Black Female Athlete... White Tennis... Racism and Sexism is Still Alive
By now, if you have not been living in a cave or on a cruise you know about the situation that occurred with Serena Williams at the US Open and the conversation/controversy surrounding it. I am not going to get into the weeds of “was the correct to do it or not”. What I will speak to is the conversation surrounding identity and how some people are trying to remove gender and race from the conversation. Not only do they want to remove it, they want to make the argument that the reaction from Serena is a stand alone incident that has no bias attached to it. Not only is that foolish, but we cannot allow that to happen. The oppression and “isms” women, people of color, and women of color have had to and currently deal with will never make a situation equal to that of a white man- even if those identities are taking out of the conversation because ignoring them doesn’t change that they occur. When researching a topic, many times researchers will talk about factors being controlled which could be income, age, or education level. None of the “isms” cannot be controlled for, and what I mean but the “isms” I mean racism, sexism, ableism, and etc. Those can’t be controlled for because the negative affects of the “isms” on groups with marginalized identities and the privileges gained by those of the dominate groups can never fully be known. Yes, we have data proving the “isms” exist, but we can’t truly know the full effect because the “isms” have been overtly and covertly forced into all of us throughout our lifetimes.
The reality is that all groups are viewed by others and by society through a socialized lens, and it doesn’t matter where they were born, where they grew up, what language they speak, or how diverse your family/friends are. This lens has been formed both consciously and unconsciously by society, and everyone is included in that society regardless of if they want to be or not. This socialization started from when a baby was in the womb and the immediate questions of what gender they were going to be and therefore how they were going to be treated. The process of socialization sped up once race and ethnicity became apparent when light skin or light eyes was more favorable that the opposite. Parents would hope their children did not darken and would sometimes. We are always viewing people and society through a socialized lens regardless of if we want it to or not and if we think we have it or not. This lens affects decisions which will include those made by officials like chair umpire. This lens might tell a chair official that there is a difference between how a male tennis player and woman tennis player act because of that the consequences must in turn be different. It might unconsciously tell a chair umpire or any referee that women cannot be as “aggressive”, “angry”, or “upset” let men get. As Boler (2004) stated, power inequities institutionalized through economics, gender roles, social class, and corporate-owned media ensure that all voices do not carry the same weight. Within Western democracies, different voices pay different prices for the words they choose to utter. SIMILARLY , NOT ALL EXPRESSIONS OF HOSTILITY ARE EQUAL. SOME HOSTILE VOICES ARE PENALIZED WHILE OTHERS ARE TOLERATED. (p.3) This is what we are currently seeing with the Serena Williams controversy.
Sexism within tennis is real and If we take a look at past actions by male tennis players and their meltdowns we will see Andy Murray kick a ball at an umpire’s head and receive no consequence, Jimmy Connors go on a tirade with little to no consequences, or the normal craziness of John McEnroe which were met with humor and tolerance. Lastly, let’s not forget the measly $7,000 fine that Denis Shapovalov received for hitting a ball at an umpire which would then require EYE SURGERY. $7,000 for injuring an umpire and Serena received a fine total of $17,000. These tirades are consistently had by men and accepted by the world. As the twin sisters Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando stated “You can argue that [Williams] should or should not have better kept her composure, but that isn’t the real issue at hand – it’s whether a man would have received the same treatment,” Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson told Know Your Value. “There’s a perception that women need to behave. Yet in, say, baseball, you see guys quite literally screaming in an umpire’s face – it takes a lot for them to get ejected. If you saw that from any woman athlete in any sport it would be considered unacceptable.”
Tennis is a white sport. It has been a white sport since it started and no amount of people of color playing will change it. No amount of winning by a person of color will change it. Althea Gibson won the Wimbledon and US Open in 1957 but that was disregarded because she was still a black girl from what they considered the “hood”. Color mattered. It matter then and it matters now. It matters in that Whelan (2105) explains that In the 91 years since the four Majors were instigated, only two Black male players have won a Grand Slam and one Asian male player: America's Arthur Ashe (who won one Wimbledon, one Australian and one US Open over seven years), France's Yannick Noah (who won the French in 1983) and America's Michael Chang (the French, 1989). That's a total of five Slams out of the 364 that have been contested since 1924, the inaugural year of the four Majors, or 1.37%. Statistically, it's more likely you'll get into Harvard School of Law than see a male Black or Asian player win a Slam in your lifetime.
