There’s nothing I love more than a champion, a star, a celebrity – who uses their platform to highlight problematic trends within our society. My greatest applause goes out to Serena Williams who did exactly that during the US Open a few days ago, when she was donned a series of code violations in the game, firstly for being ‘coached from the stands’; second, for smashing her racket in frustration, and finally, an entire game penalty for ‘verbal abuse’ after calling the umpire, Carlos Ramos, a ‘thief’.
Clearly, Ramos was feeling rather salty and made sure then that Serena wouldn’t be in a position to win that match – what better representation of the fragile ego of a man, to never have been called worse things than a ‘thief’! – but I digress. To add more salt to the wound, Serena’s claims of sexism in the tennis industry were later described as “a bit far-fetched”, and her reaction “overboard”, by a male tennis player at the same tournament. Hmph.
“I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark” – Serena Williams
See, what I have a problem with is when ignorant, oblivious individuals try to speak, from a privileged standpoint and background, on the lived experiences of other groups of whom they have insufficient education about. Billie Jean King said it exactly right in her tweet:
I too, have been labelled “emotional” when I brought up matters that were straight-forwardly unjust and needed to be addressed. I too, have been asked to calm down because I was “overreacting” to a situation that clearly prioritised the needs of the perpetrator over my own as the receiving party of harassment. Me too.
In a world where women’s voices are constantly drowned out and dismissed from the table by men who benefit from supporting unfair actions by other men, it’s easy to see why opinions such as that of Jamie Murray (aforementioned male tennis player) are so freely expressed and so freely received by the public. Because labelling Serena as the angry Black woman is easier than addressing the underlying issues of sexism within tennis, and certainly much easier than addressing one’s own male privilege before the public eye.
We say that this is 2018, and women are progressing now more than ever and have more opportunities to compete against men than they ever had, and yet our actions continue to narrate the suppressive values of the past: women should be seen and not heard, mute except for when spoken to. Worse off, cartoonists who paint idiotic, racist images of situations such as these serve to further ridicule and downplay the seriousness of the matter that needs to be called out and questioned.
The cartoonist here claims ignorance and refuses to acknowledge his dehumanisation (which is painfully reminiscent of imagery in Jim Crowe times) of Serena Williams and his exaggerated depiction of her anger. Translating her reaction into an image of the child-like stubbornness of a toddler who is being refused some candy is a clear attempt to distract us from the fact that men are receiving preferential treatment on the court (and everywhere, really) and women are expected to sit back in silence as their own opinions are trod on and invalidated.
Not only is this caricature and Murray’s statement an accurate characterisation of White male privilege, it is also a demonstration of how certain men feel that they have a right to speak over and interpret women’s actions and reactions. That they feel like it is their due right to adjudicate at the day’s end whether the woman was being rational or illogical in her claims of injustice against their peers’ behaviour.
“He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief.’ For me it blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women” – Serena Williams
The more circumstances like this that go unnoticed, the further away we move from being progressive and equitable as a people. I stand strong behind any woman that defends her virtue and calls out the bullshit, because on a different day, it could be me or another sister in the same position, and I certainly will not be silent.
Dear Serena, you spoke up for yourself and for many other women to come after you; you refused to be a “Good Negro” and let Ramos’ unfair behaviour slide; your words and anger are valid, relevant, and celebrated. You are continuing to fight for all women and for that, Sis, you are the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time).
*Cover Image By Nate Beeler (Columbus Dispatch/ CagleCartoons.com 2018)