Malcolm X famously said black women are the most disrespected, unprotected and neglected people in America.
Sadly, some things remain the same.
Naomi Osaka became the 2018 U.S. Open women’s champion after defeating her childhood idol, Serena Williams, during the finals on Saturday. But Osaka’s win was overshadowed by a series of heated exchanges between Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
“I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose,” said Williams, when Ramos assessed her a coaching violation after her longtime coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, motioned from the player’s box that Williams should go to the net more often. Her second violation was issued after she destroyed her racket in a fit of anger. Her third, after calling Ramos a “thief” for taking a point away from her.
She was later fined $17,000.
While her behavior may have broken the rules, sports fans quickly cited examples of male tennis players that received far better treatment for worse behavior. Tennis icon John McEnroe was known for his violent outbursts on the court and labeled a bullying, bitter, selfish jerk by Sports Illustrated.
More recently, Rafael Nadal threatened Ramos over what he deemed a bad call, claiming he felt unfairly targeted. Reportedly, Ramos only gave Nadal a soft warning. Though Ramos has a history of clashes with players, many in the court of public opinion believe he went too far with Williams during the U.S. Open.
While some chalk the confrontation up to sexism, what Williams has faced from the beginning of her career is more complex. She is an emboldened black woman setting records in a predominately white sport, while trying to navigate a combination of racism and sexism, also known as misogynoir.
Despite facing the policing of her attire and racial slurs, Williams has earned her place as a crowd favorite and a media darling partly because of how she navigates adversity. What Williams claims she experienced during the U.S. Open is not uncommon.
Black women experience misogynoir in work environments across America. Look at the Twitter hashtags #BlackWomenAtWork, #WorkingWhileBlack, and #BlackWomensEqualPay and you will find stories detailing the constant microaggressions, harassment and blatant discrimination black women are forced to suffer in order to remain employed.
Though we have the highest participation rate for women in the labor market, black women make 63 percent of what white men are paid and are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles. Young black women are developing heart disease and dying due to chronic stress partly contributed to racism.
Yet, black women are not allowed to be angry.
I was reminded of what happens to the Angry Black Woman during a recent screening of “The Color Purple.” Sophia, played by Oprah Winfrey, was punished for being a black woman that openly displayed her anger. After leaving her husband for trying to beat her into subservience, she is imprisoned for fighting back while being beaten for publicly insulting the mayor’s wife.
Later in the film, we see a docile Sophia broken by her injuries and years spent in prison, working for the mayor’s wife as originally ordered.
“The Color Purple” may have been set in the early 20th century, but it depicts some of the issues black women still face today.
The media constantly reinforces the message that what is demanded of us is unwavering strength, poise and diplomacy even in the face of extreme injustice.
Outside of anger, what Williams modeled on Saturday was the willingness to advocate for herself. Most black women learn early that we must do so because no one else will. Some of us were raised by mothers and grandmothers that taught us when to ask, when to tell and when to demand.
After code-switching, fighting racism, surviving misogyny and sexual violence, being the backbone of the black community, protecting black men, dominating music and sports, serving as cultural trendsetters and leading the nation’s largest civil rights movements while being undervalued and underpaid, we are sick and tired.
Black women have a right to display the full gamut of human emotion, and when we experience injustice we have a right to be angry.