I’m not a tennis fan. I have an idea of how to play, even owned a racket once, but I don’t watch it. Until maybe now. Maybe now I need to start watching.
Serena Williams has been in the news twice in the last weeks for issues that point out (glaringly, to me) the way racism and sexism play out in the world.
In this case, it’s the world of sport. But we can take these examples and apply them to the workplace, to schools, to just about anywhere.
This will be a short blogpost because I found an article that says everything I would want to say. You can read it here.
But here are a few thoughts:
The Systemic Nature of Isms…
Sexism and racism are – not surprisingly – baked into our systems and society. What this means is that people – like the referee in this case – believe that there is nothing wrong with their behaviour. Add unconscious bias to the mix and they will justify that behaviour vehemently, even in the face of criticism and evidence to the contrary. The cartoon of Serena by the Australian cartoonist is a good example of this.
For those of us who are (in this case) female and/or people of colour, or who are aware of isms, bias, privilege and how these all work, these incidents are obviously racially and gender-motivated. The sad part is that everyone else doesn’t see it – for the above-mentioned reasons.
What to do?
So, what to do?
Well, I think we are starting to do it. Slowly people who ‘get it’ and who see racism, sexism (and other isms) are speaking up. I’m not talking about those who are impacted (because we know that we aren’t always heard, or taken seriously if we speak up) but allies. Allies are crucial to the work of lifting the veil on privilege and systemic isms. In Serena’s case these people are also her tennis colleagues, and specifically male colleagues. Martina had some interesting comments but let’s remember that she is white and race still makes a huge difference – particularly in a sport that is (still) white.
These are exciting times – when those of us with privilege have a chance to make a difference in the lives of those who do not. And in the lives of our privileged colleagues and friends because any increase in awareness and inclusion impacts us all.
Of course, isms are hard to see when they are systemic, if you are not impacted by them. So to all the allies out there – it’s time to sharpen your understanding, sharpen your awareness, and sharpen your ally-muscles. If you need some guidance, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you a copy of my e-book Learning to ROAR – being an effective ally.