Serena Williams, the Hottentot Venus and Accidental Racism

Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki is probably a nice person in real life. And I’m sure when she decided to imitate Serena Williams at a player exhibition this week, by stuffing bulky towels down her sports bra and tennis skirt, that she was doing it all in good fun with no serious offense intended. Heck, Caroline and Serena are supposedly even good friends off the court.

Just because Caroline meant what she did to be a light jest of a colleague doesn’t excuse it from being racist. People who jumped to Caroline’s defense this week by saying, “she wasn’t being racist, she’s friends with Serena,” seem to be the same type of people who follow the “I can’t be racist, my best friend is black” logic. It negates the reality that friends can act as ignorant or hurtful as a stranger can, and it sweeps the blatant stereotyping of black women’s bodies under the rug. This isn’t even the first time Caroline has imitated Serena in public; she had done it previously about a year ago when she danced out into the court to a Rihanna song.

No matter how insanely successful black women like Serena become, the legacy of the Hottentot Venus will always be ready to rear its ugly head at an opportune moment. Displayed as a European freak show attraction in early 1800s, the Hottentot Venus, whose real name was Saartje Baartman, helped to feed the white fascination with black female bodies and now remains an everlasting symbol of the dehumanization of African features. The image of Saartje continues to haunt modern Western society whenever someone decides to sexualize a black woman’s physique. If Caroline truly wanted to impersonate Serena, she could have padded her legs and arms to represent Serena’s muscled physique, but she targeted specific body parts–breasts and booty–for her little prank. The supposed hypersexuality of a black woman’s anatomy is a ceaseless trope that is always used to get a laugh. The racist undertones of Caroline’s stunt may not have been deliberate but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

Our bodies are not caricatures. This incident did not happen in a societal vacuum where black women’s bodies haven’t been historically degraded as exotic objects. Many people don’t have the cultural awareness to be sensitive of the centuries-old portrayals of black women, so we continue to see bad gestures like this one. It’s easy to tell black people to just lighten up when you are never the butt of the joke.

Caroline should focus more on imitating Serena’s game and not on giving the fans a minstrel show.

The real victor in this is Serena. Though she’s had to endure this kind of derision since she came up in the tennis scene, she continues to win and transcend in the same body that people love to mock.

Screenshot of Caroline Wozniacki taken from YouTube.

Comments

  1. I did not know about Sara Baartman until reading this. What an utterly humiliating experience for that woman. It casts an even greater shadow on Caroline’s undoubtedly objectifying “joke”.

  2. bluehayze321 says:

    Are you saying that only black women can have large breasts and behinds? I find this whole article quite ignorant on your part. Clearly you are on the defense because of something you need to handle within yourself.

    • I dont the point of the article had anything to do with black women having breast & derrier exclusively as it was about the irresponsible antics & insensitive behavior of a publuc figure towards another. Why not mock her game & not her looks. Why exaggerate her physique in such a way that would be deemed offensive? She cant mock serena game bcuz it is too powerful so they have to mock her physique. which by the way has always been subject to commentary & jokes from the time her & her sister venus came on the scene. First it was about their braids & beads. Than it was about their physical appearance resembling men! So see whether she meant to or not its still offensive. Any time a black woman enters the public eye DC he.is scrutinized & criticized from head to toe if she does not fit the ideal perception of beauty which happens to be a white one. In an age of plastic surgery and squats ofcourse behind is not exclusively but is THE NORM for Black women than it is for any other race. But since this is not what i think wad the authors point but thats what you got from it maybe your the one with the insecurity & problem

    • joplin rufus page says:

      you nailed it. it’s really sad that somehow this kind of hyper-sensitivity is thought by some to be a kind of strength, when in fact it is weakness.

  3. Adjo Kisser says:

    This post is just so straight to the point. It is sad how a world with people who believe to be civilized can behave so uncouthly. Isn’t it funny how ‘white women’ will do anything – plastic surgery, to get the boobs and booty they mock? They are just confused. Serena definitely is the winner. Caroline, grow up!

    • agape love says:

      I think some whites/ppl covet. That’s one of the reasons for tannings and surgeries. They also discovered that white men were more intrigued by that which was different, or unusual to them. At satifying some white women’s anger or jealousy the white men would make a sport or show of it. It all boils down to that which is unlike them or they didn’t understand. They despised, displayed, and often destroyed. Blacks white was we all have self hate issues. That we pass off as hate for others. Learn to love, yourselves and all God created. No bias. Agape

  4. Please stop using the word “racism” so irresponsibly. A “racial slur” is head and shoulders away from being “racist”.

    For something to be racist, there has to be hatred, not just ignorance. When someone says something, 99.9% of the time, the racial faux pas is not realized, or at the very least, not known to be offensive.

    Our society has stopped using the correct terminology in these matters…words like prejudice, bigoted, biased, narrow-minded etc. Anything that invokes race these days automatically is racist, and that’s just plain wrong.

    • ShaRall says:

      Racism is a system that promotes inequality, prevents one from living, working, enjoying those who have White skin privilege take for granted. I agree in the case where Whites complain of racism it is more likely prejudice, bigoted or narrow-minded. I every Black person in America decided they did not like White people your life would not change however, if the converse happens Blacks don’t get jobs, don’t get into schools of their choice, they don’t get to live in the communities they desire, get the point. Racism and racist behavior adversely affects Black people.

  5. agape love says:

    Cut it out. No matter how you word it. Its wrong. My feelings were hurt; I am petite and of mixed decent. Making fun of someone publicly period is wrong. We are teaching our kids about not bullying. Then turn around and publicly mock our “friends”. Smfh No matter the race. That was just an added insult because of historical proof of the same acts and far worst being displayed. Yes, there are many women of all races with shapely curves, and world wide we have been exploited. Individually we have to make a stand that it is unacceptable. Much easier said than done of course in an ever growing culture of pornography ie. movies, music videos, magazines etc. Women stand united make men respect us; first by respecting ourselves, starting 2013. New day.

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