Dr Robin DiAngelo’s article explains “White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviours such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviours, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.” Buckle your seat belts for this flight through white fragility of the highest order.
On Wednesday 15th February, Serena Williams- First of Her Name- released photos from her Sports Illustrated spread for the upcoming popular swimsuit issue of the magazine. The world wept. Her skin pops severely clad in pieces I envy merely for their proximity to her. Coy smiles play her lips as she flirts with the camera blessing the sun with her blackness. The Greatest American Athlete of All Time shed her tennis gear for a romp on the beach and we are all the better for having eyes to witness the unabashed joy these images induce.
Right on time, like a Taylor Swift album after a break up, Sinead Kissane, who normally writes thoughtfully about sports for the Independent decided to step out of her lane to unleash a torrent of half-baked pseudo-feminist diatribe against Williams. “Serena Williams sabotages own equality battle with soft-porn photo shoot” reads the title of the article, a hate filled piece of horse shit so egregious it’s a miracle Sinead is able to breathe past her seething animosity towards Williams. According to Sinead, Williams’ photoshoot is proof “success doesn't change some women's desire to be validated for how they look.” She continually reprimands Williams not before leaning on her glaring superiority complex; “the most laughable notion is that these photo-shoots are 'empowering' women as if they're something to celebrate.” Her article is woven so heavily with the "argumentation" Dr DiAngelo ascribes to white fragility- her anger at Williams’ boldfaced bliss is frightening to witness and in order for Sinead to “reinstate white racial equilibrium” she resorts to mocking Williams; “I even liked (not really) the way she danced (terribly) in Beyoncé's video Sorry.” The article is so personally vitriolic, so brim full of disdain she loses grip of her professionalism and directly addresses Williams with such condescension, you wonder if she knows who tf she’s talking to; “Hold on Serena. So to look strong, sexy and to be a woman involves baring your butt and boobs? What happened to being "judged by our achievements and not by our gender" or was that way of thinking inconvenient for this kind of glamour photo-shoot?”
I’ll stop writing about this when white women start ensuring their feminism is intersectional. Sinead (I’m making sure to use her first name to highlight the lack of formality and sense of familiarity she showed Serena Williams) writes her piece exclusively from a white, first wave feminism stance where the only barrier women have to overcome is the financial parity with men. Nowhere during this 23 paragraph firestorm of fuckery does Sinead acknowledge the attacks Serena Williams has endured during her tenure as the Greatest of All Time. During the French Open in 2015, Twitter erupted when one user tweeted Williams “looks like a gorilla, and sounds like a gorilla when she grunts while hitting the ball, in conclusion, she is a gorilla.” Jenée Desmond-Harris for Vox chronicles the “decades of racist and sexist attacks” Serena Williams has fought through, from being called a "nigger" at Indian Wells in 2001 to having Stephen Roderick of Rolling Stone Magazine in 2013 write she was “built like one of those monster trucks that crushes Volkswagens” It is exhausting reading Desmond-Harris’ article but what is even more exhausting is Sinead thinking we could forget the brazen misogynoir (racism and misogyny for those new here) Williams has overcome and in anyway agree with her wild assertion “These photos switch Serena into the traditional passive role for women who are objectified as things to be ogled.”
There is nothing passive about these photographs, Sinead. Your little dry dusty head chose to ignore the years this woman was dehumanised in the press, both online and to her face, but those of us who share that mf pain understand these photos are an active reclamation of her body. These photos speak to the womanhood writers of your class have worked tirelessly to strip her of. These photos are about the glory of blackness. These photos celebrate the femininity of black women. These photos centre the desirability of black women on our terms! Under the sun, in the sea and in your fucking face so you never forget this moment, these photos are about us and our excellence. So long have white women like Sinead ignored the traumas black women have suffered they thought they could still publish their trash with impunity under the guise of educating us about feminism.
Why am I so heated about this? I am tired. Every time I turn around there’s another article written by a white woman in a mainstream publication in a tone that purposefully attempts to demean and ridicule black women’s joy. On Saturday it was Naomi Schaefer Riley in The New York Post targeting Beyoncé with “Having a baby isn’t a miracle and doesn’t make you a goddess” and then it was this nincompoop Sinead with her hot take on Serena Williams and my soul wouldn’t rest until I expressed my frustration because I’m physically and emotionally tired. While black women have to fight against the crushing debilitation of patriarchy from men and women who benefit from upholding it, we fight racism from outside and from within, then we also have to fight white women unable to show true solidarity with black women. White women like Sinead and Naomi Schaefer Riley are so threatened by the excellence of Serena Williams and Beyoncé yet cognisant they are unable to come out and say “I can’t stand seeing black women shine”, they intellectualise their hatred, repackaging it in rhetoric that appears, to those unaware of its true purpose, as critically constructive correction. Where was Sinead’s “helpful” criticism when Maria SharapOverThere was “baring it all” and since she’s such a feminist where was her think piece on Rafeal Nadal’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit photos? Since Sinead is so determined to protect women and young girls from the “soft porn” of these kinds of photos, the implication that they teach us about the “importance on her body parts rather than what her body enables her to do as a tennis player” where were her remarks about Ana Ivanovic, Maria Kirilenko and Anna Kournikova?
The truth is, this faux outrage is saved for Serena Williams because she is black. The fact Sinead labels Williams’ photographs as pornographic stems from the historical sexualised dehumanisation of black women. Her choice to wilfully omit the racist sexism (misogynoir) Williams’ has faced only serves to allow her to embark on this discourse without acknowledging or engaging with the laundry list of abuse thrown at Williams that would ultimately render her argument null and void. Sinead sought to discipline Serena Williams for daring to step out of her place on the court and enjoy the beauty of her body. This knee-jerk reaction in white women to lambast black women and attempt police our bodies and the way in which we choose to exhibit our bodies serves only one purpose- to coddle their fragility. We will not sit idly by while you step on our necks to uplift only yourselves, a move that highlights your fear you'd have to share and we too deserve adoration for our gifts. Respect black women.
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