What is happening to Serena Williams is not happening to her because she is a woman, it is happening to her because she is a Black woman.
Serena Williams, US Open. Photo: Dave Shopland
During the U.S. Open, Umpire Carlos Ramos accused Williams of being illegally coached, cited her with a biased warning and a penalty and then removed a point from her score. She then called him “a thief” while vehemently denying his accusations; and was resolute in demanding an apology, since the warning called the tennis champions’ character into question. She used her voice on Saturday at the U.S. Open – by stating that the umpire was “a thief” after he accused the athlete of cheating with her coach.
Now, people are saying, “she didn’t behave like a champion.” One newspaper even published a cartoon disgustingly steeped with racist, sexist tropes that depicted her as a child throwing a tantrum. But I ask what champion are you talking about, Tennisplayer John McEnroe, who has used profanity and called an umpire “a clown,” or player Maria Sharapova, who was banned for two years for drug usage?
What Serena has been experiencing during the whole of her professional tennis career is textbook for things that are happening to LOUD Girls everyday:
Act of abuse against a Black woman occurs. Such acts may range from micro-aggressions and discrimination, to violence, and even murder.
Black women use their voices to identify such acts, and speak out against it, like Serena and Auntie Maxine.
Black women are then questioned for using our voices to correct the wrongdoer. When we speak out, our voices are questioned. People have the nerve to ask things like, “Why didn’t she just take the call?” When Black women are wronged by others we are expected to just quietly accept the injustice; without stating – “What just happened to me was wrong,” like Serena did.
The Shame Game. The next thing that happens after a Black Woman speaks out is public shaming for using her voice. Unfortunately, but as expected due to a long history of this behavior, (and as I stated via the LOUD Girl Movement’s Instagram on Sunday before it happened) people will shame our voices or discredit us. A perfect example is the Australian newspapers’ “cartoon.” Tactics like these are put in place to shame one’s voice or to take away the importance of what is being said, by belittling them. This is similar to calling a Black woman crazy or accusing her of having “a low IQ,” like Trump stated about Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
Punishment. Serena was fined a total of $17,000 for speaking up because Black women are always punished for speaking up. This is to discourage us from speaking out in the future and to show other Black women the consequences of using our voices to speak against any type of wrongdoing committed against us.
Strategies like this have been used in relation to Black women and our voice during enslavement, in the workforce, in public health and education systems.
Like we’ve seen time and time again, we can almost bet that in 10 years, all women will stand behind Serena saying she was correct in her actions; but today she stands alone – (as LOUD Girls often do -) and is, in a sense, the sacrificial lamb.
The response and the aftermath of Williams’ experience would not have been met with distasteful cartoons and commentary stating she was wrong, if Williams was a white woman – so to be clear, this is a Black woman’s issue.
We stand with Serena Williams today, and every LOUD Girl everyday to encourage them to speak up when you are wronged, even if your voice shakes.
LOUD and all + speaking Fluent Black Girl,