Serena demanded an apology for all women of color at the U.S. Open
"Why are you being so loud."
"Calm down, there's no need to be so aggressive."
"You don't want to be labeled as an Angry Black Woman."
"You have an attitude."
As black women, we are all too familiar with these statements being thrown at us whenever we show any type of emotion. Whether that involves sticking up for ourselves in the workplace or fighting salacious stereotypes because we've been judged inappropriately, we constantly find ourselves pushing back against the "Angry Black Woman" stereotype. It doesn't matter if you're a celebrity or not, it's a label that follows us everywhere. This is what happened to Serena Williams at the U.S. Open Grand Slam finale, and tennis owes her an apology.
First off all, it was extremely difficult to even find a clip that didn't label the situation or Serena's right to stand up for herself as a "meltdown." She stood up for her integrity as a player and a woman and because of that, she was labeled a bully, a sore loser, and worse.
Serena has had a challenging year. She fought her way back to the tennis court after a complicated birth. She has dealt with people counting her out and saying she couldn't do it. She's been drug tested twice as much as other players. And, most recently she’s dealt with sexist and archaic rules concerning her attire. I think we all can agree that she’s had enough.
Her tipping point came Saturday during her final match against Naomi Osaka which ended horribly for both parties. Naomi wasn't able to enjoy her winning moment and Serena was labeled a sore loser for calling out a referee who couldn't stand a black woman who was rightfully upset at being penalized for cheating.
By now, we all know what happened. Serena wasn't having a good game against Naomi, who was honored to be playing against her hero. Like other tennis matches, Serena’s coach signaled to her from the players box, and while Serena didn’t see it, the ref did, and he imposed a warning on her for it. Like any normal athlete, Serena had a human reaction to being penalized for something that 1. She wasn’t even participating in; and 2. That every other coach does in tennis.
In a Grand Slam final, you’re going to penalize a coach for illegal hand gesturing? C’mon.
Later, the ref told Serena she was a cheater which was totally unnecessary and irresponsible as an unbiased ref, and she demanded an apology from him. Then, after missing a serve from Naomi, she broke her racket and the ref penalized her again with a one-point deduction. She responded by calling him a thief, and rightfully so. Men and white women have said much worse to ref’s in tennis matches and most were never penalized. During the course of their interaction, you could tell that the ref was baiting her and couldn't let it go. The sexism was present right there and accounted for. Everyone saw it.
Seeing Serena get so frustrated and Naomi’s own reaction to the entire fiasco clouding her winning moment is all too familiar to us. I can only imagine how Serena felt in that moment. And yet, she stood her ground. She demanded an apology and stuck up for herself, her legacy and other women of color in the sport. What happened to Serena on that court — and what often happens off the court — is blatant sexism and racism and because Serena is a black woman, people expect her to govern herself in a meek manner. That apology she demanded was for all of us.
Watching Serena comfort Namoi, the first Japanese and Haitian woman to win a Grand Slam, at the award ceremony was the only bright spot in the entire situation. This mess could have laid the path for pitting two black women against each other but both Serena and Naomi were the definition of gracious. Serena knows that Naomi and many other women of color will face the same sexist and racist issues she has while playing this sport. She knew the importance of calling out that ref and what it could potentially cost her. Heck, we all know the risk when we fight back against the patriarchy. You're labeled “angry,” or pushed down, and often black balled when we dare speak for ourselves. It's frightening and why a lot of women would rather censor ourselves than speak out.
I hope Naomi is able to enjoy her moment. I hope Serena knows that we are still rooting for her. Her journey back to the court after her own complicated birth is something to admire. People say that having a baby changes your perspective on life and it seems like Serena’s goal is to now make her daughter proud.
At at the end of the day, this momentous occasion for women of color was stolen and tennis owes Serena and Naomi an apology.