The original post did not include the four comment pieces which accompanied the article in print which might provide the required 'balance'
The sisters expose tennis's racist heart
Sunday January 9, 2005
We have never seen a phenomenon like the Williams sisters in tennis and I fear we never will again. They have lent tennis a quality that it never before possessed. Tennis grew up as a white middle-class game, epitomised today by the mystique - or, rather, pastiche - of Wimbledon. Class is woven into the fabric of sport: rugby and football remain worlds apart, the former a game of the City, Oxbridge and private schools, the latter a game of the masses. But if sport is linked with class, the same is true of race. Those mass sports with the lowest economic barriers to participation are, not surprisingly, the ones that have been most accessible to those of colour. A quarter of Premiership players are black: in contrast, every single Formula One driver has been white.
And so to tennis, a lily-white sport not only by dress code but also by skin colour. There have, of course, been exceptions, such as Arthur Ashe and Evonne Goolagong, but tennis, like golf, has been an overwhelmingly white preserve. The pressures to conform to the white norms are huge and it is understandable that many non-whites feel a powerful desire to do just that: even to the point of denying the racism that they experience. Not Venus and Serena, who, like Muhammad Ali and Tommie Smith - who gave the Black Power salute on the podium after winning the 1968 Olympic 200 metres - have in their very own inimitable way and in a very different era competed on their terms. They have done this through celebrating, not denying, their colour and their culture. This is why tennis has found it difficult to accept them. In no sense can Serena and Venus be regarded as honorary whites: they are black and proud of it.
To the kind of white, middle-class audience that watches tennis and has no understanding of what it means to be black, this is an anathema. The spectators who booed Serena at the French Open semi-final in 2003 - and cheered opponent Justine Henin-Hardenne to the skies - expressed this incomprehension as rejection, a thinly veiled racism not dissimilar, if a little less crude and barbaric, to the behaviour of the Spanish crowd at the Bernabéu in November. I have watched the Williams sisters many times at Wimbledon and have never seen the crowd support them: polite applause, grudging respect, perhaps even quiet admiration, but nothing more. A discreet racism informs the behaviour of the white, middle-class crowd.
This is vehemently denied. When I wrote to this effect 18 months ago, the BBC's Oliver Scott reacted almost with apoplexy: how could a Wimbledon crowd, the epitome of fairness, that icon of Englishness, be guilty of racism? Football crowds maybe, but not Wimbledon.
This view is based on the idea that racism is a trait of the working class, not the middle classes. This is nonsense. What is true is that the middle classes have much less familiarity with those of colour in Western societies: the latter tend to be poorer and therefore occupy positions much lower in the social ladder, so live in different areas. Middle-class racism can be every bit as pernicious and often more ignorant, even if it comes class-coded and seemingly genteel. The sisters have not only raised the bar, they have also injected something quite different into tennis. It is perhaps too much to expect an overwhelmingly white corps of tennis correspondents, who have never experienced racism and whose knowledge of the world does not extend much beyond the court, to understand and acknowledge this. The sisters' singular achievement has been to bring to tennis a black culture that previously was almost entirely missing: in their style, their sense of fashion, their physique, their self-confidence and their flamboyance. And this is complemented by the presence, in the players' box, at most tournaments, of their family circle, an island of Afro-America in a white ocean. Venus and Serena are wonderful role models not only, and most obviously, for young black women, but for us all. Long may they reign.</FONT>