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Taylor, Welcome to Serena's World

I’m not even going to try to defend it: What Kanye West said to Taylor Swift was wrong, just plain ol’ wrong, wrong as two left shoes. I doubt he would have behaved in the same manner toward any similar up-and-coming black female singer like Ciara or Jazmine Sullivan. I am of the humble opinion that race had something to do with it. Maybe you disagree. Had he tried the same mess with Alicia Keys, though, I bet she would have beat him with a Moon Man like he had stolen something. New Yorkers roll hard. I don’t mess with them.

In my humble opinion, Kanye’s use of Beyonce’s excellence to throw shade on Taylor Swift’s accomplishment is an all-too-common act: Someone diminishing or stealing your achievement because of your race. This type of behavior plays itself out on playgrounds, in classrooms, conference rooms, cubicles and cafeterias, on ball fields and on assembly lines all across America. That said, what Taylor Swift experienced was not any more wrong merely because she experienced it. This time, the shoe was on the other foot. But it was still the wrong shoe no matter what.

In other words: Taylor Swift, welcome to Serena Williams’ world.

I don’t think Serena Williams’ outburst was acceptable either, but was far more understandable than Kanye’s. The tennis world has been less than welcoming and accepting of the Williams sisters, and Lord knows they have endured far more than they’ve responded to or retaliated against. They’ve had their victories reduced to nothing more than the product of brute-like mannish strength, a parallel I’ve yet to see be drawn to white women in tennis, instead of a mixture of power, finesse, and strategy that they represent. Even John McEnroe has had the gall to criticize their behavior despite the fact that his misbehavior, although also criticized at the time, earned him the somewhat-adoring moniker, “Bad Boy of Tennis.” The sisters have been unfairly criticized as looking less than feminine, and I’ve recently seen comments on the internet calling them “monkeys.” Now, I remember when Serena rocked that black catsuit at the U.S. Open, it elicited the collective “Dayum!” heard from brothers ‘round the world. Even my brother, who is old enough to be Serena’s father, remarked that Serena “wasn’t no little girl anymore,” and he was particularly happy that she wasn’t HIS little girl, if you get my drift. Black folks’ definition of feminine does not exclude dark, large, shapely, or muscular. But I digress.

The world of tennis has had a hard time accepting that the Williams sisters are that good just because, well, they’re that good and they’re black. If they could find a way to Williams-proof the game of tennis the way the PGA has started Tiger-proofing golf courses, I’m sure they would. And, by the way, what’s up with that? I don’t recall the PGA “Golden Bear-proofing” or “Shark-proofing” golf courses before Tiger’s ascent to the top of the game. But for the fact that the NBA is over 70% black, they might have tried to Jordan-proof basketball, although I don’t think they could have given that Jordan could dunk from half-court. And look good doing it, I might add.

Well, as my parents, and many black parents, would put it, “Black folks cain’t have shit.” Now I know I’m not the only one with black parents who grew up hearing this turn of phrase. “Black folks cain’t have shit” refers to the idea that when we succeed, our successes are diminished, denied, or straight-out taken from us for no reason other than race. Now, if you grew up like I did with black parents who came up during the Great Depression, that phrase was usually followed by a litany of black achievements diminished or stolen by white folks: jazz, my grandfather’s property, credit for discovering the North Pole, rock and roll, Jackie Robinson from the Negro Leagues, the ironing board, the light bulb, you name it. I would hear that phrase, but I never thought it applied to me until I hit high school.

I was accepted to Stanford University in the spring of my senior year. I was particularly proud because I knew that Stanford was hard to get into. To my knowledge, I was the only student from my high school who had been accepted to Stanford that year, or in many years, for that matter. As word got out, many of my classmates came up to congratulate me, even one of our six valedictorians. As we sat down for lunch in the cafeteria, this valedictorian, a white girl, let me know what one of the other valedictorians, also a white girl, said about my achievement: “You only got in because you’re black.”

I was floored. This was from someone I actually liked, even though we weren’t close. This hater valedictorian, for lack of a better term, had a father who was a Stanford alum, and I think she assumed she had a lock on being admitted. I didn’t even see it coming. I had that, well, Taylor Swift look on my face. I couldn’t understand what instigated this animus. Everybody knew my record – I had already received a full ride to U.C. Berkeley and would later be admitted to the University of Chicago and Harvard, was ranked 11th in my class of over 300 students with a 3.89 GPA and straight A’s my junior year, had been student body president, played in the orchestra, band, and the all-city orchestra, had won numerous awards for my writing and academics, had scholarships up the yang, interned with the California State Assembly . . . .

And at the end of it all, the unexpected words of one very jealous white girl reduced all my achievements to nothing more than my race. Nothing but my race. It’s a good thing I had parents who told me otherwise, who lifted me up and told me that I had worked hard and earned all that I had achieved and deserved it.

Black folks cain’t have shit.

I know how Taylor Swift felt. I know how Serena Williams probably feels all the time. I know how that Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team felt after being called “nappy headed hos.” To have your accomplishments diminished or denied because of race is patently unfair, but it’s not any more unfair when it happens to pretty blond white girls.

I would imagine that, with each botched and unfair call, Serena Williams probably thought to herself, “I may lose this match on my own, but I’m damn sure not going to let you steal it from me. Not this time.”

Because black folks can have shit. And white folks can, too.

Oh, and memo to President Obama: The only friend you have in the media is Oprah. There is no “off the record” for you. You don’t have to comment on everything involving black people, even if asked. Lord knows, if President Bush had commented on everything involving white folks, he would have exhausted his limited vocabulary (“deciders,” anyone?). Some comments are best left expressed in the barber shop, if you know what I mean.


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