Williams Sisters Combat Racism
Sep 08, 2001 19:15 PDT
In a message dated 9/7/01 7:07:53 PM Pacific Daylight Time, CHPennie1 writes:
Moderator's Note: Also read "The Sisters vs. The World"
"Williams Sisters Still Served Ancient Racial Stereotypes"
September 7, 2001
Williams Sisters Combat Racism
By Dennis Childs <email@example.com>
This is to let all of you know about a historic event that will be taking
place tomorrow evening in New York City. For the first time in the history of
professional tennis two Black people will be meeting in a grand slam final.
There are three levels (well probably more) of irony attached to the event:
1) The event will take place on American soil between two descendants of
African slaves from Compton California.
2) It will be a match between Venus and Serena Williams -- two sisters.
3) The match will take place at a locale called "Arthur Ashe memorial
stadium" -- and for those of you who may not know, Arthur Ashe was the first
and only Black male to win a grand slam final some 30 or so years ago. And,
I'll say parenthetically that he did so while receiving repeated death
What is most revealing regarding CBS's coverage of both semi-final matches
today is that they refused to mention that the import of the prospective
"sister final" has to do with more than the fact that the contestants are
related -- that the miracle of their accomplishment underlines the entire
history of racial subjection, segregation, and social division which
constitutes the very fabric of "American" history/present.
All of you, i presume, are familiar with the manner in which the Williams
sisters, along with their father Richard, have been demonized in the US media
ever since their ascension up the ranks of the tennis world. In one
particular instance a popular nation-wide radio personality -- Jim Rome --
referred to the sisters as "Predator 1 & Predator 2" citing what he viewed as
their unattractive personality on and off the court; this comment is of
course fraught with an ensemble of racist ascriptions having to do with the
ostensible unattractiveness -- i.e. ALIEN -- phenotypical and metaphysical
aspects of blackness -- labels that have reigned in Euro-American discourse
The question that the media will refuse to ask is why is it such a miracle
that two Black sisters are meeting in a major tennis final? Why are we so
enthusiastic and yet so shocked? For those of us familiar with how general
social inequity under a racist context has always seeped into the sociology
of sport, the answer is all-too clear. Tennis has always been one of those
global terrains that has been kept beyond the horizon of racially and
economically repressed peoples. A recent headline in sports illustrated
bespeaks the level to which white paranoia regarding an imminent influx into
all major sports by Black people has translated into a quarantining of select
sports such as golf, tennis, hockey, and most winter sports: the headline
read, "What Ever Happened to the White Athlete?"
This rhetorical question signals the fact that the white racist imaginary
does not even want to grant free access to the one spectrum of social
activity that Blacks have been able to infiltrate. Historical figures such as
Wilma Rudolph, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, and Arthur Ashe -- along with
innumerable nameless others -- all literally put their lives on the line so
people such as the Williams sisters and Tiger Woods could have the
opportunity to excel. However, certain sports such as golf and tennis have
maintained their aristocratic/slave class membership requisites, a fact that
has never been thrown into relief more overtly than when it was found that
the country club where golf's "Master's" championship had maintained a "no
black member clause" in their books right up to Tiger's first victory in that
championship. The tour members' echoing of the club's racist sentiments was
revealed when a long time golf pro, Fuzzy Zeller, was asked on camera what he
thought of Woods's resounding victory, to which he commented: "I think its
great, maybe next year they'll serve fried chicken and watermelon."
A similar comment was recently made by one of the Williams' sisters US Open
semi-final foes -- Martina Hingis -- in which the European woman was asked
about the sisters' rise to fame. To paraphrase, she responded by saying that
it is no accident that the sisters are doing so well, that as Blacks they
have had it "easy" because any time anything goes wrong in their game they
can blame it on racism. One wonders how "easy" it would have been for Hingis
to reach the Williams sisters' level of accomplishment if she had been raised
in Compton and had to depend only on a family member for coaching. Here we
have a classic example of the calculus of modern racist ideology whereby
historically repressed peoples are pathologized for calling attention to
their life circumstances.
Thus, for me, a long time tennis fan, it is almost too fitting that Serena
beat Hingis in such a one-sided fashion today, and that Venus turned around
and beat America's tennis darling, Jennifer Capriatti, in straight sets. And,
the most karmic element of it all is that all Americans will have to watch
the US open final being played between two descendants of slaves at Arthur
Ashe Stadium. Its moments like this that let us know that that far off
horizon called hope still exists. I hope everyone will watch and record, and
like me, count the number of times the media personalities will mention -- or
not mention -- anything I've stated in this writing.
Dennis Childs is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of
English at the University of California at Berkeley.
Copyright (c) 2001 Dennis Childs. All Rights Reserved.
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