#VenusVs: Race & Meritocracy #NineForIX


Venus Williams playing World Team Tennis in Ma...

Venus Williams playing World Team Tennis in Mamaroneck, NY (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night, I watched Venus Vs, part of ESPN’s Nine for IX series (the IX is for title nine/women in sports). For about the last forty minutes, it became the story of how Venus Williams, Wimbledon champion of numerous times, fought to earn women equal pay at Wimbledon. I found the story intriguing back then as I do now, but I would like to reflect very briefly on the first 15 minutes. Venus’ presence in the late 90’s was unwelcome in the all white world of professional tennis. One of the more troubling events I will never forget was when Venus was penalized for one of her hair beads falling onto the court. I think this is a microcosm of the embedded racist belief systems in U.S. American culture. Venus was viewed as a monstrosity all because of her hair. Her dark skin + braided hair did not fit the beauty standards of liberal white supremacy, and so she had to be disciplined for it. The far more disturbing for me is the documentary’s commitment to meritocracy (which is a process of white liberal racism). The narrative turn for the story happens to go like this: Venus Williams faces racist microaggressions from tennis whiteys; Venus Williams wins a lot; Venus Williams overcomes racism. See a problem here? I do. Defending race-based meritocracy is still protecting racist institutions. The onus is on the part of the oppressed to prove that their looks, culture, bodily presence, and race is acceptable in the face of white supremacy. In short, race-based meritocracy blames the victims of racism for their plight without confronting the racist line judges and tennis players who Venus had to deal with.

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