Who Is the Racist?
One summer day many years ago when I was 17, I was driving a tram for the Ohio state fair. On one of my trips from the parking lot to the main entrance, a white gentleman became very upset with me over something that I don’t even remember now, and called me that dreaded “n-word.” He said it loud enough for most of the other passengers to hear and I was embarrassed. But I continued to do my work and went about my duties as if I had not heard him. I didn’t want to lose my job and, to me, the name-calling was not that big a deal. My parents had taught me that every negative confrontation doesn’t necessarily warrant a fight.
I was astounded and saddened to hear the words of Venus Williams’ father, Richard Williams, regarding an on-court collision between his daughter (the new tennis celebrity) and her opponent, Irina Spirlea, during their semifinal match at the U. S. Open. The elder Williams, without offering any supporting evidence, alleged that the bump was racially motivated. