Perceived image of the angry black woman: The world vs. Serena

Over the past week, media sources have cited that Serena Williams was a sore loser after falling to Naomi Osaka in the 2018 U.S. Open. First, she was penalized for allegedly taking tips from her coach on the sideline while playing the game, which is not allowed. She addressed the umpire during the game for saying she was cheating, which led to further disdain, she smashed her racket out of frustration, and finally at the end of the match she gave a speech where she had to address the spectators to stop booing at her loss being not what they “wanted” and instead to congratulate Naomi. Rather than the public truly being upset with how this woman responded to this major upset, instead it was as if they used the “angry black woman” archetype to generate the tennis player’s demise. She was even the focus of a racist caricature that was — besides offensive — straight garbage. The “angry black woman” persona is carried in a knapsack no matter where a black woman travels, works, spends her leisure, or with whom she spends her time. It’s a cloak of which we have to be aware, and we have to be conscious of not pronouncing that energy onto other people. Otherwise, we’re never taken seriously, our emotions are never taken into consideration, and our opinions will never seem valid because of the “hostile” tone. Though we’re not actually angry but instead addressing our concerns and feelings, the outsider attempting to look in only sees us as that crazy black woman who gets mad at everything. With that in mind, many times black women have had to swallow our frustrations out of fear that it will affect other areas of our lives. We have to be easygoing in order to appease the masses. Otherwise, we’re “too difficult to work with” or “aggressive” or “troublesome.” Though, none of these characteristics may be true, it’s the image that is portrayed to white people. (Clearly, we have to be mammies singing and dancing in the kitchen while nursing babies who aren’t our own; we are not allowed to be upset with anything that offends us.) Regardless, once we’re named as an “angry black woman,” it’s hard to get rid of the title. Serena Williams is not solely one of the best female athletes or just one of the best tennis players — she is one of the best athletes period of all time. Being a black woman, from an urban-upbringing, confident in her appearance, and proud of her blackness, I think that she has always “scared” the popular masses to a certain extent. She really isn’t the traditional image of a tennis player and certainly not the ideal vision of the top female athlete. People have ragged on her looks for years, claiming how unattractive she is and her supposed lack of femininity. After taking time off during maternity leave, she returned to the game losing her No. 1 title and at the bottom of the barrel. She has been one of the more drug-tested tennis players during the season. And earlier in the season at the French Open, she was dragged for wearing a catsuit during one of her matches. Though women have done it in the past and have grown to be more progressive as the decades have rolled by, Serena’s ensemble was actually banned. People have mentioned her attire throughout the years as not being appropriate, but banning the catsuit along with everything else has reached an all-new level to — what I believe — censoring this black woman on the tennis court. Yes, the woman who defeated Serena in the U.S. Open is a black woman as well. Naomi Osaka was born in Japan and of Japanese and Haitian descent. Not discrediting that this woman is any less “black” than Serena, but there is a sense of colorism at play and we would blind to not recognize at least a hint of it. Serena has always gone against the grain of what the spectators of an “elitist” sport would generally expect. She wore beads in her hair when she was younger and they complained, she wore outfits not in the traditional color or style uniform (though still athletic gear), and now her reaction on the court for targeted gets her labeled as a sore loser. I’m not surprised, but it upsets me with how much they are attempting to demonize this woman and all of her splendor. Again, not taking anything from Naomi at all — great athlete, a woman who represents both sides of her family and culture, power to her — but there’s such a dislike for Serena that it’s as if people were waiting for anything to call her out, to say she’s unprofessional, to say she is unfit for “their” world. She’s done so many things over the years that have made a white audience uncomfortable that they are looking for the slightest mishap to say it’s the end of her career. Athletes get upset all of the time during a game or match. Men get in bloody fights in hockey, fights break out on the baseball field, football players have their run-ins, people talk smack on the basketball court, but this woman is not allowed to voice her frustration while still uplifting her opponent? The amount of penalties they gave her was as if she was at an etiquette school and she didn’t learn how to assimilate enough so they finally beat her with a ruler. As a black woman, I cannot be more proud of how Serena has handled herself since her battle with tennis officials after her match with Naomi. She didn’t just stand up for herself but for the rest of us who have ever felt robbed of a promotion or targeted when other students were cheating on a test and we weren’t. She represents so much independence and strength that our society needs. All that she endures helps prepare for the next line of women behind her, who look up and aspire to be like her. Granted after all of these years that Serena has been tested on if she’s good enough to fit in, you would think that she wouldn’t have to prove herself as much at this point.

The more we shy away from showing our feelings and the injustices that we experience, the more taboo it is for us to be angry. We cannot forfeit our happiness at the expense of someone else’s discomfort. We must remain upfront and outspoken about how we feel and call attention to the disservices against us. There will always be a fight, but every bit helps so that the next black woman can focus on the next round. Serena has always been adamant of maintaining her sense of self and destroying to remold the status quo. As black women, we have to continue breaking down those barriers, no matter how much it offends them to see us offended.

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