Serena Williams' loss at the U.S. Open yesterday prompted her to get angry.
Serena Williams is one of the most gifted athletes the world has ever seen. In her 17-year career, she and sister Venus have inspired legions of new women’s tennis players and viewers. Yet, for all the accolades and acknowledgement (and yes, the fascination with her stunning physique), there has always been an uncomfortable pallor cast over Williams’ career by the unfair treatment she has endured at the hands of umpires, fans and most especially tennis fans, many of whom would prefer to see a lithe blonde bouncing about the court than a muscular brown goddess who would consider the average man to be light work.
Whenever we hear about less than "perfect" on-court behavior from Williams, I brace myself for the backlash. The champion found herself in hot water in 2009 after threatening a line judge at the US Open, and while I won’t make excuses for her behavior, I just really wish that I could have been a fly on the wall that day and heard how exactly that woman spoke to Williams in the incident that resulted in a two-year probation from the World Tennis Association and $82,500 fine, because I refuse to believe her tirade was uninspired.
Yesterday, Williams was again in the hot seat for popping off at the US Open; this time, she fussed at chair umpire Eva Asderaki after she was docked a point for yelling “Come on!” While I wish that the 29-year-old had kept it calm in the moment and spoke her mind later, the fact that she was penalized for what was hardly an explicit or disrespectful outburst serves as a reminder that Williams -- who is 5’11, around 180 pounds and chiseled -- is always perceived to be some sort of threat, a common issue for Black folks across the globe. No matter what we are doing or where we are, we are perceived as inherently threatening and violent, and others have no choice but to protect themselves when in our presence.
"If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way, because you're out of control," Williams said to Asderaki from her chair. "You're totally out of control. You're a hater, unattractive inside... Wow, what a loser…Give me a code violation because I expressed my emotion? We're in America last time I checked. Really, don't even look at me, don't look my way."
News outlets reported that Williams was unrepentant for her behavior following the match, though she was gracious and polite to opponent Samantha Stosur, who defeated her 6-2, 6-3. Of course she was unrepentant. She’s the big, Black menace from Compton. She’s not going to be ladylike and apologetic. She’s a mother**cking monster, a la Nicki Minaj.
While other players are cited for their intelligence, Serena Williams is noted for being aggressive and physically domineering. She and her sister have been described as mannish, hard and strong, and while Serena’s curves are hard to ignore, more often than not she's treated more like a hulking beast than a beautiful and sculpted athlete who uses both her mind and body to trounce upon the competition. The sisters are often placed in less high profile courts, as less successful players are allowed to take center stage (see: this summer’s Wimbledon, in which Williams was denied the opportunity to play for the Queen of England). It’s enough to make a sister go mad.
I sincerely hope that the incident yesterday does not cast too dark a cloud over Williams’ return to tennis after a year-long absence. And I commend her for not totally flipping out yesterday or many times in the past, because I cannot imagine how someone could know that she’s one of the best players in the sport, yet suffer the indignation of blatant racism and disregard over and over again. Williams let the cat out of the bag yesterday; she knows who the ‘haters’ and ‘losers’ truly are. I just hope that they aren’t able to stop her shine any further.