One year ago, the greatest athlete of all time (I’m not arguing) Serena Williams lay in a hospital bed fighting for her life following delivery complications after giving birth to her first child. A few days ago, Williams endured a different kind of fight on the court: one that is way too common for the modern woman – the fight for equality and if you’re a black woman, doubly so.
Today, that fight for equality is trivialised by a distasteful cartoon depiction of Williams in the Herald Sun. The cartoon, which exaggerates her physical features and is accompanied by the caption “Can you just let her win?” shows the umpire Carlos Ramos seemingly pleading with Serena’s opponent Naomi Osaka.
In case it is unclear, allow me to share this breaking news: No one needs to let Serena Williams do anything ever in life. She has a proven track record and if she has not required past permission to dominate tennis, she surely doesn’t need permission to maintain her excellence now.
Williams has continued to rise despite the most ridiculous accusations during the span of her career. When her excellence can’t be chalked down as being aided by artificial factors, her opponents have scrambled for any excuse – including her physical appearance – to claim that her propensity for winning is somehow unfair because she is so thoroughly genetically blessed.
Maria Sharapova, whose only undefeated title is number one in the Sore Loser Olympics, described Williams' physical features as ‘intimidating’ – despite the fact that Sharapova is 12cm taller. It is that depiction of black people as other-worldly creatures that perpetuated the eternal fear campaign that was the epitome of slavery. Because we look different, we should be the subject of fear. Related: police brutality against black people in America.
The cartoon has me wondering if there is an embargo on racial awareness and an indiscriminate promotion of grassroots ignorance. This is not about political correctness – comedy and satire are not on trial here. The cartoon screams Jim Crow – black people being caricatured as beasts.
Serena’s legitimate concerns for equality are reduced and likened to a child’s tantrum, which at best is highly insulting.
Black women can’t ‘opt out’ of the daily struggles we face – we constantly have to justify our existence and are considered automatically defective when we stand up for something.
Let’s be clear: Serena Williams was fighting for equal treatment on the court – nothing more, nothing less.
During the match, Williams was penalised for what the umpire determined to be on-court coaching, which is banned during Grand Slams. Common practice for such code violations during a tennis match calls for a soft warning in the first instance. However, in a high speed chase in the general direction of all that is unfair, Carlos Ramos went straight for the jugular and issued Serena with a code violation instead.
If male athletes receive warnings in the first instance, then these should be divvied up to all athletes equally – you get a warning, you get a warning, everybody gets a warning (insert Oprah voice).
The epitome of white privilege is the inability to recognise that there is a systemic minimisation of the issues of people of colour – just because it hasn’t happened to you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist – it also speaks to whose experiences are considered valid.
Williams and Osaka being pitted against one another promotes the dangerous narrative of women being set against each other.
Serena Williams' frustrations were not intended to minimise Osaka’s win – it is merely how it has been portrayed by the media. When a man complains, he is not portrayed as minimising his opponent’s success. However, Williams and Osaka being pitted against one another promotes the dangerous narrative of women being set against each other and seen only as each other’s competitors.
If you have never had to deal with being marginalised, you cannot diminish the experience of marginalised people.
Both women expressed nothing but love and admiration for each other both on and off the court. Yet and still, the stories in the media continue to pit one against the other – as if mutual admiration between female opponents is unpalatable and notwithstanding the fact that Serena’s issue was with the umpire’s unfair treatment and not with her opponent. The systemic policing of black women’s emotions is real. Osaka is depicted in this same cartoon as a minion, there to do the coach’s bidding – it’s a problem!
If you have never had to deal with being marginalised, you cannot diminish the experience of marginalised people as an overreaction – you simply would have no clue what it is to constantly walk in ill-fitting shoes. Whilst I can understand that cartoons are generally used to depict humour, there is nothing funny about being ‘othered’. More so when you have proven yourself time and time again. In an article earlier this year, Serena revealed that she is drug tested more times than any other American tennis player.
Like chilli in chocolate, this cartoon is in poor taste. Right-wing, left-wing, all wings aside, this depiction panders to the destructive ideology of black women – that we are unable to publicly express the entire menu of emotions commonly available to men. Believe it or not, black women experience the entire range of emotions available for download from the human psyche – we hurt too, we get angry and disappointed too, and we are tired of having to seek approval to fight for what’s fair.