But this morning I realized that the underlying thing making me really uncomfortable is that Serena Williams just pulled a Bernie Madoff. Do I even need to explain what I mean? People who commit high-profile transgressions that give ammo to the haters, "proof" of their worst suspicions. Jews are money-grubbing thieves. Blacks are violent and uncivilized. My knee jerk reaction is that we have to be extra cautious not to throw fuel on those fires.
And then as soon as I think those thoughts, I'm racked with guilt, because I know that they just plays into the notion that the hated minority has to be twice as good to get half as much credit. Growing up, I was explicitly taught that, as a Jew, I must be scrupulous in everything I do because the goyim will always be looking to find fault, and I must never give them cause to justify their anti-semitism. I suspect many people of color were taught similarly. But there comes a time when you recognize that this is just a way of internalizing the racism of the culture -- taking it on yourself to accommodate the prejudice rather than attacking the prejudice directly.
From a piece in the Guardian some years back titled "Tennis Is Racist, It's Time We Did Something About It:
As race courses through the veins of tennis, people pretend it doesn't exist. Instead the Williams sisters, together with their father, are subjected to a steady stream of criticism, denigration, accusation and innuendo: their physique is somehow an unfair advantage (those of Afro descent are built differently), they are arrogant and aloof (they are proud and self-confident), they are not popular with the other players (they come from a very different culture and, let us not forget, there is plenty of evidence of racism among their colleagues: comments made by Martina Hingis spring to mind, not to mention the behaviour of Lleyton Hewitt towards a black linesman in last year's US Open).
And Richard, a man of some genius, is painted as a ridiculous and absurd figure, match-fixer, svengali and the rest of it. Most racism - especially middle-class racism - is neither crude nor explicit but subtle and nuanced, masquerading as fair comment about personal qualities rather than the prejudice it is.
Middle-class racism masquerades as fair comment -- that's exactly right. That's what's so frustrating in these situations -- especially when, as in the case of Serena's outburst during the US Open semifinal, there really was something wrong with her behavior. Pointing out the racism in the responses to her behavior just brings charges that you're a race apologist, because what's worse, Mary Carillo calling Serena's press conference an "Oscar-worthy performance," or Serena threatening to shove a tennis ball down the lineswoman's fucking throat?
The fact is, Mary Carillo is worse, because she's speaking from her position of authority in an affluent white sport, and she never fails to reinforce how unwelcoming she is to people like the Williams sisters, whereas Serena popped off in the heat of the moment.
But sadly, that's a damn hard case to make to those who simply aren't disposed to listen.