Serena Williams has devoted her life to tennis. Her participation and continued success have provided the sport with a millions of fans who otherwise would not have noticed. After all, the history of the sport is simple; white country club. It was for the elites. It was mostly for men. And it was of course repressively white. In spite of this, Williams and her sister Venus have graced the game with intelligence, pride, and athleticism generally unmatched.
So it’s of no surprise to anyone when the President of the French Tennis Federation, Bernard Giudicelli, decided to call out Serena specifically for her supposed abuse and disrespect of the game:
I think that sometimes we’ve gone too far.
What is he talking about, you ask? A black, Nike-made catsuit Williams wore at the French Open this year to improve her blood circulation.
After a difficult pregnancy and labor, Williams suffered from blood clots. The suit is designed to ensure she doesn’t do something in poor taste like die in the middle of a serve. Apparently that is too much for Monsieur Giudicelli:
It will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place.
Black women have always had their bodies policed
The judgments come from the elites within any specific industry and by the media. They are too masculine, too imposing, and too often they are simply labeled “monkey”.
Anna Kournikova once stated she did not want to look like the Williams sisters because of their apparent masculinity; she on the other hand is feminine. And while there is nothing wrong with being competitive in a sport and being “feminine”, the glorification of femininity has always been the preferred method to depict women in sport. Enter radio presenter Sid Rosenberg:
I find it disgusting. I find both of those – what do you want to call them? They’re just too muscular. They’re boys.
Traditionally, muscles grow when an athlete trains in their sport. This is true of both male and female athletes. It’s usually a sign of improvement. But it’s only acceptable when the muscles belong to a man. For women it’s different. The ideal woman in sport, especially tennis, catwalks from the runway to the court. The Williams sisters have always defied this hegemonic standard of femininity and beauty, and that makes them different. Being black, however, has them bordering on dangerous. Their prowess on the court is descriptively aggressive (“pummeling,” and “overpowering”) when listening to commentators. It isn’t just a competition when it comes to the Williamses; apparently it’s a blood bath.
Black Excellence = Satisfactory at best
The racial bias against the Serena Williams is evident even in ranking. Maria Sharapova has always been deemed as Serena’s biggest rival. This continued even after it was revealed Sharapova had been doping during much of her time in the sport. Even with the chemical advantage, Sharapova still struggled to defeat Williams, or come close to a 50 percent win rate (she hasn’t yet hit ten percent).
As well as being labeled as “too masculine”, Serena is also the most tested for drugs in the sport. She has never failed, but is still examined more than her competitors. Whether rightly or wrongly (it’s wrong, FYI), it continues the belief that black people are inherently criminal, scandalous, and that their winning must be from illicit means.
And so, because the games top athlete wore a catsuit that not only kept her healthy, but was clearly practical, Williams has once again been singled out for being too black, too much of a non-dainty woman, all the while continuing to succeed. And she has done it all with grace.
At her first appearance for the 2018 US Open, Serena sported a one-sleeved bodysuit with a black tutu and fishnet compression stockings. With this choice, Williams made clear her defiance, silently, against those who cannot help but judge her for how she looks and what she wears instead of the twenty-three Grand Slams and Olympic Medals she has amassed in her long career.
While the French Open and its president look to return to a misogynist and racist era (it is the age of Trump after all), Serena Williams will do what she does best with her marvelous body: