Author’s note: Three years ago today, Maame Biney made her Olympic debut at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, becoming the first Black woman to compete on a U.S. short track speed skating team. In the three years since, Biney has graduated from high school, started college at the University of Utah, and won two world junior titles in the 500m. These days, the 21-year-old is training for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. In December, Biney spoke with On Her Turf about what her life has looked like since PyeongChang and using her platform to speak out against racial injustice.
Last March, Maame Biney faced a dilemma. After the end of the 2020 short track season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she had hunkered down in Utah, where she lives and trains. But she really wanted to be in Virginia with her dad, Kweku.
“I wanted to go home, but I was scared that I would get [COVID] and pass it on to my dad,” she recalled. “I just wanted to keep him safe, and keep myself safe.”
When COVID cases began declining later in the spring, she decided to make the trip to Virginia.
And then, George Floyd was killed.
As protests against police brutality and racial injustice grew around the United States, Biney says she was grateful she was with her dad so they could “talk everything out.” Still, she was faced with another dilemma: whether to use her platform to speak out.
“I talked to my dad about it and he didn’t want me to say anything,” she explained. “He wanted me to be safe and not get all that backlash. But I was thinking to myself… If I don’t say anything, than who is going to say something?”
On May 30, 2020, she wrote a lengthy Instagram post, saying, in part:
Don’t be silent, stand up for what’s right because this is a war that has been going on for way too long. Black lives do matter. My life matters. My dads life matters. My brother and my moms life matters. George Floyd’s life mattered. And every single black man or woman who died because of what they look like.
In the months since, Biney has continued using her voice. On social media, she has compiled information for friends and fans looking to learn more about racial injustice. One of her Instagram collections is appropriately named “ways to help.”
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Still, it can be a heavy burden. “At least in the speed skating world, not a lot of people like to speak up for things, which is perfectly fine… But for me personally, I felt so hurt and so impacted by what happened, I was like, I just need to speak out… I had to find my voice even though I was super scared and very anxious about it.”
Biney says she also wants other people to know they can speak up, too.
“Whether or not you have a social media platform, it’s really good to use your voice because there are a lot of things that are going on in this world that are not okay,” she said. “If people don’t agree with you, it’s a ‘them’ problem, not a ‘you’ problem. So just keep using your voice.”
[ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: ‘Hockey Culture’ tackles the representation of Black women in hockey]Follow @AlexAzziNBC