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Sister+Act+Venus+and+Serena - JOURNAL RACISM SOCIAL ISSUES...

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10.1177/0193723504264411 ARTICLE JOURNAL OF SPORT & SOCIAL ISSUES / May 2004 WHITE RACISM TRENDS SISTER ACT VI: VENUS AND SERENA WILLIAMS AT INDIAN WELLS: “SINCERE FICTIONS” AND WHITE RACISM Nancy E. Spencer Venus and Serena Williams’ dominance of professional women’s tennis at the dawn of the 21st century may well signify progress in a sport that typically privileges Whiteness. What happened at Indian Wells, California, in the spring of 2001 suggests otherwise. After advancing to the semifinals where they were scheduled to meet,Venus defaulted to Serena and thus incurred the wrath of fans at Indian Wells. Two days later, when Venus and her father Richard entered the stadium to watch Serena play, they encountered boos and racist epithets. Similar to other “racialized incidents” that occurred in the United States during the 1990s, the episode at Indian Wells signals the continuance of racism in the new millennium.Although contemporary terms have shifted from “scientific racism” to “cultural racism” and “commodity racism,” the underlying dynamics of White racism persist. Keywords: Williams sisters; tennis; White racism; Indian Wells Richard Williams proclaimed that a dozen fans in the stands used racial slurs and one fan yelled that he would “skin him alive.” —Smith (2001b, p. 3C) If Richard says someone yelled something,maybe they did,but I know that’s not Indian Wells people. —Charlie Pasarell, tournament director, cited in Smith (2001b, p. 3C) O n March 15, 2001, Venus and Serena Williams were slated to meet in the semifinals at Indian Wells (California) in a match that was anticipated to be a “rare tennis treat” (“Rare Tennis Treat,” 2001, p. 1C). The semifinal was to air live on ESPN, marking only the sixth time in their professional careers that the sisters would meet and the first time since their semifinal match-up at Wimbledon 2000. Ever since they met at Wimbledon, rumors had circulated to suggest that perhaps their semifinal Journal of Sport & Social Issues , Volume 28, No. 2, May 2004, pp. 115-135 DOI: 10.1177/0193723504264411 © 2004 Sage Publications
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match had been fixed by their father,Richard Williams (“Wimbledon Fixed?” 2001). Given an environment filled with rumors, the announced withdrawal of Venus just moments before her scheduled semifinal at Indian Wells “drew loud booing from the crowd of some 10,000 in the main stadium” (“Serena Advances,” 2001, ¶ 2). Two days later, Serena had to rally to win the final against Belgium’s Kim Clijsters (4-6, 6-4, 6-2) and was booed throughout the match (Smith, 2001a). When Venus Williams and her father entered the stadium to watch the final,the elder Williams proclaimed that a dozen fans in the stands used racial slurs and one fan yelled that he would “skin him alive” (Smith, 2001b, p. 3C). In an act reminiscent of the “Black power” salute given by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics, Mr. Williams turned toward the crowd and raised his fist in the air. In the aftermath of Indian Wells, Richard proclaimed that he saw evil at work in that angry crowd (Smith, 2001b), adding that it was “the worst act of prejudice . . . since they killed
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