I woke up this morning with every intention not to write anything today. Recently, life for me ain’t been no kinds of a crystal stair. For the past three weeks through a cold, stomach virus, work fatigue and life in general, I’d been reading and writing for finals in both my classes. After confirming that I scored another 4.0 for the semester, I decided that for the next three days I was on a writing break. I needed time for my brain to breathe and fingers to relax. But then I got an email from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists congratulating me on my second paper abstract being accepted for this year’s conference. Doing the “me” thing, I decided to bend my rules a little and brush up on some of the reading I did for the submission. Given that my topic is on Black Female Sexuality and its present reception in society, a lot of my readings were based on theory as well as pop culture things like Amber Rose’s SlutWalk and Brelyn Bowman’s purity pledge. Scouring the internet for more pop culture examples to dissect in my presentation, I happened upon the whole uproar with Gilbert talking shit about the WBNA. Admittedly, I heard about his comments before, but that was around the time I was in a post-finals/sick fog where I couldn’t lend it the random pop culture intellect I can now (read as: I was far too tired to give a fuck). But now that I have my second wind and while I’m in the zone of Black feminist/Womanist thought, let’s have a quick chat about how incredibly stupid comments like Gilly’s really are.
While blog site after blog site can tell you numerous ways how asininely sexist the comments were, I want to take a step back for a minute and look at the framework from whence this bullshit came. The bigger problem with Gilbert’s incredibly fucked-up, sexist comments is that they stem from the long-standing tradition and practice of undermining Black women’s sports acumen by criticizing their appearance. This isn’t an isolated incident. We’ve been here before.
We were there in 2000 with Love and Basketball. Aside from the constant crooning of Maxwell everytime Monica and Quincy were around each other and Zeke keeping his wife’s fine ass in Gucci and gold (such a joy of a quote), one of the subplots in the movie touched on this subject. While there were no direct comments correlating Monica’s appearance to her basketball ability, one of her constant conflicts throughout the film was the expectation of balancing (or at times outweighing) society’s standard of “being ladylike” against her passion for the sport. The most compelling scene in the film on this topic was the debate Monica and Quincy had in the car regarding how her “attitude” on the court could cost her being selected for a college team. When Quincy advises that she should calm down when playing, Monica points out the double standard that women have when playing the sport,
Please, you jump in some guy’s face, talk smack and you get a pat on your ass. But because I’m a female, I get told to calm down and act like a “lady”. I’m a ballplayer, okay?
While rooted in fiction, this example stems from a serious, real-life quagmire female athletes, particularly Black, find themselves in. When their ability is top-notch, they are often the targets of ad hominem attacks with their femininity being called into question.
We were there in 2007 with Don Imus. While most of the public outrage was directed to the fact that Imus referred to the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball Team as “nappy headed hoes,” what wasn’t discussed as much was the underlying sentiment that the University of Tennessee Women’s Basketball Team won because they were the “prettier” (and not-so-ironically fairer-skinned) team. Such reasoning feeds into the erroneous assumption that appearance influences ability. If that were truly the case, there should be a whole rack of people in the NBA, NFL, and whatever else 3 or 4-lettered sports organizations on unemployment because their looks don’t compare to their ability.
We were there in 2012 with Gabby Douglas. Here we had young Miss Douglas slaying the gymnastics competition in the OLYMPICS, yet there was all this controversy about how she wore her hair. Of course some people in the pithole of opinion hell aka Twitter went just as far to say that Gabby’s hair was the missing element in her being the quintessential Black female athlete role model.
For starters, she is an athlete. Having gone to an all-girl high school, it really wasn’t an uncommon thing at all for ANY athlete regardless of the sport they played to have a ponytail. Secondly, she was 16 at the time. Have any of you people met 16-year-olds? Their appearances can range from gorge to plain and everything in between. This includes hairstyle. When you blend together Gabby’s age and her profession (a profession that she has not even out of high school, mind you), I was neither shocked nor outraged by any of it. In fact, I expected it. Watching student athletes in action, who would want to invest time away from practices and working out and money into going to the hairdresser if you’re only going to sweat your hair out hours later? What was our problem that we were far more concerned with the girl’s snatchback than we were with her snatching gold medals in the name of these United States?
My God, when are we NOT there with Serena? If I listed every, single example of how her appearance undermined her sports skills, I’d most likely still be writing this “short” piece well into 2016. Her incidents include Tomasz Wiktorowski comparing Agnieszka Radwanska to Serena stating that they keep her small “because first of all she’s a woman, and she wants to be a woman, being called arrogant and cocky, to the most bizarre recent pandering that a horse be more deserving of Sports Illustrated’s 2015 SportsPERSON of the year honor. But again, much of the grievances against Williams harken back to the misogynoir framework that a Black female athlete can’t simply be a good athlete without her appearance being called in for critique as well.
So how do we resolve this conundrum? For starters, we can continue to serving seats for folks comments, posts, articles, and whatnot that perpetuate this kind of bullshit. And said seats can be occupied by both men and women (believe me, there were just as many women standing by Arenas as there were men). But in making this mass purchase order, it will take the effort for both men and women to be vocal about this. It was great and expected that the WNBA spoke out, and yet we’ve heard next to nothing from the NBA. Perhaps because deep down, whether they would admit it or not, there is room on the row for them to take a seat as well because they feel the exact same way Arenas does. As I always say, folks should listen to who speaks and hear who is silent.