I wasn't going to write about Serena Williams. Other than failing a few tennis lessons, I don't know much about the sport. And a woman, especially a woman of color, regardless of fame, being subjected to a double standard …well, welcome to the world. First day?
But then, in a casual conversation last week, a woman — a white woman — declared that Williams acted like a … bitch. And so, in addition to a public service announcement that not all women are allies to women, I find it necessary to remind some of you of a few things that I often find myself explaining after an outburst — usually my own:
That it is rarely about one incident, but about an accumulation of disrespect, microaggressions, and erasure; and that Williams, whose outburst at the U.S. Open cost her $17,000, has endured more than most — on and off the court. About everything from her clothes to her character. ("You owe me an apology," Williams repeatedly told chair umpire Carlos Ramos, accusing him of attacking her character by insinuating she was cheating.)
That what played out on the court was a rising bucket of B.S. that women of color are burdened to carry around. And that most of the time, to be employable, palatable, they need to quietly strain under the invisible weight. But in time, it becomes too much, and the bucket gets dumped in frustration, with barely enough time to rinse it off before it starts filling again.
It didn't take long for Williams to start collecting more disrespect. Shortly after the controversy, Australian cartoonist Mark Knight enthusiastically took to Twitter to promote his vile creation that hearkened back to old-time racist imagery. So proud and then so indignant he was when people called him out.
But never mind that — my, my — did you see how Williams behaved! So unbecoming of the sport, of a woman.
Always, it's so much easier for people to peg Williams — or any other woman of color who's had enough, who uses her voice and power to say enough — as angry, hostile, a bitch, for acting no differently than men. Men who, when behaving in similar fashion, are usually viewed as passionate and outspoken. Who are not only instantly applauded, but often instantly believed when they call B.S.
It's easier to make it about one incident, because to acknowledge what women, women of color, have to endure would force the focus where it needs to be — on inequality, injustice, and institutionalized sexism and racism that even with the #MeToo movement has so far to go — whether a woman is calling out a ref or a Supreme Court nominee.
Just look at what's happening to the college professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school.
Like clockwork, her manner and motives and timing are being picked apart.
Suspicious timing. Bad timing.
The timing for women to speak up never seems to be right, whether it's on the tennis court or in a court of law.
Women — women of color especially — are often shamed for owning the power of their voices, painted as stereotypical angry black or brown women with little regard to how justified that anger may be.
They are told that there is a right time and place. And always, a different time and a different place.
Back to that casual conversation that left me cold.
I had somewhere important to be, and couldn't afford to have my bucket overflow in a room full of people who'd have no idea what came before, who might quickly peg me the bitch. I hear that's called "adulting." It's overrated, but occasionally necessary. I made some of these points, and then, realizing they weren't making much of an impact, I stopped.