Willingham isn’t a tennis star, but she is a Black woman. She and others like her say Williams’ experience resonates with them because they are often forced to watch their tone and words in the workplace in ways that men and other women are not.
And if they’re not careful, they say, they risk being branded “Angry Black Woman.”
The stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman” is alive and well, said Felicia Martin, 36, a federal employee who lives in Brooklyn. She recalls once seeing a white female co-worker cursing and throwing things and not facing repercussions, while she’s been told to calm down for expressing her own upset in a normal tone of voice.
“If I’m upset about something, I should get to express that to you,” Martin said.
During Saturday’s championship loss to Naomi Osaka, Williams got a warning from the chair umpire for violating a rarely enforced rule against receiving coaching from the sidelines. An indignant Williams emphatically defended herself, denying she had cheated. A short time later, she smashed her racket in frustration and was docked a point. She protested that and demanded an apology from the umpire, who penalized her a game.
Many people, Black women among them, echoed Williams’ contention that she was punished while men on the tennis circuit have gotten away with even harsher language.
Martin and others pointed to a cartoon by an Australian artist as the clearest example of the stereotype facing Black women. Mark Knight of Melbourne’s Herald Sun depicted Williams as an irate, hulking, big-mouthed Black woman jumping up and down on a broken racket. The umpire was shown telling a blond, slender woman — meant to be Osaka, who is actually Japanese and Haitian — “Can you just let her win?”
“I was deeply offended. This is not a joke,” said Vanessa K. De Luca, former editor in chief of Essence magazine, who wrote a column about the U.S. Open furor.
The cartoonist “completely missed the point of why she was upset,” De Luca told The Associated Press. “It was about her integrity, and anybody who doesn’t get that is perpetuating the erasure that so many Black women feel when they are trying to speak up for themselves. It’s like our opinions don’t matter.”
Some Black women say they have to worry perpetually about how they’re coming across to make sure they’re not dismissed as angry or emotional.
“It’s exhausting,” said Denise Daniels, 44, of the Bronx, who works in professional development for educators. “It does diminish from the work satisfaction that other people get to enjoy because it is an additional cost.”
Willingham thinks that was part of Williams’ experience on Saturday as well, but that it was also about a career’s worth of frustrations that she has had to endure, such as when the French Open banned the type of catsuit she wore.
“I felt it for her. I felt she was fed up, she was tired of this,” Willingham said. “How much is she supposed to take, really? How much are any of us supposed to keep taking?”
Associated Press video producer Noreen Nasir contributed to this report from Washington.
Deepti Hajela covers issues of race, ethnicity and immigration for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dhajela. For more of her work, search for her name at https://apnews.com.