I expected Serena Williams’s 24th Grand Slam win against Haiti and Japan’s Naomi Osaka to be a cake walk. Sure, Osaka had made it to the final but this is Serena Williams we’re talking about; the greatest athlete of all time. Osaka, however, was eerily focussed, calm and determined. Every serve was executed to perfection with one purpose- to rattle Williams. And rattle her she did. Williams began racking up unforced errors like lines of meth at a nitty convention. I was in my house in Catford, South London screaming for her to fix up. Down one set with everything to play for, her coach Patrick Mouratoglou attempted to coach Williams from the stands. Williams did not see Mouratoglou’s motions but the umpire Carlos Ramos did. He penalised her one point. A cluster fuck ensued.
Serena lost the next point and beat her racket ‘til it crumbled. Ramos penalised her another point for “racket abuse” which, if we’re honest, how is that even a thing? Williams told Ramos he was a “thief” and a “liar” for insinuating she was a cheat. She demanded an apology. Ramos, exercising his power, awarded Osaka a whole game for “verbal abuse” and we all watched Serena Williams fail to secure the win we all came to see. A win she might have taken had she been allowed to simply play the game and not contend with patriarchal double standards.
I didn’t want to write this because I was hoping to wake up and not have to contend with the misogynoir Serena Williams has been a target of her whole career. If you’re new here, misogynoir is the Thanos of prejudice. Racism and sexism combine to assemble a black woman enemy that simply won’t die. People like Australia’s Caroline Wilson need misogynoir because they don’t know how to talk about black women without adopting racist and sexist language. “Someone needs to stand up to Serena Williams” Wilson claims in this clip of her talking about the athlete. “How is that racist and sexist” you ask. Wilson centres Williams’ acts of aggression and pretends they alone account for her behaviour during her career as a sportsperson. The aggressive black woman is a trope that racists use to deny black women the fullness of their emotions while simultaneously choosing to avoid the cause of their anger.
On to the sexism. The men of tennis, as far back as John McEnroe and as recent as Nick Kyrgios, have behaved like petulant children when points, games, sets and matches didn’t go their way. But bringing that up wouldn’t help Wilson’s mission to paint Serena Williams as the uppity negro girl who needs disciplining. Sure, she didn’t say that. But I would have appreciated it more if she did. That’s what she meant. How dare this woman behave like an athlete who wants to win. She should accept unfair treatment and be grateful for even being given the opportunity to play our hallowed sport.
It sounds like hyperbole but on everything I love it’s what I hear. When I watch matches and hear the commentators discuss Serena Williams’ body and criticise her behaviour, it’s what I hear. Their assumptions they know what’s going on in her mind. The way they lean upon coded words like “intimidation” and “domination.” These words that should be innocuous become violent. And it feels like no matter how many times we ask that you consider the whole picture of what is happening you lot always focus on the aspect that allows you play into your deepest racist desires. I’m so sad that Serena Williams doesn’t get to play tennis.
In Claudia Rankine’s 2015 New York Times profile of Serena Williams (that I only read this morning) she asks “Why should Serena not respond to racism? Why should it be answered with good manners?” All of the quick maths we’re doing to identify Carlos Ramos’ overzealous penalising of Williams as injustice- she is doing on the court, in real time. Before her eyes this official is pulling her focus away from the carer defining match in an attempt to discipline her for an infraction she didn’t even make.
Who amongst you wouldn’t be angry? Ah, but your commitment to seeing black women, especially this champion black woman, obedient and controllable means you’ll lie and say “it’s part of the sport.” Riddle me this. Where was this vigour and vim for Maria Sharapova when it was proved she was a cheat taking drugs the Soviet Union synthesised to make super soldiers?
White women are afforded a level of protection and benefit of the doubt that does not extend to black women. Serena Williams is the most drug tested tennis player on the circuit at the moment. She has fought just a year after the birth of her daughter to return to the court and had an opportunity at a fiar match snatched away from her. When she was supposed to be fighting her opponent she was fighting misogynoir. Carlos Ramos has a record of over-penalising the Williams sisters but because understanding the root any anger black women display will mean having to stretch your mind beyond its racist confines you don’t.
It’s easier for sentient sewage Ross Tucker (of course he’s from South Africa) to lean upon misogynoir. “Only reason Serena isn’t like this more often is because she is powerful and strong, so can smash opponents into defeat most of the time. When that fails, she smashes other things, and reverts to type. Lucky for the “mom shield” (“nearly died” bs)…” His comment is indicative of many articles and tweets about the upset last night. They poo poo the fact Serena nearly did die and that black women are higher risk than other women of dying during child birth. They use “powerful” and “strong” as derogatory words. They never take into consideration that there is a source for her anger. Black women’s anger rarely appears from nowhere. Even when there is video evidence those committed to misunderstanding black women will contort themselves to pretend black women are the problem, that this black woman is the problem when there’s a rot in tennis.
It costs you lot nothing to spew your casually racist and sexist diatribe but for the black women who come up against its relentlessness the cost is our mental and physical health. And then as if to add insult to injury we are expected to take care of everyone else during our pain. It's commendable that Williams commanded the crowd to stop booing but to possess the wherewithal to take care of someone else in tears when you yourself are grieving a loss? Wew, the heavy lifting black women have to do is astounding. If I am exhausted I wonder how Serena Williams feels. How is she coping knowing she wasn’t given a fair chance? How is she feeling having publications and armchair referees paint her as a monster who stole a clean win away from Naomi Osaka? I worry about her because I hope someone will worry about me when I am angry. I look forward to the next open season and watching her try again. Right now, I’m sad because Thanos isn’t dead and black women are still fighting the same fight.