It’s Not Just Serena Williams

In the book, Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, the reader is given several examples of injustices against African Americans. These examples include Serena Williams, Trayvon Martin, Rodney King, Mark Duggan, and more. All of these individuals faced injustices due to their skin tone in multiple ways, showing that racism can appear in a multitude of ways. Some of these injustices include poor calls made on the tennis court, and injustices faced from white police officers. The injustices faced by Serena Williams are a bit tougher to realize, as they are microaggressions and meant to be hidden. Unlike Rodney King and Mark Duggan, Serena’s hardships did not include violence, so it was not heavily covered and their was minimal efforts to make any improvements. Microaggressions have hindered African Americans for many years, and they are not going anywhere as their will always be some form of racism in the world (as long as their are different races). These microaggressions will stay apparent, and be attempted to try and limit the full potential of African Americans.

Microaggressions towards Serena Williams can be seen all throughout Rankine’s text. One example is when Rankine states, “Subsequently, a ball that Stosur seemingly would not have been able to return becomes Stosur’s point. Serena’s reply is to ask the umpire if she is trying to screw her again” (Rankine, online book page 41). The previous quotation exemplifies just one microaggression that Serena Williams faces throughout her career. Although she encounters multiple microaggressions, Serena Williams never gives up and keeps attempting to play through the hardships thrown at her. Serena never wants to quit a match no matter how poor the calls against her are, she just wants to keep trying harder to get past the obstacles thrown in her direction. Serena is well aware that the calls are being made to favor her white opponent, as tennis is an extremely white sport and it is being gauged to have a white winner. Rigging in sports mainly occurs with gambling, but in Serena William’s case it is done to create a favorable winner in the match (the white opponent). She is in a practically all white scene and is attempted to be pushed out with poor calls due to her skin pigment. For Serena this proves true when a picture states, ” I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background” (online book page 62). As Serena Williams is playing in a white dominated sport, she is often cast into an all white background. The microaggressions of unjust calls put her into an extremely uncomfortable position. However, she makes the best choice and pushes along, knowing that she is talented enough to be playing amongst white people in the crowd who want her to lose and knowing her presence and good performances bring them sorrow. For racists that would find pleasure with the downfall of Williams, they would prefer for her to act out when microaggressions are displayed to her. This is because a negative reaction will come with a hefty fine and a ban as well (this was seen the only time Williams displayed a negative reaction following a microaggression). By not acting out, Serena Williams is properly combatting these injustices, as by acting out she would be providing people with the reaction they want to see and she would also face negative consequences. Perhaps Serena evolves into a much more calm player is because she realizes that she cannot prevent microaggressions, on or off the court, so all she can do is ignore them. When facing microaggressions & injustices the proper response is to strive through, and Serena Williams exemplifies that. Yet in sports, others have also faced microaggressions, and responses and actions heavily affect the outcome.

Microaggressions are extremely common to a racial degree in sports, and it has been seen with athletes other than Serena Williams. For example, one major microaggression has been keeping Colin Kaepernick out of the NFL, and to make sure he isn’t signed by any team. Colin Kaepernick is an ex-NFL Quarterback and he was the first one to kneel during the National Anthem. Many view Kaepernick’s actions as hatred towards America, but Kaepernick’s reasonings are known once he states, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color” (Wyche, Kaepernick Explains). Kaepernick’s true reasons for kneeling are completely viable, as he is showing regard and concern for others who face injustices. Even with him explaining this, people still ran with the interpretation that Kaepernick hates America and the troops, as that gains more attention than pointing out racism. However, in a sport that is regarded as “America’s Sport,” Kaepernick’s actions that were interpreted for the worst created a virtual blacklist for him so he wouldn’t get any football jobs. Once Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers he found it impossible to find another job in the NFL, as the white owners did not want a player who disliked America (even though this was not the case). Although several other NFL players also followed suit with Kaepernick and also kneeled, he faced most of the backlash as he was the first one to do it, so the media and everyone else began to villainize him. For African Americans playing sports, they face microaggressions all the time whether it be on or off the court. Their reactions to these microaggressions can determine an African Americans athlete more so than talent or skill sometimes. For Serena Williams she handled these microaggressions gracefully for the most part, ignoring them. However, for Kaepernick his actions blew up too much and he found himself blacklisted from the NFL.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were in Serena Williams shoes, would you have handled any of the microaggressions differently from how she did?
  2. Name one other scenario in sports where you recognized a racial injustice towards an athlete, also note that athletes response.

