Living in the Shadow…


Williams poses for a picture.

Williams poses for a picture.

Venus Williams

Venus Williams

It’s nine o’clock in the morning and I’m rushing to my French class that started five minutes ago. Then, watching the elevator creep towards the second floor, the question comes:

“You play tennis, right?”

I barely look at the girl standing to my left. Instead I mumble “no” in my don’t-mess-with-me-it-is-too-early-in-the-morning-to-be-nice-voice. However, this girl is persistent and obviously has just gulped down her Starbucks morning frappucino.

“No? Really? I just saw the tennis skirt and you know…”

I let her voice die like a South Florida breeze in July and watch as the elevator number creeps to the third floor.

I admit, my Cruella Da Villish attitude was a bit unwarranted. However, the excuse for my rotten attitude is a pretty good one. (Although it does have  a little something to do with waking up before the sun peeks through my window). You see, the question in the elevator is not the first time I’ve been accused of being a tennis player. Yes–accused because as soon as strangers realize I cannot play a lick of tennis, their eyes become slanted and squinty. I know what they’re thinking. Imposter! Imposter! Walking around in a tennis skirt—you’re not Serena! You can’t even play tennis! True; each time I go for a run on the treadmill, I  wear a white Nike tennis skirt, pink  sneakers, and a black and pink top with a Nike duffel bag.  Perhaps I do look like a Serena wannabe, but, I want to shout at the top of my lungs, “People! People, relax, okay? It’s just a tennis skirt. Newsflash—every black girl wearing a tennis skirt  isn’t the next Venus or Serena. We just love the cute way that it bounces and flows.”

Of course I never say this.

I guess my anger stems from the fact that my tennis game is about as sick as the Cleveland Cavaliers sans Bron-Bron.

Take, for instance, the time my sister and I went to the neighborhood tennis court  in a pair of cut-offs and a shirt. (No tennis skirt, people)! Before we even stepped on the court, I could feel the stares. The looks were  coming from a father playing tennis with his daughter. The girl’s father  looked at me with hopeful expectation as he stood frozen on the tennis court and waited to be dazzled by my skills.

My sister is naturally athletic and tall, but I am cursed with the awkward “fall on my face if I run too fast” gene. Serving the ball, I miscalculated and swiped blindly at a buzzing gnat instead of the intended target. I turned to smile at the girl’s father but the air was heavy with their disappointment. I could feel myself sink underneath the weight. Now, I know how Kobe must feel. How does he even sleep at night while being constantly compared to Michael Jordan but unable to live up to the hype? No one knows the depth of that pressure! Suddenly, at night, I became tormented with nightmares. In one of these nightmares, I wore a midnight black cat-suit with matching pumps. A throng of people clustered into their seats could not take their eyes off me. But  just as I stepped onto the court, I tumbled and transformed into a giant chicken. I would see those eyes and feel their disappointment stabbing me at night. In the morning, I awoke to tangled and twisted sheets. Every time I wore a tennis skirt, the question would surface in my head: you mean you can’t even hit a serve?

From that day on, I stopped wearing a tennis skirt—no one was going to accuse me of being an imposter. Yesterday I went to the mall and glimpsed the tennis skirt hanging on an anorexic/bulimic/malnourished mannequin. Although I admired the tennis skirt for a few moments, I quickly turned the corner as if a rabid dog foaming at the mouth was chasing me. My tennis racquet is in my box of  donations headed to the Salvation Army. The hanger where my tennis skirt once hung from is bare and lonely. It’s summertime and as usual, I feel like the world has been dropped into a pot of boiling fish oil, so I’ve decided to trade in my tennis racquet for a swimming cap.  I figure no one will ever confuse me as the next Michael Phelps.

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~ by Miss Tea on June 22, 2009.

5 Responses to “Living in the Shadow…”

  1. I love putting on my tennis skirt and going and playing tennis I definitely feel like Venus and Serena!

  2. Lol, I like this, especially the trading in the skirt for a swim cap and being accused of being Michael Phelps. More importantly though I think people just want to “match” a celebrity with a normal everyday person. For instance, seeing a woman (black) wearing a tennis skirt, and carrying a nike bag, one instinctly thinks that’s “our” star/ or she can be our serena; even without knowing you.I also think it’s a bit of ignorance on people’s part, because wearing a tennis skirt shouldn’t qualify one as tennis player. On a deeper issue, I believe normal everydaypeople view serena and venus, as just this: glamour girls for tennis,” and yeah they recognize their talent but it’s like an afterthought (sad). For instance, first comes their appearance then comes their tennis skills. Which is quite sad, because those girls were playing serious tennis while wearing “regular” clothes before the big hype over their outfits. So I think it’s a matter that we as humans need to look at the person’s skill, and not automatically assume from appearance who or what that person does. It comes back to that old saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” I have question for you why when other people wear their workout outfits they don’t get sterotyped as being a tennis player?

    • @welovedwayne I think it’s mostly what you said in your post. Althea Gibson was the first black woman to achieve success in the world of tennis. Sadly, much of her legacy is forgotten because she did this in the late fifties. Now, we have Serena and Venus–the “darlings” or “divas” of the tennis world(depending upon your perspective). Both women are viewed as an anomaly. They are doing things that, quite frankly, they aren’t supposed to be doing. In turn, I think the women are rendered as objects and become the object to be possessed. There is a fascination with their black bodies and not their skills on the court. This, unfortunately, is just the way it is. However, I do believe Serena has capitalized off this and this fascination with their black bodies has led to their superstar status beyond the world of the tennis.

  3. I concur with this statement, and I think Serena did capitalized off of this. Also, do you think people’s fascination with Serena’s body overshadows her performance?

    • Not at all–Serena and Venus are a rare find. It’s like meeting an attractive person who is also very smart; it only adds to the fantasy. Serena and Venus are beasts on the tennis court. A fact that is not going to change, whether Serena shows up to a match in a typical tennis skirt or wearing knee-highs and a Catholic school girl get-up.

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