After a week of watching with amazement Brett Kavanaugh avoid answering important questions regarding his true positions on racial profiling, Roe v. Wade, and the limits of power of our nation’s chief executive, it was quite refreshing Thursday evening to turn off CNN and MSNBC and sink into my sofa and watch tennis’ Black women of magic do their thing.
First it was the godmother of tennis, Serena Williams. The “old” lady surgically took apart a young woman, Anastasija Sevastova from Latvia, by serving up a bagel in the second and final set (bring on the cream cheese). This brilliant performance was followed by two women of color future champions Madison Keys and Naomi Osaka battling on the courts in one of the hottest (as in sweltering heat) US Open in recent history. Osaka, in a battle of forehands and managed nerves, won out in the end, moving on to play Serena in Saturday’s championship.
Osaka, the 20-year offspring of a black dad from Haiti and brown mom from Japan, won the hearts of the New York and television audiences when she disclosed that as she played last year’s defending Open runner-up, Keys, in her semifinals match, she could only think about how much she really wanted to play her childhood idol, whom she still “loves” today, Serena Williams.
But what is most intriguing about the rise of the black girls in tennis is how much it stands as a stark contrast to the dog whistling and race baiting of our president and those who give him cover. The mere biracial and multi-national composition of the families of these truly remarkable athletes challenges the nativist leanings of a president who wants to erect walls. Osaka’s family is of particular note, a mom who has immigrated from Japan, a country where “good” immigrants come from according the preferences and policies of 45; and her black Haitian dad who hails from the “bad” immigrant nation of Haiti. The family has lived in New York and Florida since 20-year old Naomi was 3.
Osaka is as American as you can be but still the silly commentators remark that she doesn’t have the temperament of a typical Japanese player, whatever that means. What was meant in the commentator’s awkward comment is that Osaka exhibits the characteristics of her model, the powerful and emotional Serena Williams, a black woman who found her magic first on the weed grown courts of Compton.
What is all the more puzzling, the USTA failed to embrace Osaka when the family turned to them for support several years ago? Analysts want to make it seem as if Japan offered a more lucrative financial package, but one has to wonder if with Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, and Venus and Serena Williams achieving such high levels of success whether or not there is a quota system at work within the USTA.
If Osaka was a victim of racial profiling and a de facto quota system, her rapid rise to the top will be another indication to America that racism does not pay and hurts us all.
Watching the US Open tennis tournament, it is clear that the color caste system is still alive. Keys, the lightest of the magical black girls, gets the most play from the media, the camera often cutting to her white attorney mom in the stands. Sloan, the darkest in the group, highest ranked, and the only Grand Slam champion other than the William sisters, gets no slack. Don’t let her have an off day; the commentators heap harsh criticism upon her, as they once did to both William sisters. Osaka, they treat moderately well, but they patronize her because of her relatively young age I suppose.
The mere fact that commentators do not talk about the dominance and rise of the black women tennis players—often trying to deemphasize Osaka’s blackness and American nationality by pointing to her endorsements in Japan—reflects the commentators’ lack of comfort with the changes occurring within the world of women’s tennis. It used to be dominated by fair, genteel white women, many of whom work as commentators today. But times have changed.
As our president taps into the fears of some Whites who see their fragile white majority numbers coming to an end within a decade or two, the field of sports has become a proxy for fights based on the fear and anxiety of some Whites. This is why 45 can’t stop tweeting about black NFL players taking a knee during the performance of the National Anthem. This is why the USTA is nervous about its brand becoming too black. This is why more professional sports teams are moving farther away from the inner cities to the suburbs.
The magic of the black women tennis players is that their very existence challenges everything our president is attempting to do to divide us as a nation. They are the face of the multiracial nation we are in the process of becoming. The interracial unions which produced some of these off spring remind us of what more of our nation would look like were there not still taboos associated with interracial and multiethnic marriages.
The fact that these women excelled in tennis, one of the most competitive and international of all sports, speaks volumes to our country and the world. It says, no matter where you are from, what language you speak, or which ideology you believe, there is something about the human spirit in an arena where true meritocracy reigns that allows us to soar and binds us together as one human race. That’s magic!