The most important story in the world last weekend was Serena Williams’ public humiliation by the Man after an embarrassing on-court tantrum at the US Open.
I suspect the crackup originates from performance enhancing drugs. Of course she’s also mother to a one year-old and, still, Serena Williams.
That narrative–the new mother and old champion returning to the Open at 36 years of age–was scripted to include a victory. It could have been amended perhaps to her graciously losing to an admiring newcomer, if she had that in her.
Naomi Osaka had every story element on her side. Black and Japanese, born overseas, young and gracious, the first Japanese-born person to win a major tennis tournament. If only she had been fortunate enough to face off against a white Becky, she would right now be toast of the globe, diversity’s latest It Girl, “empowering” young women worldwide.
Most of the mainstream reactions have been sympathetic to or wholly supportive of Williams, barely nodding to Osaka as an afterthought. It’s insipid to point out the double standard, but just imagine a non-black competitor indulging that disgraceful display. Where you now have apologies for Serena ranging from the slightly embarrassed to the totally clueless (NYT to Lady Noire), you would have calls for the brat’s good-hair sprouting head.
If there’s a marketing Team Osaka they have to be wondering what hit them. Serena didn’t just steal her opponent’s glory (“thief”, indeed) on the court, she’s smothered Osaka’s story with her own. All those headlines, accepting at least somewhat Williams’ bizarre charges of sexism (one of the UK tabloids called it a “sexism row”), have pushed out the host of stories celebrating Osaka. These are time-sensitive. Osaka doesn’t get this time back. She doesn’t get to take a victory lap because Serena is throwing a fit on the track.
This is also monetary: endorsement deals depend on an athlete’s exposure. The hype and buzz surrounding Osaka’s dominant win should be the favorable environment in which she signs endorsement deals. Now she comes in with a weaker hand than she deserves; everyone is talking about Serena. The name- and general recognition she earned is not there. Somewhere an agent is doing the equivalent of smashing his racket.
Serena will suffer no significant loss. In fact Nike should be along with an offer soon.
What they’re up against is a distinctly black American phenomenon of religious hero worship. We see it in the social model adopted by hip-hop, where thousands of petty dictators of a sort claw and elbow each other to be the art’s equivalent of an African Big Man.
There is a female equivalent, the Black Queen, which Beyonce exemplifies. The black appreciation of Bey and such as Serena is religious, adopting the fertility rites of the mother cults of cruder levels of social development. Motherhood for them is transcendent, not mere motherhood; they are queen bees. Pregnant Beyonce embraced this theme on stage, appearing as gilded royalty before worshiping supplicants.
Black Americans, without the aid of Western enlightenment, would ascribe supernatural powers to their heroes and talismanic powers to their bling. In the post-religious age they revert to an earlier religious form, of the god incarnate. Where once royalty made men gods, now celebrity does.