Yesterday, I wrote a short piece celebrating Serena Williams’s 2514th consecutive victory over Maria Sharapova; a win that took her to the Wimbledon final. Titled “Serena Williams Drinks, Bathes In, And Makes Lemonade With White Tears“, it acknowledged and made light of how Williams’s success grinds the gears of certain types of people upset that she — a woman so unambiguously Black — dominates a sport traditionally dominated by Whites. The reference to “White Tears,” however, upset quite a few people. Who, in turn, expressed their feelings in the VSB comments, on our Facebook fan page, and on Twitter.
There’s no denying Serena is currently the best player on tour and arguably the best ever. It’s disturbing how it seems many black people resent white people, when we all bleed the same color. How can we get to equality when there’s so many stirring the pot with hatred? Racism works both ways people.
only racist sports fan mentioned in this article is the author with all this talk of white tears. can’t you at least find some examples of white racists who don’t like Serena Williams? they can’t be that hard to find
Of course, those familiar with the term know using “White Tears” in this context is not a reference to all White people. Or even the White people who aren’t fans of Serena Williams. Instead, it addresses (again) the type of person upset that Williams is stomping her entire Black-ass foot on the couch of a place traditionally ruled by Whites. But, to clear up any confusion, I’ve decided to interview an expert on the subject (Me) to provide some clarity.
So, what does “White Tears” mean? Where does it come from?
“White Tears” is phrase to describe what happens when certain types of White people either complain about a nonexistent racial injustice or are upset by a non-White person’s success at the expense of a White person. It encompasses (and makes fun of) the performative struggle to acknowledge the existence of White privilege, and the reality that it aint always gonna go unchecked.
A nationally prominent example of this is Fisher v. University of Texas, a court case that basically boils down to a slightly above average White woman upset her slightly above-averageness aint granting her the birthright privileges she believes she deserves. Instead of banging a gavel, the judge presiding over this case should just shake a Dasani bottle full of Abigail Fisher’s tears.
Again, this doesn’t apply to all White people. Just the type who’d be frustrated that a person like Serena is dominating tennis.
Why Serena, though? What’s so special about her success that White Tears would need to even be acknowledged? She has millions of fans, and I’m sure millions of White people are among those millions.
Because of a certain type of criticism that has followed Williams throughout her career; a phenomenon that can best be described as “What? They really just said that?”
Vox’s Jenee Desmond-Harris broke it down last month.
At the 2001 BNP Paribas Open tournament in Indian Wells, California, Serena and Venus Williams were booed by fans who accused them of match fixing when Venus withdrew from a scheduled semifinal match. And then, according to the Williams family, things got worse:
“When Venus and I were walking down the stairs to our seats, people kept calling me ‘nigger,” her father and coach Richard Williams told USA Today at the time. One man, he said, threatened, “‘I wish it was ’75; we’d skin you alive.'”
Serena boycotted the event for more than a decade, only returning this year.
But the most recent commentary is a reminder that that didn’t mark an end to the racialized, sexualized, dehumanizing comments about her. Nearly impossible to imagine being made about any of her peers, they’re 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’s 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.
Damn. That’s fucked up.
It is. And that passage didn’t even touch on the passive-aggressive digs and backhanded compliments some of the tennis commentators offer while watching Williams’s matches.
Wow. It’s even more fucked up that, despite all of this evidence of Williams’s treatment, some White people are so in their own feelings that they still find a way to make an acknowledgment of this treatment about their own feelings.
Who would have thought a piece about White Tears would have brought out more White Tears?
Was that a rhetorical question?
I thought so.