I have had the opportunity of a few discussions about Serena since last week’s blog – all of which I am grateful for. A key component of diversity and inclusion is dialogue and discussion. It’s imperative that we create an environment where we can share our perspectives and expand our awareness in the process. In so doing we see the world and situations differently, which gives us further insights, and we get to know each other better – which makes for better teams, departments, organizations, families, communities and ultimately, a better world.
And because of those conversations, I’m revisiting my blog from last week about Serena.
Truth be told, I did not watch the video replay of Serena’s exchange with the referee. For me, it wasn’t the point. But I should have watched it. It would have given me a fuller picture from which to write from – and fuller pictures are helpful. Especially when we are formulating an opinion (when are we not formulating opinions?!) or making an argument.
In my conversations this past week it was suggested that Serena, as a world-class athlete – as the best tennis player in the world – should have known better, and should have done better. It’s true that we hold people in these categories to a higher standard. They are role models afterall. I agree. Especially if we are holding all folks in these categories to the same standards. One of the points Serena was making was that these standards are not the same for all.
I have watched the video. I saw a person who was angry, and I saw that anger come out. Verbally. In the moment. It reminded me of my daughter’s friend who refused to go to class on the first day of school because none of her friends were in it. I saw tears and then I saw a firm determination that I admired in that 6-year-old, in the face of authority that had let her down.
So I will say again that I’m not a tennis player or fan, so I don’t have the experience of what that environment is “typically” like. But here is where I remain on this issue:
We need to see more. We cannot look at situations for their face value only – because we live in a world that is inequitable, and inequities create incredibly divergent realities for people. Because of this, we have to dig deeper.
I agree that Serena should have known better. And that she should have done better. As a role model for girls, and for Black girls, that would have been the ideal.
In my personal life, I know that there is often much more power and effectiveness in sharing how I feel is layered with thought, time and a grounding in who I am rather than simply emotion. But that’s ideal, not always reality. Would keeping it together and then pointing out the inconsistencies later have been more effective? Likely. Would people have heard her more? Possibly. She seems to have garnered a lot of support from her colleagues, how much more support could she have had? All important and valid points.
But here’s are two things to consider:
Often we expect people – especially people from historically disadvantaged groups – to put up with bullshit and not react, not say anything, and just to take it. It’s a product of unconscious bias and systemic isms that we don’t recognize this. In that lack of seeing, it becomes “they way it should be” rather than an expectation built on seeing someone as less than.
Despite Serena’s status on the court, she is a Black woman. That’s two significant historically disadvantaged identities. With the above in mind, living in an environment that sees and treats you as less than takes its toll.
Microaggressions are real. They show up daily, in small and large ways, but fly under the radar (hence their name) because we are so used to seeing some people as having less value – consciously and unconsciously – and therefore treat them as such. Microaggressions appear as things like being spoken to disrespectfully, not being seen as competent, not being seen for who you are and what you have to offer, having to prove yourself over and over, not being acknowledged, being mistaken for “the help”… for no other reason than because of who you are: a member of a marginalized group. You can access the definition of microaggressions here.
These are real examples that I know about personally.
And the impact of these is cumulative and devastating to the spirit. It’s like a mini war zone every day, where you fight for your sense of self.
So yes. Serena lost her cool.
It’s not surprising to me. And if we look at the bigger picture, we might ask ourselves what pushes a disciplined, competitive, polished athlete to snap?