Fear of the Williams Sisters

Venus and Serena Battle Charges of Arrogance and the Myth of the Superbred Black Athlete

Even whites who claim to admire Venus and Serena Williams tend to harbor ill feelings about the tennis stars' reputed penchants for arrogance and cockiness. Outside of the National Tennis Center during the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadow on the September evening of Venus's greatest athletic triumph, the polite put-downs of the courtside claques were being rendered in naked perspective by Glory Halle, a self-described "new millennium sidewalk artist" with a white-supremacist jones for Venus and Serena. Halle was applying the finishing touches to a caricature depicting the sisters running a gauntlet of white fans "having a shit fit." In Halle's drawing of an imaginary doubles competition, the angry fans are hurling "some kind of dung" at the top-ranking pretenders after they have trounced Martina Hingis, ranked No. 1 in the world, and second-ranked Lindsay Davenport, with their "thundering strength and cannonlike serves."

Many of Halle's sketches and drawings tout what he calls "anti-hero worship." But while he despises fellow whites like Mark McGwire, he has a deep hatred of blacks like Darryl Strawberry, Mike Tyson, and the Williams sisters. "No offense, but I don't like your shithead rappers, your baseball players, your basketball players, your prizefighters, and the Venus sisters [sic]," mutters Halle, an unkempt, tattoo-smeared, hemp-smoking, shadowy hobo who "resides with the Master Race, dude" (his last known address).

When the Williams sisters compete in the upcoming Chase Championships—to be held November 13 to 19 in Madison Square Garden—Halle, who sports a swastika nose ring, might show up to unveil his "charcoal on paper" portraying the ebony-hued Venus and Serena with lardy buttocks, arms the size of tree trunks, and the hind legs of super-thoroughbred fillies. Halle's mocking devaluation of the sisters' phenomenal talents seems emblematic of the resentment that "boneless white meat" like him (the artist's own deprecating quip) and some in tennis's aristocracy have been expressing since the sisters rose up from a California ghetto and began defeating power-hitters on the women's circuit.

Although they are idolized by many African Americans, backhanded bad-mouthing of the broad-shouldered, long-legged, and attractive Williams sisters is not uncommon among the blueblood cabals, who imply in their running commentary that poor Venus and Serena just seem out of place in the lily-white world of professional tennis. They criticize the sisters' game (the way they rush the net—only souped-up niggers could be that good, suggesting that Venus and Serena should be tested for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs); their walk (a ghettoized swagger is unbecoming); their attitude (too moody, withdrawn); their nappy tresses (the colorful beads are deemed "childish"); even their clothing (too FuBu, and Serena is much too obsessed with the color purple); and, of course, their parents (overprotective, amateur psychologists).

Says Harlem street basketball legend Pee Wee Kirkland: "I think the Williams sisters intentionally fight against the obstinate evil of racism. It's almost unbelievable what black athletes must go through to compete with people that the tennis world wants to accept as their great players."

What is it about these two Compton fly girls that gets under the skin of even Donald Trump, who offered the famously temperamental John McEnroe $1 million to take on one of the pair? "When you're looking at the Williams sisters you're looking at change—and people in our society fear change," asserts Kirkland.

While Venus and Serena were in Sydney for the Olympics, McEnroe, the "mellowed bad boy" of the tour, took the sisters to task in a column in the London Sunday Telegraph. "What they have achieved is great, but they have no respect for anyone in the game," McEnroe wrote. He objected to comments by Serena, who last year said she would like to play in a couple of men's tournaments. "Do women golfers say they could go out and beat Tiger Woods?" McEnroe asked. He also accused Venus of displaying a lack of humility while winning Wimbledon this year. "Enough is enough," wrote McEnroe. "Would it kill them to say hello to people in the locker room?"

McEnroe restated his opinion—expressed earlier in The New Yorker—that "a lot of male college kids and members of the seniors' tour could beat the sisters." But, contrary to press reports, he insisted he had never challenged either of the sisters to a match. "I have no intention of getting involved, nor do I particularly want to have anything to do with them until they start to show people in the sport a little more respect," McEnroe said.

Critics like Jon Entine, author of the controversial book Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It, assert that it is the kind of respect that blacks like Tiger Woods (who maintains he's not African American), Michael Jordan, and the late Arthur Ashe have shown.

"I have to say that Arthur Ashe was very accessible; Michael Jordan was very accessible, and Tiger Woods is very accessible—all these people are beloved, and people were never threatened by them," Entine claims. "Arthur Ashe was as much a Southern black as he was a black, and being a Southern black with this kind of deferential civility ended up making it easier for him. Venus Williams won't apologize to anybody. I think that you can almost compare the Williams sisters to the bratty John McEnroe, who wasn't liked in his younger years. When the Williams sisters talk, they seem arrogant. They are definitely wonderful talents, but they're still not No. 1 yet and their arrogance is a little larger than their achievements at this point."

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