Following Serena William’s behavior at the US Open Women’s Final, a myriad of hate, praise, and opinions have been surfacing, and this past week many have been debating over the subject: Is Williams a feminist hero, or just a sore loser?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the rundown. During her match against Naomi Osaka, Williams argued with umpire Carlos Ramos for penalizing her unfairly. She was later given two more violations for throwing her racket and calling Ramos a “thief.”
“You owe me an apology,” she demanded, earning herself a fine of $17,000, which was taken from her winnings.
Despite that **bullshit** consequence, Williams continued to argue that she was penalized for actions male players would have gotten away with, calling out the sexist tendencies of the tennis community the way she has since day one. However, rather than listening and #beingbetter, the media used this as yet another opportunity to portray her as a crazy, angry black woman who had a psychotic meltdown. The Herald Sun, an Australian publication, even published a racist cartoon that distorted Williams’ bodily features, depicting her throwing an exaggerated tantrum while a blonde(?) Naomi Osaka stood calmly nearby. Because for some reason, we still haven’t stopped characterizing black people as scary, bad-tempered people, when really all they are is fed-up.
On the topic of people-who-need-to-mind-their-goddamn-business, there are also people within the tennis community are criticizing Serena’s actions, such as mixed-doubles champion Jamie Murray, who said that Williams went “overboard”. People on this side of the debate, say that her response was too emotional, and that as an influential champion, she shouldn’t be acting like that. The Wall Street Journal also jumped on this train, labelling Serena’s “public tantrum” both “unsportsmanlike” and “hyper emotional.” And if that STILL isn’t enough, The Bolt Report also published a video editorial calling Serena out, labeling her narrative as a “sick inversion of the truth,” and racking up almost 1.5 million views. All this coming from people who will never experience anything close to the amount of blatant racism Williams has to race every goddamn day. Seems fair.
We should also mention that Williams is by no means the first player to lose their cool on the courts. However, the controversial responses and attacks on Williams’ behavior shows just how much more pressure she has on her as a black woman athlete. She is constantly being scrutinized under a lens most athletes aren’t subjected to. So our question is, why is it that men (*cough cough… WHITE men**) are allowed to show their anger during matches, but Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes of our time, is still expected to keep her cool under the same conditions? We call BS!
However, the societal rejection of Serena’s frustration, while aggravating, is not entirely surprising. Black women, a group that has been systematically silenced for the entirety of US history, are often dismissed by use of the “angry black woman” trope as a way to keep them from raising their voices above the injustice with which they are treated. As someone with such a wide platform and audience, Serena Williams is absolutely justified to have and raise her voice however she wishes. She has earned her way to the top, and she has a right to use her successes to fight for equality, which is shouldn’t be so difficult to understand.
Fortunately for us, Williams has never been silent about issues that matter to her. For instance, in August, the French Open banned Williams’ athletic catsuit designed to help her prevent blood clots, an issue that arose after giving birth. In response, she wore a series of wild tutus to create a statement about what is and isn’t acceptable athletic apparel. Which basically makes her every girl’s hero. Her foundation, the Serena Williams Foundation, is also responsible for creating schools in Uganda, Kenya, and Jamaica.
Unfortunately, rather than being praised for her strong voice and tough stances, she is still portrayed as the angry black woman. This is not only disrespectful to her activist efforts, but also damaging to every black woman in the country who feels they cannot raise their voices without being scrutinized or portrayed as this stereotype. It’s 2018. We have to stop demonizing black women in media. It has to stop.
Rather than criticizing Williams for demanding to be treated with the same respect as her male counterparts, maybe we as a society should try and understand why she feels the need to speak up about these issues in the first place. Why she feels so frustrated. Why these issues are bigger than the tennis community. Because once you can realize that, you can realize that, in reality, Serena Williams embodies the power and strength that keeps girls fighting. And that’s fucking important.