Spurs coach Popovich mounts a simple, strong defense of Black History Month.

You can always count on Pop to say what he's thinking.

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has a bit of a reputation for speaking his mind.

Back in May 2017, Popovich denounced the self-centered "game show" atmosphere brought on by Donald Trump's presidency.

In September, he went on a bit of a press conference rant about Trump's "childishness" and "gratuitous fear-mongering," eventually launching into a pretty epic speech about why it's important for him to use his platform to speak out on important issues like racism, even if they don't affect him personally. (He's white.)


The Spurs' Dejounte Murray talks to head coach Gregg Popovich during a 2017 game. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that when Popovich was asked about the NBA's Black History Month celebrations, his answer would be worth a listen — even if it's a bit hard for white people to hear.

Asked by reporters why he felt it was important for the NBA to honor and promote Black History Month, he basically said that it's a no-brainer:

"I think it's pretty obvious. The league is made up of a lot of black guys. To honor [Black History Month] and understand it is pretty simplistic. How would you ignore that? But more importantly, we live in a racist country that hasn't figured it out yet. And it's always important to bring attention to it, even if it angers some people. The point is that you have to keep it in front of everybody's nose so that they understand it, that it still hasn't been taken care of, and we have a lot of work to do."

It's easy to pretend that racism is a thing of the past, but that's simply not true.

It's pretty easy to get defensive when Popovich and many others say things like, "We live in a racist country that hasn't figured it out yet." After all, nobody wants to be called racist, and nobody wants to think that they play a role in perpetuating discrimination.

Considering what some on social media are saying in response to Popovich's latest comments, that defensive instinct comes through loud and clear.

"If this country is Racist [sic] then why are we celebrating Black History Month?" asked one Twitter user. "Pop is an idiot...why doesn't he resign and give his job to a black coach if he feels he's part of the problem?" tweeted another. "What are we celebrating? Why do we single out a month for blacks? Can we have white history month?" asked a third.

"We live in a racist country that hasn't figured it out yet."

It's indisputable that racism against black individuals and other people of color is real. There is ample data confirming the inequality and negative treatment aimed at black Americans.

For example, an October 2017 survey found that on average, prosecutors offered white defendants more lenient plea deals than their black counterparts. Experiments in so-called blind auditions and job applications, as well as a look at how doctors treat people of color compared to white people, demonstrate the existence of unconscious bias.

Popovich and the Spurs attend the White House to celebrate their 2014 NBA championship. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.

We are a racist country with a racist history. No, that doesn't necessarily make you a racist. It just means we have a lot of work left to do.

Just as Popovich said, if we really want to live in a more just world, we've got to keep this issue at the forefront of our minds.

Black History Month is a great opportunity to think about the many ways black Americans have shaped our country for the better in the face of crushing oppression. It's in acknowledging both the good and the bad that we can help build a a country that lives up to the lofty ideals lauded by many self-proclaimed "patriots."

Patriotism isn't about ignoring a country's faults, but about living each day to address them.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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