I kept schtum during the Olympics.
I had not commented during numerous Wimbledon matches.
After all, the extreme trolling that Serena Williams experiences EVERY TIME she steps on to the tennis court – the intense disparaging of her body AND her hair, her having to be subjected to being called a ‘man’, a ‘monkey’, a ‘baboon’, a ‘hippo’, or that her hair is ‘wild’, ‘unruly’ and an ‘afro mess’ (yes – I have seen all such ‘descriptors’ in the social media sphere) – was down to a number of ignorant human beings who could not and would not see past her ethnicity, despite her being one of the most successful female tennis player of all time.
But when an International Olympic Committee Official and Tennis Federation President describes Serena and her sister Venus as the ‘Williams brothers’, I had to respond.
In case you have missed this story, Serena Williams took Shamil Tarpishchev to task for using “extremely sexist, racist and bullying” comments after the Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) president made the above statement on Russian State Television last Friday. The WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) took swift action and he was fined $25,000 (£15,500) and he has been disqualified from working in an organisational capacity for a year. However according to the Guardian, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) are yet to decide whether to impose any sanction of its own, with a spokesman saying: “The IOC will directly contact Mr Tarpischev to ask him for a full explanation of his comments.”
I shared the story via social media and someone commented that they could see how Tarpishchev’s comment was sexist…but was it racist, as Serena stated, as well?
I believe that even though the crass statement was blatantly sexist, it emanated from a contempt for the sisters based upon their race.
This is a text book case of Intersectionality.
This feminist sociological theory was first named by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. The theory suggests that — and seeks to examine how — various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic injustice and social inequality.
Both the Williams sisters’ gender and race elicit the barrage of negativity that they constantly face.
Intersection theory can be defined as “the interplay of race, class, and gender, often resulting in multiple dimensions of disadvantage” (source).
Well, what disadvantages has Serena Williams faced? After all, she has ascended to the pinnacle of her career and has amassed millions of dollars whilst doing so has she not?
Despite her winning form, her prize money is far from the sum total of her earnings. For the period between June last year and this year, Williams’ $11 million in prize money was matched by the same amount in endorsements from deals with the likes of Nike and Wilson. Yet, for all her dominance in the best rewarded women’s sport, Williams is NOT the best-paid female tennis athlete. Indeed, she falls behind her blonde, lean, tennis peer Maria Sharapova when it comes to off-court revenue.
Serena has beaten Sharapova on 15 straight occasions on the court, but Williams’s endorsement earnings are just half that of Sharapova’s $22 million (source).
In this case the winner does not take it all. It is clear that Sharapova’s outer appearance trumps Sererna’s athletic prowess when it comes to signing those endorsement deals! The mainstream media and business executives have decided that Serena’s aesthetic will not sell products – her skin tone and figure has put her at a disadvantage.
She didn’t even get featured in the Wimbledon sponsor Evian’s recent ‘Live Young‘ campaign!!
Now that is an affront!
This scenario hits so close to home because Serena’s body looks like my body (OK, OK, sans the six pack!).
Hips. Thighs. Prominent curves. Chocolate skin.
When I look at Serena I see a version of myself and I know that this is the case for many, many other Black women. Serena’s shape is the reflection of the statuesque beauty of the black women – and yes, it is honed and toned – but it is her body that earns her her living, it needs to be optimised to perform at its best.
You don’t have to like it – but DO NOT disrespect it just because it doesn’t fit your ideal. I look forward to the day when meritocracy will truly prevail…there is a lot of work to do – but it is important to keep striving!
Anyways…I ADORE Serena’s body! She has curves in ALL the right places…and I am not alone!
I salute Serena for calling out the racial element of the comment, it is important that it does not get sidelined!
Oh and here is one of her latest endorsement deals for Beats by Dre!
Keep reigning Queen Serena!