The incident involving Serena Williams and a US Open umpire is a topic of hot debate. There’s division between those who believe Williams was justifiably angry, and those who say she acted unprofessionally and deserved the penalty points. Unsurprisingly, the majority who believe she acted unprofessionally, are non-POC.
I’m not a tennis buff, so I won’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of the penalty. However, Williams’ reaction to the call, and the immediate public backlash that followed, speaks volumes on how society expects a black woman to behave.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen controversy surrounding Williams and sports officials. Just weeks ago, the French Open announced a ban on catsuits, in response to a black catsuit Williams wore in a previous tournament. When questioned about the ban by the media, Williams shrugged with a nonchalant laugh and assured them everything was “fine.”
Throughout her career, Williams has endured a ridiculous amount of unprofessionalism from reporters and sports officials, who make degrading comments about her looks, body shape, and even question her gender. The world’s focus seems to be on everything aside from what it should be—her extraordinary tennis skills.
The scrutiny around Williams is a high-profile look at what black women in America endure every day in what should be professional environments. During my working years, I’ve been the recipient of insensitive questions/comments about my hair, makeup, and was recently asked if I “hated” my ethnic first name as a child.
In my opinion, none of these questions have any place in a professional setting. Still, I’ve been in the world long enough to know that any reaction besides a polite smile and forced laugh, would swiftly place me in the “angry black woman” category. Once you’re in that category, you could win the Nobel Peace Prize and still not live it down.
The incident with Serena Williams is a prime example of this. Here is a woman who has literally crushed every obstacle you could imagine in the sports world. She’s the only reason that most black people even think about tennis (just being honest). She’s been on the receiving end of every racist and sexist remark in the book, and never retaliated. Now that she shows an emotion other than laughing off an injustice, she’s labelled abusive and a sore loser.
Yes, she broke a racket; yes, she got loud with a figure of authority; yes, she demanded an apology. There’s no doubt in my mind that her reaction is a culmination of all the bullshit she’s tolerated throughout years of being at the top of her game and still not being enough in society’s eyes.
Her reaction is no different than anyone else’s when they’re fed up with life and she shouldn’t be demonized for it. No black woman should.
I thank Serena Williams for having the courage to push back when she felt compelled. It was a reminder to the world that black women have feelings too. When we’re angry, we don’t have to shut up and put on a fake smile to make the world feel better.
I’m not here to argue with anyone about whether she was out of line or broke the rules. I’m here to say she’s entitled to show emotions, the same as any white male, or white female, or black male athlete. She wasn’t having an outburst or a “meltdown;” she was acting human, and she’s allowed to do that without her reputation being tarnished as a result.