by A. Joy Simone
Saturday I got back in a little later than planned and tuned into the U.S. Open Tennis Women’s Finals mid first set. Such an exciting match between two women of color, to include the fan favorite, Serena Williams, and a newcomer taking the world by storm, Naomi Osaka. To be clear, Osaka was serving it up and taking no prisoners. She was outplaying Serena, but also not taking any point for granted. When the first set ended, I was worried for Serena, but I was still hopeful she would pull it out. A mother and woman of a certain age, I was routing for Serena to reclaim the title, just one more time. Plus, I had seen her use her skill and force to turn things around just two days earlier in a match against Anastasija Sevastova. It seemed that Serena may have underestimated the skill of Osaka, or that she was simply too tired to turn things around. Nonetheless, for a set and a half, it was beautiful to watch Blackgirl Magic from both ends of the court, the veteran and the debutante, the mentor and her biggest fan. And then, things shifted.
I spent many Labor Day weekends as a pre-teen and young woman watching the U.S. Open finals. I’m dating myself, but I loved watching Zena Garrison and Yannick Noah, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe, Chris Everett and Martina Navratolova. I played tennis for my high school team, and might I add, had two seasons with an amazing serve that had I pursued with intensity and perseverance perhaps I would have been among the names mentioned above. Or not. I digress. But I love the sport. Something about it resounded with me from a young age, and that was only bolstered when I saw people on the court who looked like me.
Serena has been unapologetically Black. Unapologetically feminine. Unapologetically fierce. And, of course, unapologetically magical. Witnessing the way she was treated on Saturday hurt me to my heart. I cried and felt every ounce of her pain.
The passing of the torch is not an easy thing, but it is a right of passage, and a ritual, if you will, with rules. Osaka was prepared. Serena was not going to go out without the blaze of glory, without recognition that she held the baton. And then something went terribly wrong, all at the hands of an outsider who inserted himself emotionally into the right of passage that the world was witness to. He broke the rules. His ego or machismo or chauvinism would not allow him to treat Serena Williams with the respect she deserved. He went out of his way to shame the beautiful, magical, amazing Serena; and he marred a day of achievement that will not come again for 20-year-old Naomi Osaka.
I say their names: Serena Williams. Naomi Osaka. I will not say his name. I will not give him anymore of my time. I cried real tears that afternoon. It brought to the surface every slight against me dished at various places of employment. I felt the sting of hard work exploited and then celebrated with someone else’s name on it; thieves disregarding my humanity, my brilliance, my contribution over and over again. I felt the patriarchal imposition, criticism, judgement of tears that fell in place of anger and rage, anxiety and fatigue. What the hell else do you want us to do? I digress. It wasn’t about me, but it was about women of many stripes and cultures, and yet also Black women in particular. In a last-ditch effort to seal the reprimand, not only did the umpire hand Serena the harshest penalty possible, but editorial pundits began hurling insults at Serena, calling her hysterical and angry, aggressive and threatening… beast-like. And in contrast, Naomi’s Haitian heritage,and even her Japanese heritage in some instances were wiped away, leaving her a sterilized individual, resembling a faceless blond with a ponytail.
Many have said that Serena knew what was required of her. Knew that it was expected that she would, as usual, suck it up and pretend that the disparity in treatment was not occurring, pretend that she did not have emotions, pretend that she was impenetrable, pretend that she was not angry, pretend that she was not a woman, pretend that she was unaware that people could see her Blackness.
So funny that in the midst of it all, she still swooped in to save the day for her young opponent and comrade, to salvage the victory for a young woman unable to speak up yet unable to deny the carnage that she had witnessed as layers of Serena were peeled back. It was raw. I could not discuss it with my male counterparts without hearing that rules were rules and that Serena had essentially thrown a tantrum, that one had to admit “she was a little arrogant.”
See cartoon: https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/us-open-2018-for-racist-sketch-of-serena-williams-mark-knight-australian-cartoonist-under-fire-1914549
Even more ironic was the Nike ad featuring a crowned Serena Williams representing herself as a queen of the court and of motherhood, which played in heavy rotation before, during and after the match/debacle. It was almost as if it was just too much to bear. So, yes, we were all robbed and shown that even a Super Woman is not enough to rise above racism and sexism, and color-ism, and prejudice. There will never be a fast enough dance… or jump, or serve. And so, Super Woman is dead to me. I don’t want the title. I don’t want the task. I hope that more women will join me in the mantra “I am enough.” When you are enough, you don’t require accolades or validation. When you know you are enough, you can put the cape away. Your new title says it all. Queen. I vowed three days after the match, three days filled with intermittent tears of anger and sorrow, that I would be unapologetically fierce, unapologetically Black, unapologetically female, and unapologetically magical. Just Be It. Enough.