Williams Sisters Combat Racism
From: Dennis Childs
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Williams Sisters Combat Racism
Date: Fri, 07 Sep 2001 17:10:33 -0700
[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
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 --
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
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"
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 for centuries.
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.