Last December, I wrote a series of posts about former world #1, Carolina Wozniacki, “dressing up” as Serena Williams during an exhibition match by stuffing her pants and top with towels to give herself larger breasts and a bigger butt.
There is nothing hilarious about this. There is no joke here unless you think black women’s bodies are jokes. Plenty of people over the years have let Serena Williams know that that is exactly what they think of her body. That she has to endure that from people in her own sport, Roddick who is a close friend of hers, too, is terrible.
This kind of thing always make me ask the same question: If Serena Williams, a 15-time tennis grand slam singles champion, a 13-time grand slam doubles champion, and the reigning gold medalist in women’s singles and doubles, cannot get the respect she deserves within her sport because her body does not match the other women’s whom alongside she plays (and repeatedly beats, especially Wozniacki), who can?
David Kane concludes his piece by saying that the press claiming Wozniacki’s stunt was racist only fuels the idea that tennis is “an elitist, country club sport,” something Kane denies. And I agree with Kane here that tennis, especially in the last decade, has seen a profound and hopefully permanent shift: Li Na being the first grand slam winner from China, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, both with direct ties to the legacy of French colonialism, playing tennis for France, and Sloane Stephens and Taylor Townsend coming up in the ranks of US women’s tennis are all examples of this.
Yet, the reputation of being a “country club sport” is completely reinforced in the moments when players make incredibly sexist comments or use black women’s bodies as the premise of jokes. This is not a problem with the reporting of this incident. It’s a problem of the players making poor choices, the crowd laughing along with them, and people defending those choices in order to defend the sport at large.
Today, five months after the exhibition match and the ensuing controversy around Wozniacki’s act, I was google searching images of Serena Williams and this is what I found:
The second image returned was of Caroline Wozniacki in her Serena “costume.”
I’m not even sure what to say about this. So, I’ll just say two things.
1) I think it’s incredibly sad that a general image search for Serena now brings up a white colleague of hers mocking her body (and if you are here to tell me it’s a “joke,” I’m not here for that because nothing about poking fun at Serena’s body – or ANYONE’S body – makes me chuckle).
2) When Wozniacki decided to pull that gag, she probably didn’t think that it would garner so much attention (she had done it before and male tennis players do it all the time, the latter STILL being an interesting side issue in that entire episode).
But that is part of the point: She used Serena’s body as if it was hers to wear and as if it was okay to encourage the audience to laugh at it – she just didn’t understand how large that audience would end up being. And now it’s embedded in the Google image search alongside actual pictures of Serena Williams.
*shaking my head*