Making Sense of the Mess Kyrie Irving Has Gotten Himself Into
Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Making Sense of the Mess Kyrie Irving Has Gotten Himself Into

On anti-Semitism, Black Hebrew Israelites, and American racism

The things Kyrie Irving does with a basketball aren’t merely athletic. Athleticism doesn’t sufficiently describe his gift. He’s called himself an artist, and that entirely doesn’t ring true either—you could probably chalk that up to the whole “we want to be them, and they want to be us” thing Drake said way back when. The only label befitting to describe the way Irving dribbles a basketball is magic. It’s pure sorcery conjured from his fingertips. He’s a singular talent, the man with one of the greatest handles of all-time, but he’s an aberration off the court, just like he is on it.

In late October, Irving got himself embroiled in controversy for tweeting a link to a documentary called Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America. The documentary—written, produced, and edited by Ronald Dalton Jr., a Black Hebrew Israelite—is an adaptation of an eponymous book. Both have been described as anti-Semitic, and in them, Dalton Jr. suggests Jewish people have admitted to worshipping Satan, entertains Holocaust denialism, amplifies a quote falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler about who the “real Jews” are, quotes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and accuses Jewish people of a plot of world domination and pulling the strings behind the transatlantic slave trade. Due to the fallout of Irving’s posting of this movie, the Brooklyn Nets all-star has lost his sponsorship deal with Nike, faced an indefinite suspension from the NBA (he may see a return to action as soon as this Sunday, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski), and attracted the ire of a whole lot of people.

Kyrie upset his employer and put their bottom line in jeopardy. If any regular person posted a link to a documentary that contained harmful content, became Twitter’s main character, and was defiant about it, they’d be suspended or fired, too.

It’s important to note that while Irving is a great baller, this sort of stuff is right up his alley. He’s very skeptical of the fact that the world is spherical, skeptical of vaccines, skeptical to the point he shared an old Alex Jones video about a “New World Order.” He’s a skeptic for the sake of it, a self-proclaimed conspiracy theorist. Irving is the brand of guy who is pretty smart but is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. He indulges in conspiracies because ideas on the fringes make him feel like he’s in on a little secret.

Irving conflates the fine line between the strength of being suspicious and curious with his confirmation bias and contrarianism. He confuses deep research and scholarship with collecting harebrained missives. When it comes to having a thorough understanding of a concept like vaccination, research looks like obtaining a medical degree and working in the medical field, which takes hundreds and hundreds of hours of studying and learning from experts. Implying you know more than 96 percent of physicians regarding the nature of vaccines is simply a display of arrogance. The way Irving and people like him approach historical scholarship and science reminds me of the way Kevin Durant dismisses basketball fans whose opinions on the game he feels are juvenile. With that said, Irving a casual.

As a Black American, it would behoove you to brandish some basic distrust in the system because, well, look at how our oppressors have treated (and continue to treat) us. Black Hebrew Israelite ideology is forged in the fires of distrust birthed from centuries of abuse, neglect, and violence toward Black people. If every action in nature causes an equal and opposite reaction, Black Hebrew Israelites are a reaction to oppression.

Make no mistake, the idea that Black people are the “real Jews” like Kyrie and Kanye West are intimating is a conspiracy theory. There’s little-to-no real evidence that we, along with indigenous people (as some BHIs believe), are the true lost tribes of Israel. The idea was spurned because some man named Frank Cherry had a vision in the late 1800s that told him so; he subsequently declared himself a prophet. There must’ve been something in the water back then because this was the same century Joseph Smith had a vision and created a cult derived from a distorted view of Christianity called the Church of Latter Day Saints.

While not all BHIs are extremist or anti-Semitic, it’s hard to come by many who don’t hold these views. This is because an extremist stance is the point. Tom Metzger, a deceased former grand dragon of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, once called them their Black counterparts. You should disbelieve a lot of things that come from a Klansman's mouth, but you can take them at their word when they say they find common ground with an ideology or a politician’s policies. There’s indeed a sliding scale, but many BHIs are xenophobic, misogynistic, and virulently prejudiced against the LGBTQ community and have a flimsy understanding of intersectionality. The treatment of Black people has inspired many of us (mostly men) to concoct a fantasy where we are, in fact, the conquerors and assume a role that puts us in a position of hierarchy.

