually go vote and people keep talking about it when it’s not trendy anymore.

AfXI: I want to, before we go, be a platform where you can just say whatever you want, how are you feeling. Is there anything that you wanted to say?

DJ: For those that are listening, really reflect on things that you take for granted. And think about what people of color have to deal with. Being pulled over by the police is different, wearing all black at night is different, just little things that you would never have to question about yourself and how you go out into the world. Think about how somebody else has to deal with those things and really put your retweets and reposts and hashtags into action. Don’t just let it be that small so that you look like you’re part of the movement. Actually be a part of it. And, you know, keep putting things into action when it’s no longer trendy to talk about, and really be open to having difficult conversations and educating yourself and those around you.

AfXI: When you’re talking about, like, not wearing certain things at a certain time, have you had to change your behavior in that way? Do you remember a time where you’ve done that or you thought you should have done that in the middle of a situation?

DJ: Especially being a woman there’s a lot of things, like I hold my key out at night because I’m scared someone might try to jump me or whatever. Don’t go at certain times to certain areas. When I go to places where I know I’m going to be the only Black person there and you get looks and some people staring at you, people will blatantly stare. I’m sure you’ve experienced this. You feel like you’re on display. I honestly have tried to wear things that make me fit in more, especially growing up in Utah. I had a lot of experiences where people say very backhandedly racist things towards me and even when I was younger, I never used to wear my natural hair because people would come up and touch my hair or say things or tell me I look like a boy. Just things that now, when I have a kid, I would never let fly. My parents never knew this stuff was happening. I never shared it. It was mostly at school. But I definitely would try to blend in more and not stand out so much, especially being like the only Black girl in school, or silence myself when people would say the N-word or racist things right in front of me. Instead of being uncomfortable talking about it, I would just be quiet and kind of shy away from the confrontation. And being mixed too, it’s different. I haven’t experienced a lot of the things that really close people around me that are Black have experienced. So I’m also opening up my mind a lot too and doing a lot of self reflection and learning a lot. Since I left college has been a really big awakening to me.

AfXI: Isn’t it crazy? Same to me. I guess we’ve learned how to learn, because all this stuff I’ve learned about, especially race, and everything in America, has been 2014 and later. I didn’t remember any of this in college.

DJ: Yeah, same. What really changed my mind was my senior year in college. I had my first Black teacher I’ve ever had my senior year of college and I had two. One was for an LGBTQ class and the other was for a Black history class and it was based on Toni Morrison. Which, favorite class I’ve ever taken. But it really opened my mind. I was like, oh my god. African Americans, we genuinely don’t know our own history. It has been blocked out from us so much and just erased and burned and who knows what. When you think of where you come from, like my ancestors. I think, oh, my ancestors were a slave brought over. No, my ancestors were probably queens and kings somewhere from Africa. Like, that’s how we need to think about ourselves. And you know, with all the darkness going on, I really think that’s just a good mindset to have. Don’t get so sucked into the darkness and everything and really educate yourself that we are more than what we’ve been taught. I’m rambling so much. I’ve had so many thoughts since things have been going on and then having vague conversations with people, but it’s all just flowing out right now. I’m not sure if it’s making sense.

AfXI: No, it is. And I’m glad. There’s a book you might like if you haven’t read it already. It’s Homegoing [by Yaa Gyasi]. It’s the story of two sisters are separated and one gets sold into slavery. I think you would like it. It’s really good.

DJ: I’m a big reader. We have a team book club. And the book that we’re doing right now - it’s been like two months because we all thought we were going to be together in March - but it was about human trafficking and we’re going to meet about it next week. But girls on the team started a separate group message and we’re talking about our next book being about race. So I definitely will suggest that and we’re going to start posting articles into the group for people to read if they’re comfortable talking about it. Hopefully everybody is [laughing]. I’ll read that on my own. I’m a big reader so thank you for suggesting that. If you have any more, shoot me an email ‘cause I’m all for it. We’ve got nothing but time right now too.

AfXI: I don’t know why the book recommendation just sets my soul on fire. I was so happy.

DJ: I’m happy too. Honestly, it’s really, really nice to speak to somebody that feels what I’m feeling, you know. It’s been hard to put it into words and try to, I don’t know - because you also have to explain as you’re like talking about how you’re feeling.