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NEW YORK (AP) — When Serena Williams told the umpire at the U.S. Open final that he owed her an apology, that he had stolen something from her, and then she got penalized for her words, Breea Willingham could relate to her frustration and anger.

Willingham isn’t a tennis star, but she is a black woman. She and others like her say Williams’ experience resonates with them because they are often forced to watch their tone and words in the workplace in ways that men and other women are not.



And if they’re not careful, they say, they risk being branded “Angry Black Woman.”

“So much of what she experiences we experience in the workplace, too,” said Willingham, a professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. “As black women … we’re expected to stay in our lane, that lane that has been created for us. Any time we step out of that lane, then we become a problem.”

The stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman” is alive and well, said Felicia Martin, 36, a federal employee who lives in Brooklyn. She recalls once seeing a white female co-worker cursing and throwing things and not facing repercussions, while she’s been told to calm down for expressing her own upset in a normal tone of voice.

“If I’m upset about something, I should get to express that to you,” Martin said.

During Saturday’s championship loss to Naomi Osaka, Williams got a warning from the chair umpire for violating a rarely enforced rule against receiving coaching from the sidelines. An indignant Williams emphatically defended herself, denying she had cheated. A short time later, she smashed her racket in frustration and was docked a point. She protested that and demanded an apology from the umpire, who penalized her a game.

Many people, black women among them, echoed Williams’ contention that she was punished while men on the tennis circuit have gotten away with even harsher language.

“A lot of things started going through my head in that particular situation. You know, first and foremost, what was going to be said about her the next day? The typical angry black woman, you know … when she really was just standing up for herself and she was standing up for women’s rights,” said former tennis champion Zina Garrison, who is black. “A woman, period, is always, when we speak up for ourselves, then you have the situation where people are saying, you know, they’re too outspoken. They’re acting like a man, all of that. But then a black woman on top of that, the angry black woman, who does she think she is?”



Martin and others pointed to a cartoon by an Australian artist as the clearest example of the stereotype facing black women. Mark Knight of Melbourne’s Herald Sun depicted Williams as an irate, hulking, big-mouthed black woman jumping up and down on a broken racket. The umpire was shown telling a blond, slender woman — meant to be Osaka, who is actually Japanese and Haitian — “Can you just let her win?”

“I was deeply offended. This is not a joke,” said Vanessa K. De Luca, former editor in chief of Essence magazine, who wrote a column about the U.S. Open furor.

The cartoonist “completely missed the point of why she was upset,” De Luca told The Associated Press. “It was about her integrity, and anybody who doesn’t get that is perpetuating the erasure that so many black women feel when they are trying to speak up for themselves. It’s like our opinions don’t matter.”

Some black women say they have to worry perpetually about how they’re coming across to make sure they’re not dismissed as angry or emotional.

“It’s exhausting,” said Denise Daniels, 44, of the Bronx, who works in professional development for educators. “It does diminish from the work satisfaction that other people get to enjoy because it is an additional cost.”

Willingham thinks that was part of Williams’ experience on Saturday as well, but that it was also about a career’s worth of frustrations that she has had to endure, such as when the French Open banned the type of catsuit she wore.

“I felt it for her. I felt she was fed up, she was tired of this,” Willingham said. “How much is she supposed to take, really? How much are any of us supposed to keep taking?”


Associated Press video producer Noreen Nasir contributed to this report from Washington.




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19 thoughts on “Black Women Can Relate To Serena Williams’ U.S. Open Outrage And The Backlash That Followed

  1. She snapped and a lot of players lose their cool on sports some parents do to watching their kids. She should have handled it a little differently she came off kinda like a sore loser. Serena is the best, frankly she could have won 30 championships by now she let some of her best years go by doing other things. We all know tennis is a sport where many people don’t like seeing a black dominate but I’m sure some will dilute that.

  2. tedgravely on said:

    Serena and Venus aren’t the first black female tennis players, but they are the best. Serena is so good, she is considered the GOAT. This woman has gone through it so she knows subtle signs of racism and sexism. When you’re just floating along, you don’t experience those things because you aren’t a threat to the “Establishment.” Serena is more than a threat, Serena is the Atomic Bomb. She has blown past all others and is on the cusp of history. She is close to winning in the modern era 24 Grand Slams. She has earned all 23. Nobody should give her the 24th; but don’t treat her unfairly as she takes on that challenge. She is policed like no other modern athlete, because this black woman has the nerve to challenge these fools when they called her a “cheater.” They don’t talk like that to the white players (actual cheater Sharapova), but she is supposed to be humble and keep accepting this garbage? Just like all the scary fools during the time of MLK marches, those that criticize benefit the most. What Serena and Kaepernick are doing might damage them in this time, but history will show them to be way better than those that keep licking the stick. Idiots running down her looks, hair under her arms, hair on her head, or husband. You’re a sick people. Get it together. This woman is unquestionably black and embraces it more than some of you fakes. Why should she date a man for years who isn’t serious about marriage and a Family? Not all black women want to be lonely, making it on their own. Some want a career, marriage and kids. She is a married woman, a mother, and accomplished professional. Let that soak in. She boycotted Indian Wells for a decade because of their horrific treatment of her and Venus. Were you as outraged by those racists? Imagine you just want to play tennis and people are calling you the n word. This woman has been through it and if Orange Jesus (#45) supporters can stand by him after all that he has done, darn it I’m on the Serena Bandwagon for Life. You can’t divide racists, but soft minded black people are separated like chaff in the wind.

