You just can’t think tennis without thinking Serena Williams.
On the cusp of yet another win, the tennis mega star’s DOMINANCE is unquestionable. She is not a woman dominating the sport, she’s not an African American dominating the sport. She is unequivocally synonymous with tennis itself.
Last week, in the glare of her success, several media outlets took on a surprisingly defamatory tone. The most common theme centering on the tennis stars’ masculine physique.
Responses regarding these articles were that inciting ideas of racism. After all, nobody sung a chorus on Amelie Mauresmo for her masculine appearance. Perhaps, thats because her talents simply don’t match that of Miss Williams’. Defaming someone who happens to be black, should not always have an automatic affiliation with their race. I purposefully used the term, “happens to be,” because Serena’s (as are many prodigies of color) race is simply a facet of who she is. It goes back to my post A beautiful black girl, and how we instinctively add these adjectives that overshadow or fail to perpetrate all the things we are outside of our race. She’s an amazing tennis player. This should take precedence over her femininity or race. True, her success and celebrity offers a platform for young girls of any race to see how hard work, passion, and persistence nullifies the ideas of ceilings and limits, but it’s her hard work that should spotlight her career most of all.
Prejudice is often inaccurately escalated into racism. It is a preconceived notion that is often based on unsubstantiated ideas. There is a common innate prejudice in most of us. At its core, it has little to do with race, gender, or social standing and more about our individual self-worth and self-esteem. There’s a popular saying that spans beyond any race, religion, gender or creed. It states, “people want to see you do good, but never better than them.” Even in itself, the quote is far-reaching, as there may be just as many who don’t want to see you thrive in the first place. Few people are comfortable with even those they hold dear surpassing them. Even the closest of friends can find things to separate them, all in the name of he/she didn’t really deserve their good fortune, all the while inadvertently hinting, it should have been me. No one likes to admit it, but for most people, it’s hard to be genuinely happy for others, especially when their good fortune is gained in a way we ourselves don’t consider exceptional. When that success is consistent we seek out the simplest defamatory rationales, just to make ourselves feel better. “Well, anyone can buy a house at 25 when they’re parents come from money.” “Well of course she’s getting the promotion, she slept with the director.” We’re always preoccupied with other people’s race, and spend too little time running our own.
We also fear the good fortune of those who don’t fit our vision of success. We fear not just their influence, but their potential dominance. As a result, we frantically try to suppress those behaviors in an effort to quiet the dominance of a stereotype. We bash the Kardashians for example, and their talent-less success because we have a formula for those we’ve chosen to celebrate. Those we celebrate must have unequivocal talent and/or intelligence. When someone comes around and messes with that fabric, it belittles the very fabric of our own paths. No one is ever quite prepared for that kind of change because it threatens the possibility of redefinition. The redefinition of an entire society. And that’s where we go with everything. If this black girl dominates the sport, soon every sport is gonna look like a basketball team. Then “they’ll” dominate every sport. If we allow people to “celebrate” the Kardashians then soon every 17-year-old will be idolizing vanity instead of intelligence. We’re ok with the Beyonces and Jordans because we can resolve that it’s not our path to jump that high. We can make sense of their success. They are exceptional. And even with this, there are just as many “haters” who will attest to the megastars inability to sing or dance, or offer that anyone can do what she does with her team.
As a society (mostly pre-millenials), we are conscious of influences. We’re afraid our children’s role models may look like Lil Wayne. We don’t want them to think posing ass-out on the front of a magazine is success. We don’t want them calling women bitches and hoes. If we don’t want these things, we should do the work at home to ensure that even when our children are bombarded with “poor influences” they can decipher the good from the bad and allow the influences at home to supersede those outside.
There will always be exceptional persons (who also happen to be black, latina, or white). And for every exceptional person, there will be tens fold who can nitpick at a million reasons why they don’t deserve what they have. There are racists who will frown upon every person of color, and their anger will only escalates with every step ‘we’ take towards the top. But for a lot of people, prejudice is pure unadulterated bad mindedness. And we all have a form of prejudice in us. It’s not always racism.