Works Cited:

  • Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: an American Lyric. Penguin Books, 2015.
  • Wyche, Steve. “Colin Kaepernick Explains Why He Sat During National Anthem.” NFL.com, 27 Aug. 2016, http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000691077/article/colin-kaepernick-explains-why-he-sat-during-national-anthem.

12 Replies to “It’s Not Just Serena Williams”

  1. Hey Ryan, I liked how you had another example of a racial injustice with Kaepernick. This showed another side of racial problems especially because he was misunderstood in his stance(or kneeling) against the American flag. Many people thought, and still think, that he was disrespecting American and it’s troops. To answer your question about Serena Williams’ response to unfair calls against her, I would definitely not be able to hold emotions in as well as she did for so long. People were “shocked that Serena was able to hold it together after losing the match”(27). Serena did not react to the unfair calls until later in her career. Personally, I can’t handle when the people I am rooting for do not receive the correct calls, let alone calls against me. She has pride and strength that fights back against her haters and inequitable umpires.

  2. Hi Ryan! I really enjoyed your blogpost! To answer your first question, I don’t exactly know how I would have handled the micro aggressions that Serena experienced. I think any other person that went through those events would probably want to be able to handle it the same way. She held onto a lot and still continues to push throughout her professional career. Since she experiences these micro aggressions so often like you mentioned, she most likely uses this to her advantage. Rankine states “when asked if she is confident she can win her upcoming matches, her answer remains, “at the end of the day , I am very happy with me and I’m very happy with my results”(34). This just goes to show that she doesn’t allow these negative statements and accusations against her to affect what she is there to do. She is motivated and is strong minded. As much as I would want to handle it like this as well, there are a lot that would fall in between the cracks because of how much they allow others to overpower what they do.

  3. Hi Ryan! I really liked the points you made in your blog post about how microaggressions are common across a wide range of professional athletics. I agree that the response to Serena’s understandable outburst was unfair when compared to other examples of strong reactions to racism in the world of sports. To answer your first question, I probable would have used less graphic language, but I definitely feel that I would have at least raised my voice at the referee in response to the wrongful treatment. I am amazed by the courage Serena displayed in saying, “I swear to God I’m fucking going to take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat, you hear that? I swear to God,” especially knowing that there would be great consequence (29). This same fire didn’t die down in review of the outburst later on either, demonstrating how passionate she was, and is, about the issue. I doubt that I would have enough bravery to use words that strong, but whether or not I would say anything at all isn’t even a question. She had a right to be furious, as does anyone who faces such discrimination in their lifetime.

  4. Hi Ryan! I loved your blog post! To answer your first question, I would not be able to hold in anger, but I would not have shown it to the degrees that Serena has shown them. She is under a great deal of pressure and is in the public eye, which is something that she should be aware of regardless of her color. Anyone who is in the public eye will get ridiculed no matter what. Due to the fact that there is so much racism against her for being a successful black woman, she receives ten times the ridicule than she should ever get. When Serena said, “Aren’t you the one who screwed me over last time?” “Yeah, you are. Don’t look at me. Really, don’t even look at me. Don’t look my way. Don’t look my way.” (32). This was excessive for her to say, and I would have never done that, but it shows how fearless she is and frustrated she is for being done wrong every time for practically nothing.

  5. Hey Ryan, I liked how you pointed out that often times since microaggressions do not show an obvious display of violence, not much is done in order to combat them. Take tennis player Caroline Wozniacki “A former number one player, imitates Serena by stuffing towels in her bra and shorts, all in good fun, at an exhibition match” (Rankine 36). Wozniacki played into seriously racist and harmful images of African American women from back in U.S. history in an attempt to mock Serena . She was allowed to get away with this by masking it as a seemingly harmless joke, all in good fun. Since it did not put Serena in any serious danger, she got away with it by portraying it as a joke.

