Posted on September 14, 2009

Don’t Be Afraid of the Black Girl: Serena Williams

Jasmyne A. Cannick, New American Media, September 13, 2009

What happened Saturday during the women’s semifinals at the U.S. Open between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters is just another example of how black women are still seen as threatening and hostile.


{snip} From day one, the Williams sisters have had to fight for everything they’ve accomplished in tennis, including the continuing racism that keeps the Williams sisters from the Palm Springs Indian Wells Tournament and allows for commentators to credit the sisters’ “strength” and “athleticism” for their victories while their white counterparts win because they “play smart” and “strategize.” It’s also the reason that my hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times, can feel confident in reporting this latest news while using a photo of Serena Williams from the back, seemingly towering over the lineswoman, and giving license to every other news outlet to have a field day.

In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that Serena Williams wrote on her blog about an incident at the German Open where she lost to Dinara Safina. She wrote that she could hear the entire players’ lounge “all happy and joyous” because she had finally lost:


What ensued Saturday was nothing more than a few angry curse words that lead [sic] Serena to have to defend herself against unmade threats toward the lineswoman who was obviously suffering from a typical case of afraid-of-the-black-girl syndrome. How else do you explain the lineswoman’s alleged accusations that Serena was threatening to kill her?


Most black women can relate to what happened to Serena. We get mad like everyone else. The only difference is that for some reason, when white women get angry, they’re not perceived to be as threatening as we are. Maybe it’s the expression on our face. Maybe it’s the seriousness with which we address issues when we are upset. Maybe it’s the tone of our voice. You know that “Don’t f– with me today” tone that can stop a person dead in their tracks and scares the s–t out of most white people.


I’ve said nothing more than “good morning” to a white person and had that taken the wrong way. Maybe I didn’t smile big enough when I said it, I don’t know. What I do know is that I can count the many times I have had to explain something I did or said that someone took out of context or found “troubling.” {snip}


{snip} come Monday morning, from Rush Limbaugh to Los Angeles’ shock jock Bill Handel, that’s exactly what is going to happen. And once again, black women are going find themselves the brunt of crude and tasteless jokes meant to further demean and dehumanize Serena Williams and all black women.

Just ask former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney about her run-in with the Capitol Hill police. Or better yet, ask First Lady Michelle Obama, who endured months of ridicule and scrutiny at the hands of the mainstream media that eventually resulted in an immediate campaign to “change” her image to a much kinder and gentler Michelle right before the election that catapulted her husband into the presidency. {snip}

{snip} Perhaps when more black women tennis players ascend to the level of the Williams sisters and the Women’s Tennis Association has the opportunity to interact with more black women besides Serena and Venus, they won’t be so afraid of the black girls. Perhaps.