In my last post, I wrote about the debacle that was the 2018 US Open. I talked all about the sexism and racism of the umpire’s calls against Serena Williams in that game, but I didn’t talk about the way Serena handled the loss of the game, which she handled just as remarkably as she handled the unfair treatment she received from Carlos Ramos.
(She never cursed. I would’ve cursed. She threw her racket at the ground. I would’ve thrown my racket at his head.)
After the game, when she saw that Naomi Osaka was having a hard time negotiating the circumstances of her win, Serena offered the younger player comfort. She seemed to reassure Naomi that they were all right. She hugged Naomi and put her arm around Naomi’s shoulder. She did not appear to blame Naomi for the bad position in which she found herself because of Ramos or take out on Naomi the negative feelings she had about Ramos and how he partially caused her to lose the game.
Even after it set in – what the loss would do to her ranking and record – Serena maintained her composure and compassion toward Naomi. She did not trash Naomi in the press conference or any of the print or online press released after the game. She did not disparage Naomi for accepting her win or taking eventual ownership of it. She did not attempt to discredit Naomi by claiming she never would’ve won if not for Ramos’s faulty umpiring. She did not take to Twitter, FB, or IG and take subliminal shots at her. In fact, she threw zero shade at Naomi though I doubt she gave zero fucks.
What Serena did show or give Naomi was grace. She honored her. Not because they are blood. Not because she had to. But because she was once a young black girl just starting her career in the predominantly white, very elitist sport that is professional tennis, and when she was, no one except her own older sister would give her any grace. Because even though she has established herself dozens of times over as the best tennis player in the world and perhaps the most accomplished woman athlete in history, she still does not get the grace she deserves from officials, commentators, tennis fans, white America, or some segments of the black community, Lord have mercy.
She knows what it’s like to stand inside the glaring spotlight of a bittersweet win – one that so many people would rather you didn’t have and gladly take away from you, but since they cannot, will do everything they can to leach it of glory and importance.
She knows what it’s like to have people attribute a hard-fought victory to luck or chance or oversight or error rather than skill or consistency or toughness or strategy.
And so it seems she refused to roll the shit of her own continued victimization – by the tennis establishment and press and haters – downhill onto Naomi because she recognized Naomi had enough of her own shit and particularly in that moment.
Serena seems to have chosen instead to look at Naomi with empathy and extend to Naomi the sort of kindness that only a person that truly bears an understanding of another’s hardship or struggle can offer.
I suspect that it cost her, too, but she seemingly ate the cost. And I like the idea that she stomached the probably kick to her ego and soothed it over with perspective – wisdom, decency, and maturity.
What she gave Naomi stands out in stark contrast to what Nicki Minaj is offering Cardi B on the backend of their disastrous New York Fashion Week encounter.
I won’t go into the gory details, but I will say that I heard snippets of what Nicki had to say about the “incident” on the Internet yesterday, and I wasn’t shocked by her remarks, but I was really startled and hurt by them.
In my mind, Cardi is the Naomi of this situation. She is the young upstart. An unvarnished girl from the Bronx that started stripping as a teen, got internet-famous, landed on the exploitative “entertainment” vehicle that is “Love & Hip Hop,” and rode her stint on the show into a rap career that may only last fifteen minutes but has at least allowed her to make good on her admirable promise to be out of the strip club by age 25.
Cardi is only 25. She just had a baby. She is riding a wave of fame that simultaneously valorizes and lampoons her blackness and so-called “realness” (much like Tiffany Haddish), attempting to straddle the lines between light-skinned and dark-skinned and Afro-Latina and African-American, and be what society considers palatable and hip hop considers relevant all at the same time – with what seems like very little preparation, tutelage, guidance, or actual help.
She doesn’t shy away from beef in the way that more experienced and polished artists know to do. She doesn’t shield her love life as wisely as those artists. She doesn’t curate her social media very discreetly, and she doesn’t pretend to have high-minded ideals about creativity and artistry either.
Cardi doesn’t trade on respectability politics (though she does trade on colorism and anti-black sentiment at times, rather unfortunately) to make herself a less liminal public figure, perhaps because she can’t as a former stripper (see Amber Rose), alum of LAHH, and rather ineffective (unwilling?) code switcher. She is hated and loved by people for the same predominant quality in her persona: its so-called “ratchetness.” And she doesn’t shy away from that.
She doesn’t realize that a quality like it can be the propeller that takes you up and then the ceiling that knocks you back down.
But Nicki does.
She is 35. She has been in the music business proper for eight years, according to her bio. She entered the mainstream under the wing of one of the most famous and respected men in hip hop at that time, Lil’ Wayne, and she continues to brag about all of the guidance and assistance he gave her during that formative period in her career.
Since then – 2010 was the debut of “The Pink Print” – Nicki has made three more albums, helmed three headlining tours, starred in movies, won 40 national music and video awards, received 10 Grammy nominations, and made onto the Forbes Hip Hop Cash Kings list.
She is riding a wave of fame that flows between mainstream legitimacy and ‘hood “authenticity.” She straddles the line between subjugating her sexuality and being subsumed by it, and she goes in and out of periods of being glorified as a pioneer and legitimate force in entertainment and being castigated as an internet troll and one-trick pony. She walks a tightrope just like Cardi, but it is strung across the top of a slightly different circus, and she has a much more secure net underneath her.
Because Nicki will trot out her respectability politics whenever she has made a hot ass mess and needs to do a little clean-up, as with this Cardi B fight at Fashion Week.
