It’s maybe happened to you.
You’re at work, in class — in a room where you’re the only person of color.
Someone makes a racist joke or comment, and everyone starts laughing.
What do you do?
Do you laugh along with everyone else, so you’ll fit it? Do you call them out on their foolishness? Or do you just ignore them, letting their words slide to the wayside?
Student athlete Jasmine Orsted faced exactly that conundrum when she tried to earn a spot on Mary Washington’s basketball team.
A talented player all her life, Orsted worked her way up through Virginia’s youth leagues, and spent a year dominating the court at Northern Virginia Community College before making the jump to Mary Washington.
She liked that the school was close to her parents; she planned to save money by living at home, and looked forward to seeing her mother and father in the stands during home games.
But in the pre-season, as Orsted worked hard to earn a spot on the team, she found her teammates comments and jokes to be unacceptable and hurtful.
The Washington Post reports that one white player wondered to the team “why black people name their kids the way they do.” Another white player was quick to respond that she “never had to worry about that,” seeing as her high school “wasn’t in the ghetto.”
Orsted says when she heard things like this, she “was astounded. I couldn’t believe that somebody would actually say that, especially in the presence of somebody that’s black.”
Things soon took a personal turn when Orsted’s teammates began to question her about her ancestry. “So you have a white dad who married a black woman and they had a baby together?” one player asked Orsted.
As she struggled to respond, Orsted said, “They just all fell on the ground laughing. And I’m standing there like — this is 2014 at the time, that’s not something unheard of, I don’t understand how it could be funny.”
Orsted went to her coach, Deena Applebury, for some support. Her mother suggested that she record her meeting with Applebury, and she did.
After asking the coach to address the racial comments, Applebury can be heard on the recording saying, “When you have, you know, a group versus one person, I kind of have to go with the group because it’s a team sport, for right, wrong or otherwise.”
In the same meeting — two weeks before tryouts for the main season — Applebury told Orsted not to bother trying out, seeing as she wasn’t “really bonding with the kids.”
After being barred from trying out, Orsted and her family sued Mary Washington. As the suit unfolded, more racial issues came to light, including similar troubles on the men’s basketball team, and allegations of a school administrator saying that comments such as those Orsted heard ought to be taken as a “compliment.”
In the end, Orsted and her family settled out of court for $160,000, and Mary Washington did not have to admit any wrongdoing.
Orsted now plays for Bowie State University, and said, “I just want anybody else who goes through this to know that they have to believe in themselves and not let anybody make them think that they’re being too sensitive, that they’re the issue.”
To those that are facing similar difficulties, Orsted says to stand up, and to never “let the bullies win.”