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There's Growing Fallout Over Code Violations Against Serena Williams


There's growing fallout over the U.S. Open women's final in which the umpire fined Serena Williams for three code violations. Williams accused the umpire, Carlos Ramos, of treating her differently because she's a woman. Now tennis fans and others say racism is at play, too. Tobi Oredein has been thinking about all this since the Open last weekend. She's a writer based in London and joins us now.

Thanks so much for being here.

TOBI OREDEIN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: You say this is not just about sexism. There is an element, a threat of racism here, that this is about how society responds to or manipulates black female anger. How so?

OREDEIN: Yeah. I think a lot of us are familiar with the term misogynoir, this combined discrimination of racism and sexism. And at the heart of misogynoir, because it only affects black women, is a caricature of the angry, black woman - that black women, when they show emotions, they're obviously angry. And it dehumanizes us, and it stops us showing emotion.

So when Serena felt she was being treated unfairly and she showed her anger towards the reaction of the insinuation that she was a cheater, I think people try to reduce it as - oh, it's just another angry black woman. Or they were appalled that a black woman could show such emotion in such a public way. And I think that has been part of the backlash, as we've seen, when it's been discussed on certain platforms, publications and even when people have drawn...

MARTIN: Right.

OREDEIN: ...Their interpretation of how the series of events that happened in the U.S. Open unfolded.

MARTIN: Right. I mean, we think about John McEnroe who, yes, was...


MARTIN: ...Censured from time to time for his anger - but he drew on it. It was part of his popularity.

OREDEIN: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And we know that anytime - we've seen it before. Even when Michelle Obama has emotions, you know, people who didn't politically agree with her or her husband's beliefs reduced her opinions to being an angry black woman to silence her. This is not just in sport. This is just common to the experience of black women across the world.

MARTIN: There - you mentioned the images, some of the cartoons that have come out after this. There was one in...


MARTIN: ...An Australian tabloid, the Herald Sun.


MARTIN: It's gone viral. It depicts Serena Williams drawn with all these exaggerated features, clearly a racist bent here. How did you respond to that?

OREDEIN: I think there was two emotions. It was one of disgust, but I wasn't surprised. And I think it was disgust that it was allowed to get past editors but not surprised because, again, it's kind of a black woman who - it was kind of like they didn't want - a black woman should know her place. But I think the thing that we have to also realize was how Naomi Osaka was also drawn. She's half-Haitian, half-Japanese. But yet, she was drawn as a white girl. And I think that's really important to remember, that you had someone who was seen as heroic and good and within her place because she didn't show - well, she had no reason to be upset apart from the ending of the match. And she had blonde hair, and it was straight. And yes, we know she has blonde tips in her hair, but that looks nothing like her. She was completely whitewashed.

MARTIN: Is this opening up something new in tennis and in sports right now?

OREDEIN: Yeah. I think we need to have a - I think we need to understand that black women and their talents, especially in sports, are treated with suspicion. Venus was also accused of cheating by Carlos Ramos. And the bigger picture is, we have to remember that Serena is constantly drug tested even though she's never been found positive of drugs. Her talent is being treated with suspicion. And I think we need to understand how differently she's treated to her white counterparts.

MARTIN: And what the roots are of that.

Tobi Oredein, a London-based writer, thank you so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

OREDEIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAD Q'S "ZIMZIMILIA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.