Nicki plays pet to what she terms the “upper echelon” of the entertainment and fashions worlds, i.e. the white and acculturated black decision and taste makers.
She uses blackness as a tool and gimmick, as a ploy and a play. She has learned how to code switch not just her language but her behavior. She has perfected a persona that is just “ratchet” enough to titillate mainstream white audiences and tie her to black hip hop and ‘hood audiences, but demonstrates just enough internalized anti-blackness to please “upper echelon” whites and similarly assimilated blacks while at the same time amusing them.
Nicki has mastered the game that Cardi has just begun to play.
So if Cardi came to her, as has been reported, thinking that Nicki said something offensive about her parenting, I think Nicki should’ve spoken with Cardi. I think she should’ve invited her outside of the party – away from the eyes and ears of the gawkers in that Fashion Week party – and helped her straighten the situation out.
This is one of the things I wish we black women would do for each other.
I wish we would pledge to be our sisters’ helpers, if not their keepers.
I wish we would stop talking shit about each other, if that’s what Nicki did.
I wish we would admit the wrong we do to each other and apologize for it.
I wish we would stop worrying so much about what we look like to white people that may be gazing or peeking in on us and care more about what we are to each other.
Taking the situation from Cardi’s end, I wish she had waited to approach Nicki in a setting where she was more likely to be able to actually talk to her.
I wish she hadn’t been so ready to disbelieve her.
I wish she hadn’t been so ready to fight her.
Not because it “looks bad” to white people or even “reflects badly” on black people, but because her wrongheaded behavior has only precipitated more wrongheaded behavior from Nicki.
She triggered Nicki’s ego, and then Nicki went on the radio and ranted in a really ugly, petty way that did nothing to help her “cause” or resolve the situation, which is what she and Cardi both should be trying to do.
And I wish we black women would do that: Focus less on proving how “bad” and bitchy we are and more on showing how beautiful and bountiful we are.
I wish we would stop thinking that by giving each other respect we are kissing each other’s asses.
I wish we would stop tearing each other down so we can take the bricks, stand on them, and feel “better” about our own flaws and failures.
I wish we would stop judging each other as if we don’t fuck up in one way or another every blessed day of our black-ass lives.
I wish we would pledge to be good to each other. In every way we can. At every chance we get. And just surrender once and for all to the idea that we are in a sense all we have when it comes down to providers of genuine understanding and acceptance.
Even though as a little girl, my most ardent tormentors were other black girls, as a black woman, my most devoted friends and supporters are black women, and they are only in my life, providing such amazing love and care, because I welcomed them, and I am loyal to them.
They are only in my life, I really do feel, because I try to follow these pledges that I am imploring all black women to make to each other to be each other’s undeterred friends and family.
And I maintain that in the craziness of this American kyriarchy the only people that can truly empathize with black women are other black women.
The only people that can truly heal the wounds inflicted on black women by black women are black women.
And I do not believe that we – cishetero or LGBTQIA+ – can start to build healthier relationships with our lovers and spouses, can be healthier parents and community participants, can act as healthier leaders and social agents until we have healed those wounds.
If your most hated enemy is someone that looks like you, then on a certain level, you are believing yourself to be detestable. You are believing yourself to be abhorrent.
I literally just told my 11-year-old daughter this morning, after she made some snide comment about not liking girls as friends, that she should never say that. And she should never feel that.
Black women are quick on the whole to characterize each other as petty, sneaky, shady, and a host of other negative things that make us distrust and very often dislike each other.
What we hesitate to do is acknowledge that this is internalized misogynoir. That we have learned to hate black women as a coping mechanism and hold to the belief that black women are contemptible as a gospel that delivers us from harm.
We hesitate to acknowledge that we hate on other black women because we have fragile self-esteems and use comparisons to other women to bolster them.
We hesitate to acknowledge that we hate on other black women because we are fearful of them as sexual competition and professional competition and need to mentally hack them down so we are not intimidated them. Because we buy into the idea that there are not enough lovers of black women in the world for us to find a worthy one or win a certain amount of attention or solicitation if there are all of these other black women out there seeking the same thing.
But we should to admit this “stuff.”
We should admit that most often we take out the frustrations of being black women on black women, and we should admit that while we do hurt each other all the time, there are bigger and much more potent aggressors that dog us, and their reasons are much less justifiable.
We should pledge to remember that the next black woman is having the same hard time that we have having, or she is having her own hard time, and she deserves our compassion.
I wish that Nicki had been able to muster – like Serena – some compassion for Cardi at that party rather than going on the radio the next day and mocking her for possibly having postpartum depression and lacking control over her emotions.
I wish that Cardi had been able to muster some trust in Nicki – that she had thought that maybe her baby joy triggered some residual grief or regret in Nicki over her teenage abortion back in Queens or fear that Nicki may never have a child of her own.
No, we don’t owe other black women this level of care and consideration, but I do implore all of us to consider this: Where else will we get it if we don’t give it to each other?
At the end of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the legendary novel by Zora Neale Hurston, after the protagonist, Janie, tells her best friend, Phoeby, her life story, Phoeby tells her, “Lawd! Ah done growed ten feet higher from jus’ listenin’ tuh you, Janie.”
And there is a lesson there.
I think we black women can lift each other up mightily. Just by truly and honestly considering and caring for each other.
I think that’s what we should pledge to do.
I think we are definitely worth the effort.