SALT LAKE CITY — On Friday afternoon, thousands gathered in Salt Lake City to celebrate Juneteenth, the date commemorating the emancipation of slaves, while continuing to protest racial injustice. It was a scene that played out in cities across the United States and the globe on June 19.
In solidarity of celebrating Juneteenth, Black culture and continuing a conversation about racial equality, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell posted to Instagram a photo that showed a black background and the word “free-ish” in white font on top of “Since 1865” bookended by chain links.
The image, which was widely shared throughout social media on Friday and is often seen on the fronts of T-shirts and hoodies in many variances, references the the Juneteenth emancipation date of 1865 while the ‘ish’ points to the fact that even though legally declared free, Black people have continued to experience inequality and injustice.
Both Mitchell and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul posted the image to social media on Friday, and Mitchell ‘liked’ Paul’s post of it on Twitter.
While most of the fans who saw Mitchell’s post commented with messages of support and love, there was a large number of commenters who responded with hostility and anger.
Many called Mitchell delusional, foolish and ungrateful. Even more denied the suggestion of the original post, saying that because of Mitchell’s wealth, he is more free than others. There was even a suggestion that if people aren’t enjoying their rights in the United States, then they should go to Africa or Brazil.
Some people said that after years of being a fan of Mitchell since his arrival in Utah, his post was the last straw for them and they would no longer support him as a player.
Less than three hours after his Instagram post, Mitchell took to Twitter. While he did not directly mention the Instagram post or comments, his message seemed to be in response to the hateful comments.
“Can’t see how yall can openly cheer for us then when it comes to this be against us so openly,” Mitchell wrote.
Can’t see how yall can openly cheer for us then when it comes to this be against us so openly!! 🤔— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) June 20, 2020
On May 29, four days after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and as protests erupted across the country, Mitchell posted to Twitter saying, “Seeing a lot of people’s true colors.” Shortly after the hostile comments started to pile up on Mitchell’s Instagram post on Friday, he retweeted the May 29 post saying, “Said it once and I’ll keep saying it!! Y’all can’t hide no more.”
This not only comes during the Juneteenth celebration, but also as NBA players weigh how they will continue social justice and anti-racism conversations without losing momentum during the NBA season restart set for late July in Orlando.