  6. Hi Ryan! I enjoyed reading your blog post. I like how you analyze the timeline of the bias towards Serena Williams, her reaction, and the ultimate injustice the tennis player faced. I also like how you mentioned her determination and willpower throughout her career, as she remained professional and stood strong even when she was discriminated against. It is extremely incredible how strong Serena is, as I don’t think that I would act the same way as she did. I think she acted very reasonably and she maintained a very powerful attitude in her tennis career and continued on: “Despite all her understanding, she continue to serve up aces while smashing rackets and fraying hems” (Rankine 33). If I faced the same unfair indecencies in a sport I was competitive in, I know that I would take the easy way out and quit. However, the story of Serena Williams inspires me as it encourages me to stand up for myself when I am wronged against.

  7. Hi, Ryan. I really enjoyed your blog post and I loved how you mentioned that Serena Williams is not the only example where there have been injustices in African Americans. To answer your first question, I probably would have used less graphic language, and also at least raise my voice at the referee in response to the wrongful mistreatment. I found it incredible when Serena says, “I swear to God I’m fucking going to take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat, you hear that? I swear to God” (Rankine 29). This shows her persistence and fortitude towards the issue. If I was in her situation, I would of definitely cursed with all my anger too, but then again there is consequences. Thank you for your blog post and I can’t wait for you to present! Good luck!

    – Makense Garcia

  8. Hey Ryan, man oh man what a blog post. it is crazy to believe that these types of racist actions still happen today. I think it is very important for the people who are being oppressed to continue to stand up for themselves. They cannot roll over and take it, they need to act like Serena acted. with passion. “aren’t you the one who screwed me other last time i was here? yeah you are, don’t look at me” (Rankine 32) This type of flair and fight is exactly what needs to be done. To answer your first question I probably would have been to shy to fight back, which would help no one.

  9. Hi Ryan! I loved reading your blog post. To answer your first question, I believe I would have acted differently than Serena Williams did. I believe I would have acted out much more than she did. I believe though she did “act out,” I also feel like it was not to the extent that it should have been.

  10. Hi Ryan, I think your example of Colin Kaepernick was a great addition to the theme of racial injustice you are trying to prove. What is sad about this, is it’s not just in professional sports it’s in so many settings that I begin to lose track. Although athletes like Serena Williams and Colin Kaepernick they are standing up for what they believe in and allowing the whole world to see it, and taking these huge risks knowing it can and will affect their careers and that doesn’t stop them from standing up for what they believe in. If I was Serena Williams, I would have handled the microaggressions a whole lot differently. Differently in the sense, I would have used a lot fouler language and it would have been ugly. I feel so much anger for her reading this it is almost as my own blood is boiling, I could not even imagine how I would react if I was in her shoes. After Serena’s match in the 2004 US Open she said “I’m very angry and bitter right now. I felt cheated. Shall I go on? I just feel robbed.” (27) This is what she had to say, after being completely cheated in wronged during her match where she had unjust calls against her left and right because she was black, and she replied so calmly. I respect her so much for being able to stay so calm in this sense because it goes to show how strong this woman truly is.

  11. Serena Williams was an athlete who showed her true strength against the discrimination surrounding her. I believe that I would be capable of holding in my feelings like Williams did herself because growing up I had my experience with discrimination. Never in sports have I had wrong call because the sports I played were predominantly team sports and singling out one player would be ridiculous. Kaepernick had his reasons to kneel and stand up for what he believe however it did cost him his career. Kaepernick was one of the best when he first began his NFL but after all the hate he received for kneeling he was nothing more than just a free agent in the NFL.

  12. Hi Ryan! I decided to comment on your blog post because of your powerful statement that microaggressions do not just happen to one person. It is very important to make it known that many people deal with microaggressions on a daily basis just because of their skin color. Citizen focuses on widely known moments of these microaggressions, but it also focuses on the subtle, everyday comments that are made among human beings. In your blog post, you include the quote “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background” (online book page 62). I agree with what you have said about this quote, but to me, this quote means more than Serena just playing a predominately all-white sport. I think this quote is so powerful and relates to the everyday life of living as a colored individual, among a sea of microaggressions being thrown their way. Great job on your blog post!!

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