    • African American Woman on said:

      Soooo…you’re just going to ignore the fact that that her coach ADMITTED to signaling to her! Look, even us black folks have bad days and sometimes we don’t win. That does NOT give us license to meltdown like a baby because she didn’t get her way. She is the best at what she does, no doubt, but even the best sometimes lose. Simple as that. The other girl’s moment was stolen from her because of Serena’s tantrum and no one is standing up for her. None of that was her fault. Plus, life goes on…accept the loss,learn from her mistakes and move on…that’s what a professional does. Everything isn’t racist or discriminatory. That argument is getting ancient really quick and many people, including black people, are tired of that lame, blanket excuse.

      • tedgravely on said:

        – I’m going to reply as respectfully as I can. Just because Serena’s coach said something, doesn’t mean it’s so or she was aware of his actions. Also if you’re going to quote the coach, go all the way. Don’t use what’s comfortable for your argument. Mouratoglou said he had attempted to help Williams, but added coaching was common in almost every match. “I’m honest, I was coaching. I don’t think she looked at me so that’s why she didn’t even think I was,” he told ESPN. “But I was, like 100 per cent of the coaches in 100 per cent of the matches so we have to stop this hypocritical thing. Sascha [Bajin, Osaka’s coach] was coaching every point, too. As for Serena; Williams was surprised to hear of Mouratoglou’s admission, saying she had sent her coach a text asking for an explanation.
        “We have never discussed signals. I don’t even call for on-court coaching. I’m trying to figure out why he would say that,” she said. “I don’t understand. I mean, maybe he said, ‘You can do it.’ My point is, if it’s a rule, vigorously enforce the rule evenly. Just like our broken down justice system- too often rules are harshly enforced based on the pigmentation of one’s skin or which bathroom stall they use. Even John McEnroe (Original Bad Boy) notes the double standard. Serena has always been a warrior on the court regardless of who she is playing. Winning matters to her. Once it was over, she gracefully recognized the talent of Naomi. Naomi is here now and should be a future force. Serena will make her earn it every time. When people say it ain’t something- it is. That has to be called out. Loudly!

      • African American Woman on said:

        You can write an entire biography on the coach; it doesn’t change the fact that he said he signaled to her. Whether she saw him or not; we’ll never know. That does not excuse a full-on tantrum from an adult. John McEnroe was a big baby too and was fined and ejected any times for his outlandish behavior as well. He said that there is a double standard for WOMEN; no race specified-we just can’t pass up a chance to victimize ourselves as usual. Double standards exist all over the place, not just sports. There are double standards that exist for women that men would nnever get a break on…that’s the breaks. Things can change though.

  3. I don’t understand the comment that Serena should retire…..why? As long as she still has the ability to play, why should she retire? I do agree that she should not have responded the way that she did – – as in the old deodorant commercial….never let ’em see you sweat. In it all, what the umpire did was deny Serena the opportunity to advance her win record for major championships and also denied Osaka the opportunity to beat Serena fairly. She did not win – – the match was given to her and until they meet again, she will never know for sure that she can beat Serena.

  4. African American Woman on said:

    I’m a black woman and CANNOT relate to Serena’s “plight” one bit…I haven’t had a tantrum in over 35 years. I find that folks with fragile egos can’t stand for things not to go their way; they crumble and have meltdowns- the same way a 2 year old does. Her behavior has nothing to do with how black women feel…her behavior speaks to her moment of un-professionalism and inability to follow rules. She destroyed the other girl’s opportunity to enjoy her win due to her childish behavior.

  5. As a black woman, I beleive she could have handeled the situation m in a more dignified msnner. As a black woman, oftentimes people will will purposely do something negative towards you as a test in order to produce a negative response from tou. Black women slso hate on one another the eorst. Serena needs to retire gracefully. She will always be a chsmpion, but I hate to she her come down to the level of the referre. I am sure what he did was racislly motivated. However, she has been in the game long enough to play him like a sucker, not vice versa.

  6. Serena acted immature and unprofessional. She should have not allowed the referre to push all of her buttons and let her fuse blow. She has been in thhe game for a long time and should gracefully retire. First, she does not look groomed on the court. She has enough money to get her wild hair done. I am wmbarrassed as a black woman to she her looking like that. She has hair under her ars, she needs to get her hair done , cut, or tamed down. She looks like a wild woman and unfortunately, people will tend to treat you the way you look.

    and to me has always had an attitude. S. Everyone loses seventually. No one can stay on top forever. Why doesnt she teach tennis. There is no sence in acting like a soar loser.

  7. I’m a black woman and no I can’t relate to Serena’s outburst and outrageous behavior. There’s a way to handle unfairness if it existed. The way not to handle it is to break your tennis racket and act like a 3 year old. It was embarrassing. I talked to a number of my friends about Serena’s behavior and no one agreed with it. In fact most said it is time for Serena to call it a day. She needs to go back and review how dignified Arthur Ashe carried himself – at all times.

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