In regards to women, you will see a better percentage but that is due, “… mostly to the presence of potential greatest-of-all-time Serena Williams and her elder sister, Venus, who have spent the past 20 years collecting 113 singles titles between them. China's Li Na won the French Open in 2011 and the Australian in 2014.” (Whelan, 2015) But the winning doesn’t stop the harassment of being told by a fan he wishes he could skin Serena alive, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation calling her and her sister the Williams brothers, or last but not least, Martina Hingis stating that “being black only helps them. Many times they get sponsors because they are black." These are a few incidents of harassment, but sexist and racist that Serena and Venus have had to deal with while being playing tennis. If you want to go a little more in-depth on the consistent harassment Serena has dealt with read up on Brooke Newman’s article “The Long History on the Racist Attacks on Serena Williams”.
Race is prevalent within tennis as much as they say they don’t see race. They do not want to admit they see it, that it is imbedded within their culture, their policies, their clothing, they fans, and their treatment of Serena Williams. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2003) explains that the tendency to dismiss these claims and to blame black citizens for whatever “race” problems exist in society, argued explained that blacks are denounced “for ‘playing the race card’ . . . and for crying ‘racism’ whenever they are criticized by whites” (p. 1; see also Kotkin, 1994). Because ideologies of color blindness presume equity and fairness by denouncing the significance of “race,” individuals are blamed for their own misfortunes, thereby disregarding historical and systematic processes of discrimination. Such viewpoints, as demonstrated by the comments of Hingis and Navratilova, may fail to acknowledge significant issues in women’s professional tennis.
And this is what we are seeing with this situation. It is the “yes, but” conversation. I know she has dealt with racism, I know she has dealt with sexism, but… it is her fault, she shouldn’t have yelled, she isn’t a man, and on and on and on without mentioning how big of an influence race and sexism can be due to unconscious bias. Biases are not things many like to acknowledge consciously, no one wants to admit biases, prejudices, or stereotypes. If you tell people that biases are a blind spot or something they need to work on, you are met with immediately defensiveness and a laundry list of not only why they do not have biases, but all the things they have done for women or people of color. This to me is akin to the “I have black friends” comment to show that whatever you may be thinking about them is not true because of how many people of color are in their proximity.
Serena does not have to be the epitome of calmness, kindness, and sportsmanship. She already has the extreme pressure of being a black woman in a white sport, consistent drug testing that no other tennis player seems to face or the policing of her body by the banning of the catsuit which she wore for health reasons which the president of the French Tennis Association stated, “I think that sometimes we've gone too far," Giudicelli said, according to The Associated Press. He specifically mentioned Williams' outfit and declared: "It will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place.". Those health reasons were blood clots after giving birth to her daughter and getting a terrible medical issue that almost killed her as it kills many black women. Black moms are dying at terribly high rates as written about in “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis” and “Maternal Mortality and the Devaluation of Black Motherhood”. These are just two examples of a situation that is killing black mothers yet many do not think race is a factor and if you ask those within the medical field, they will say that they do not treat patients differently or that they have no biases, yet the data doesn’t lie, and in “Black Mothers Keep Dying After Giving Birth. Shalon Irving's Story Explains Why”, Nina Martin explains that a black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes. In a national study of five medical complications that are common causes of maternal death and injury, black women were two to three times more likely to die than white women who had the same condition.
This is all to say that race matters, gender matters, race matters, gender matters. We cannot have conversations on controversies within tennis or any other sports and take away gender and race because the oppressions and affects of the “isms” or biases are all too real. As Boler stated above, power inequities institutionalized through economics, gender roles, social class, and corporate-owned media ensure that all voices do not carry the same weight. Within Western democracies, different voices pay different prices for the words they choose to utter. We have to accept that if we want all voices to carry the same weight. Ignoring the differences will not only allow oppression and the “isms” to continue, they will allow them to flourish under the guise of “if she didn’t do x then y wouldn’t have happened”. Let’s be better than that, its time to start acknowledging the “isms” not only occurring within Tennis, but are occurring within the world. Just because you do not want to acknowledge the voices of those who are living with those experiences does not mean they cease to exist, instead they become more rampant because silence equals complicit.
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