She is a woman. She is black. And that makes her anger unacceptable.
This is the larger conversation that has emerged from a heartbreaking turn at the U.S. Open on Saturday, after Serena Williams confronted the umpire for a series of decisions she deemed unfair and sexist, contributing to an outcome which found her talented young opponent, Naomi Osaka, victorious but in tears.
Osaka, 20, who is of Haitian-Japanese heritage, defeated her hero to become the first woman playing for Japan and first person of Haitian ancestry to win a Grand Slam. “I’m sorry it had to end like this,” she said, crying.
Tennis experts will long debate the escalating drama—first a code violation because her coach gestured from the stands, then a penalty point for smashing her racket, and the kicker, a game penalty for angrily calling umpire Carlos Ramos a “thief.” But as to the likelihood that a man would have received the same penalty at such a high stakes moment, Williams’s peers weighed in quickly.
“I will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized,” tweeted former professional tennis player James Blake. “It has to be said that she has a point when it comes to gender bias,” John McEnroe said, bringing receipts. And Billie Jean King, a long-time advocate for gender equity was definitive. “Ultimately, a woman was penalized for standing up for herself. A woman faced down sexism, and the match went on,” she wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.
But to focus solely on the intricacies of tennis is to miss the larger issues in play.
Her clothing is policed. She’s drug-tested more frequently. She’s been subjected to racist and sexist hate speech throughout her entire career. And yet she has dominated in a sport that was unprepared to welcome her, her hair, her beauty, her strength. Serena Williams has been unwavering in her call for equal pay for women and has become an unexpected symbol of the trials of working motherhood and black maternal health.
And now she stands for women who dare to stand up for themselves in the workplace.
“I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality, and for all kinds of stuff,” Williams said after the match. “For me, to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief.’ ”
But it’s not simply that those who are angry at the kinds of things Serena Williams is angry about are “too inhibited” to disclose their fury. It’s also that they are told all the time — like when they watch a tennis final — that if they do permit themselves to rage, even if that rage pales in comparison to the rage of their male peers, their white predecessors, that they will face reprimand. Women are made to understand, all the time, how their reasonable expression of vexation might cost them the game. Women’s challenge to male authority, and especially black women’s challenge to authority, is automatically understood as a threat, a form of defiance that must be quashed.
So, instead of images of Williams graciously celebrating Osaka’s historic victory, we were immediately bombarded with images of her as enraged. In one hideous cartoon, she is depicted in a style reminiscent of a Jim Crow coon. (Osaka was turned into a leggy blonde, by the way.)
Ultimately, Williams made it about something bigger than herself and reframed the debate.
“I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that wants to express themselves and they want to be a strong woman and they’re going to be allowed to do that because of today,” she said at her post-game presser.
Now, think about the black professional women you know—the executive vice president who doesn’t get developmental assignments, the first-time leader without a mentor, the perennially overlooked engineer, the professor who can’t get near the tenure track, the entrepreneur seeking investment, or, perhaps, your only black direct report. What has their anger, expressed or suppressed, cost them?
If you have this conversation with the women of color in your life, trust me, you will hear some things about theirs. (Especially if you don’t ask their permission, first.)
The conversations are already happening, if you want to listen in.
“I ugly cried during Serena & Naomi’s match and took a day to process,” tweeted journalist Yamiche Alcindor, into a sea of validation. “Serena was every woman I know standing up for themselves, having to point out misogyny, having to get the job done, and then making sure the woman coming behind you is supported despite the discrimination faced.”
|Diversity shone at the Emmys, Part One|
|The Creative Arts Emmy Awards celebrated some raceAhead favorites last night. By winning the Tony for variety special for NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar, Live in Concert, producer John Legend became the first black man to achieve EGOTstatus, winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award. All four guest actor categories went to black performers: Tiffany Haddish for her SNL hosting triumph, Ron Cephas Jones won for his scene-stealing role in the drama This Is Us, Samira Wiley won for The Handmaid’s Tale, and Katt Williams won best guest actor in a comedy for Atlanta. W. Kamau Bell won his second Emmy for his CNN series United Shades of America. Best Unstructured Reality Series. “We live in a time when people are being persecuted and targeted very cruelly,” he told CNN.|
|The unbelievable whiteness of film reviewers|
|Speaking of diversity in entertainment, newly published data from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative working with Times Up Entertainment and others, shows definitively that the critics reviewing the 300 top-grossing films from 2015-2017 were overwhelmingly white (78.7%) and male (83.2%). For the most widely read critics, it’s a ratio of nearly 31 to 1. In one finding, white male film reviewers consistently rate underrepresented female leads lower than any other group. Huh.|
|Spoiler alert: Billionaire Bob Johnson owns 165 hotels|
|In not so surprising news, billionaire BET founder Bob Johnson was denied entry to the Eau Palm Beach hotel in West Palm Beach, Fla. because he refused to remove his prescription sunglasses upon check-in. He did, however, produce his driver’s license, passport, and American Express card. Thinking the clerk was joking when she asked, Johnson asked her to call the police—which she did. Much love to The Root’s Michael Harriott for this satirical write-up of a bizarre true incident that could have turned out much worse.|
The Woke Leader
|Latinx studies is now 50 years old. Here’s why that matters|
|The first Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies department was established at California State University at Los Angeles in 1968, an auspicious beginning. “It was actually here in the city of Los Angeles where the Chicano movement started,” activist Dolores Huerta said to the crowd gathered to celebrate the milestone. It was an early experiment with a teaching method that centered historical inquiry into the lives of one ethnic group and its relationship to the U.S., rather than on a timeline of events. Students of color pushed for this new style of curriculum at schools across the country. For many Latinx students, it was the first time they studied their own history, making note of the enormous gaps in the education that begin at a young age. “It opens up their minds to see their history, see themselves, see their culture,” she says. Dolores Delgado Bernal, the chair of the Cal State LA’s program.|
|China is detaining Muslims in internment camps|
|Individuals are often held for months, with one goal, to remove any devotion to Islam, says Chris Buckley, reporting for The New York Times. One man was held for two months after police picked him up for reciting a verse from the Quran at a funeral. According to this report, there are now hundreds of such camps in remote locations, where hundreds of thousands of Chinese Muslims have been sent to be brainwashed and encouraged to renounce their faith. Click through for more on the history of Islam in China. A horrifying read.|
|New York Times|
|The history of black women doctors in comic books|
|Darnel Degand has written an excellent essay exploring the long history of discrimination black women have experienced when they’ve pursued careers in medicine, and the media’s role in perpetuating specific stereotypes. He notes that even W.E.B. Du Bois tackled the subject in a 1933 article, “Can a Colored Woman be a Physician?” (Yes, was his answer.) “The inability to see black women as doctors extends into the world of comic book superheroes,” Degand writes, with one notable exception: Dr. Cecilia Reyes, who appeared in Marvel’s X-Men in 1997. Degand is clearly a comic book fan and like-minded folks will geek out at his analysis of her plot line. Others will understand how much of an outlier she was. As her narrative grew, she became bolder, changed her bobbed hair to long locs, and was not there for any discrimination. “To the contrary, she was portrayed as a confident doctor who was in command of her operating room.”|