I question why being the descendants of generations of men and women who fought back against slavery is not enough? Why is that lineage not something to be proud of on its face? Why do folks need to develop a taste for the ideologies of far-right men, and a thirst for their power? It’s disappointing that BHIs choose to critique white supremacy with this lens rather than from the teachings of Fred Hampton or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (the real one, not the sanitized version white folks have crafted). Or, get this, when discovering radical politics, how about using queer people like bell hooks, James Baldwin, or Audre Lorde as your north star? Thing is, that would require real coalition building, real activism, real solidarity, and not a desire to assume a role of dominance and pursuit of power over actual freedom.

At a tense press conference, Irving tried to distance himself from the idea that by posting a link to the documentary, he was promoting Dalton Jr.’s film. He insinuated that putting that on him was a form of dehumanization. This is nonsense; he knew good and well what he was doing, especially seeing as Ye was under fire for saying he was a real Jew and the whole “death con 3” thing around the same time. What is dehumanizing, however, is how tyrannical his punishment appears.

Irving did promote a nasty documentary, but he only shared a link and provided no additional context. Nothing hateful came from his mouth or fingertips. The indefinite suspension and a lengthy list of demands for him to return to the hardwood seem excessive. Irving was told he needed to apologize and condemn the film, donate $500,000 to anti-hate causes, attend sensitivity and anti-Semitism training, meet with the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish leaders, and demonstrate with the Brooklyn Nets owner that he learned something. Some people have attributed the overbearing conditions to a form of "buck breaking." The NBA and the Brooklyn Nets are likely being much more forceful than they would be if this were a white player, but at the end of the day, Kyrie upset his employer and put their bottom line in jeopardy. If any regular person posted a link to a documentary that contained harmful content, became Twitter’s main character, and was defiant about it, they’d be suspended or fired, too. This is how capitalism works. Yahweh is not the most high here, nor is Allah, or Jesus Christ. It's capital. In America, that’s our God. If you put the bottom line in jeopardy, you will pay the price.

I question why being the descendants of generations of men and women who fought back against slavery is not enough? Why do these folks develop a taste for the ideologies of far-right men, and a thirst for their power?

What I’m most interested in here is how this controversy, at its heart, telegraphs anti-Blackness. It takes a lot for this country to fight anti-Blackness in the way we’ve seen large swaths of people oppose anti-Semitism as of late. Ye had been making anti-Black statements for years. He printed “White Lives Matter” shirts days before he dove deep into anti-Semitism, and he even shoved porn in an Adidas executive’s face. Still, it was only when he made anti-Semitic statements that his actions were deemed harmful enough to capital that he faced consequences. Some people see this as proof that "Jews control everything," but it's merely evidence that people take anti-Semitism more seriously than they take anti-Blackness. After all, for the most part, Jewish people are white.

There is real harm in sharing anti-Semitism and it’s virtually inseparable from white supremacy on its face. But ultimately, because of the nature of Black people’s political and economic power in the world, Black Hebrew Israelites are mainly just those guys on metropolitan street corners holding a bullhorn dressed like George Clinton, and dudes posting on social media. The “shut up and dribble” stance media usually has for athletes is racist in itself, although when Irving speaks you have to remember this man believes the world might be flat. Thanks to his arrogance and penchant for conspiracy, Irving got himself into this mess.

I dream of a day when people are as up in arms about The Bell Curve or anything Ann Coulter has ever published being on Amazon as they are about Dalton Jr.’s documentary. I dream about a day when African chattel slavery is given the same amount of respect the Holocaust typically gets. I hope sometime in the future American currency won’t be plastered with portraits of slave owners. I want every monument to a racist torn down and thrown into the Gulf of Mexico or placed in a museum’s hall of shame. I hope discriminatory hiring practices die, as well as redlining, extrajudicial killings and harassment by police officers, and microaggressions. And I want my reparations, too.

At the end of the day, Kyrie’s beliefs may be foolish, but they come from pain, grasping to make sense of something that’s immeasurably irrational: anti-Blackness.

Don’t Blame Kanye West’s Anti-Blackness on Mental Illness
The music mogul’s bipolar disorder isn’t responsible for his spewing of white supremacist messages that are a danger to us all