Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Slut-Shaming Racism: The Williams Sisters

Serena Williams is a motherfucking badass. Both of the Williams sisters are powerhouses in their own right. They are the two of the greatest tennis players, and athletes, in modern history. This is not hyperbole; this is assessment based on statistics and achievements in their field.
You would not know that, though, because it seems both the public and the press are obsessed with the shape of their bodies. When Serena Williams won at Wimbledon last week, The Internet went INSANE, not with praise for a great athlete who broke a record, but with criticism, excuses, and outright blatant insults, all explaining why she won. People claimed that she is shaped like a man. Many said she was animal-like, namely like a gorilla. Others took those assessments of her body and said that she had an unfair advantage over more “feminine” (blond white) opponents. Some went completely infantile with their statements, but more polished writers wrapped their insults in pretty packages so that you didn’t know how disgusting their diatribes were until about five minutes after you read it. I’m looking at you, New York Times. By the way, if you don’t understand why comparing a black person’s physical attributes and/or athletic prowess those of a gorilla, chimpanzee, monkey, deer, or dog, then you need to pick up a history book, and look up what “scientists” of the past did to equate them with lower creatures. The only acceptable black person/animal comparison of which I know is the cat, and that is usually only acceptable in jazz clubs and 35+ river day cruises.
What is worse than the borderline racist comparisons of Serena and Venus Williams to apes and men in memes and articles veiled as journalism is the angry retort from people “defending” the Williams sisters. Normally, a measured response to such invectives would be welcome. Hell, a collective silent middle finger to such vitriol would be nice. Instead of either of those, a cavalcade of counter-memes was the response. For nearly a straight week, I saw nothing but responses to Williams/Man/Ape comparisons in the form of zoomed-in shots of the Williams’s breasts, buttocks, and legs with tag lines about what posters would like to do to those specified body parts. Rarely were the Williams’s faces prominent in the pictures, but if we were lucky, at least their faces would not be cut off in cropping. Now, I am not a robot. The Williams sisters are FINE. If one of them told me that she was into pudgy middle-aged black men, but only for carnal indulgences, I would drop everything and fly to...wherever the hell they live. However, defending people’s physical criticisms of their bodies by objectifying them and reducing them to body parts is NOT HELPING. I’m all for pushing back against longstanding racist tropes, but not by using longstanding misogynistic tropes. This isn’t an antebellum auction block. It’s somewhat like saying, “How dare you insult that bitch!” YOU’RE STILL INSULTING. Objectifying the Williams based on their prominent body parts is the same as body shaming them based on the hue of their body parts. You’re being just as corrosive, just with a different acid.
Yes, male athletes do get attention based on their looks, but the first thing you hear about a male athlete are his achievements as an athlete, and then if he is good-looking, perhaps he’ll get a modeling deal with Calvin Klein or Express. How he looks is a side note, though, not the focus. People don’t shame a guy for having muscles, as he SHOULD have, because he needs them to do his job. The Williams sisters have 103 singles titles between them. They have 43 doubles titles, 56 Grand Slam titles, and 8 Olympic gold medals. By all accounts, they are likely two of the best players in the history of professional tennis. Sadly, though, I fear that this will all be overshadowed because as black women, they will be body and race shamed by both their detractors and their “supporters”.

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