Serena Williams has been consistently disrespected for her entire career [Repost]

The racialized, sexualized, dehumanizing comments about her — which are nearly impossible to imagine being made about any of her peers — are a genre unto themselves, offering a case study on how biases make their way into media coverage. As James McKay and Helen Johnson write in a 2008 article published in Social Identities, about what they called the “pornographic eroticism and sexual grotesquerie in representations of African American sportswomen,” even so-called complimentary commentary about Williams’ athleticism is often grounded in stereotypes about black people (animalistic and aggressive) and black women specifically (masculine, unattractive, and overly sexual at once).

These remarks don’t always take the form of explicit racial slurs or threats of bodily harm, like the ones reported at Indian Wells did. But if Williams were to boycott every tennis event at which someone made an offensive, dehumanizing reference to her body’s size and shape, she’d have to quit the sport altogether.

It’s true: Williams is black, she’s very muscular, and she’s a skilled player. But breathless commentators sometimes talk about these qualities in a way that buys into what sociologist Delia Douglas, in an article on the Williams sisters published in 2004 by theSociology of Sport Online, called “the essentialist logic of racial difference, which has long sought to mark the black body as inherently different from other bodies.” The result is that Williams’ athleticism is attributed to her ethnicity.

Dr. Peter Larkins, in an apparent attempt to compliment Williams, contributed his medical opinion in an interview with Australia’s Herald Sun for a 2006  piece that compared her fitness to a competitor’s. “It is the African-American race,” he explained. “They just have this huge gluteal strength … Jennifer Capriati was clearly out of shape and overweight. With Serena, that’s her physique and genetics.”

This thinking is part of a tradition Douglas dubbed the “ancient grammar of black physicality.”

Ironically, Williams’ mistakes have also been attributed to her race. At the 2007 Sony Ericsson Championship in Miami, a heckler was ejected from the stands after yelling at Williams, “That’s the way to do it! Hit the net like any Negro would!”

But most of the racialized comments about Williams have been more carefully coded, rarely mentioning her ethnicity outright.

Read more at VOX

Teaching While Black [The New Inquiry]

If race is a construct, gender is a construct, and teaching is a performative act, where and how do I exist in the classroom as a real black woman?

By: Patricia A. Matthew



On the first day of class one semester a male student called me Mrs. Matthews. It was the very beginning of the school year, and I’d been on sabbatical the previous winter, which meant I had eight full months to work on two big projects—an anthology about race and tenure in the humanities and my book about the history of the novel and its intersections with 19th-century medical and conduct discourse. It also meant I had had no interactions with students, even in passing. I live in Brooklyn but teach in New Jersey, so when I’m away from school I’m really away from school. The only student I had interacted with was the graduate student helping me with background research for the introduction to the race and tenure anthology. This is probably why, when I heard “Mrs. Matthews,” I replied without thinking, “Everything about that is wrong.”

I’m funny about people misspelling my last name. I think if it were, say, “Pryzbylewski” I wouldn’t get upset about it. That’s a hard name to spell, but “Matthew” is easy. Yet people add an “s” on the end all the time—telemarketers, doctors, Verizon, restaurant hostesses, and students. In the classroom, I can tell myself that I get persnickety about it because I’m teaching my students to pay attention to details, but I suspect I’m just funny about my name. And, when I’m at school, I’m funny about my title. Outside of work I rarely use it. In fact, when people ask me what I do for a living I just tell them I teach instead of saying I’m a university professor. But at school I assume that, like my male colleagues, students will refer to me as Dr. or Professor instead of Miss or Mrs. Depending on my mood or the time of the semester, I am either good-natured or sarcastic about this mistake. Early in the term I might say, “I may be large and contain multitudes but I am also singular, so please note there is no “s” at the end of my name,” or I try to keep it simple by saying “that’s Matthew two t’s no s.” When students (and when the mistake is made it’s almost always a male student making the mistake) call me Miss or Mrs., I’m neither good-natured nor sarcastic. That’s a mistake of a different kind. I try not to be too aggressive scary-feminist about the whole thing, but I’m quick to point out the error. Neither of these are high on my list of the problems of a tenured academic, but a recent comment on a student evaluation reminds of how being read as “black” by students has shaped my teaching, for better or ill.

When I said, “everything about that is wrong,” I don’t think I sounded mad or mean, but I hadn’t yet put on my black lady professor persona for the first day of class, so I wasn’t focused on making students comfortable. Normally, I try to break the ice with some wry or witty comment. If it’s the start of a new school year I joke that I’m dressed in all black to mourn the passing of summer. It’s so important to set the right tone on the very first day of class, and being too direct with one student can put everyone on edge. I have to be approachable but not a pushover, cordial but not overly friendly, competent to be sure but not so confident as to come across as arrogant. That semester, I got lucky. The student seemed chagrined but otherwise fine (he went on to do well in the course), the rest of the class barely seemed to notice, and I didn’t give it a second thought until a different student teased me about it at the end of the school year, in an entirely different class.

It was at the break during a long evening course. With the end of the term in sight and a group of exceptionally sharp students, we were all feeling a bit playful. Students don’t tease me very often, so I was tickled and amused by the exchange between a few young women of color as they made fun of me. They talked about their first impressions. Apparently, I don’t walk so much as stride into the classroom. I was compared to Holland Taylor’s character from Legally Blonde. And then a student recounted my “everything about that is wrong” moment from earlier in the year. I was surprised she remembered it at all and then stunned at her performance of it, of me: She repeated what I said while swiveling her neck and snapping her fingers. You know, how black women do on television and in movies.


Why Black Women Struggle More With Domestic Violence [TIME]

The conversation surrounding domestic violence has skyrocketed, as a shocking video surfaced showing former Baltimore Ravens’ running back, Ray Rice, punching his now wife, Janay Rice, causing her to fall to the ground, hit her head and become unconscious.

Social Worker and writer, Feminista Jones takes a look at how Black women have an increased struggle with Domestic Violence.

-Domestic and intimate partner violence (DV/IPV) is a “family secret” in our Black communities. While I’m not suggesting that all Black people think and function in similar enough ways that we could all be labeled simply as one “community,” I do know we have pervasive problems that require nuanced discourse — especially in light of the national conversation about domestic abuse that has erupted over the last week. 

These events have forced the country to face difficult truths about how prevalent domestic and intimate partner violence (DV/IPV) is in America. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million American women experience DV/IPV each year. Women make up 85% of the victims of DV/IPV. Despite this, most cases are never reported to the police and most women are victimized by people they know.

And for Black women, it’s an even bigger problem: Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of DV/IPV than White women. And while Black women only make up 8% of the population, 22% of homicides that result from DV/IPV happen to Black Women and 29% of all victimized women, making it one of the leading causes of death for Black women ages 15 to 35. Statistically, we experience sexual assault and DV/IPV at disproportionate rates and have the highest rates of intra-racial violence against us than any other group. We are also less likely to report or seek help when we are victimized.

Read more at TIME.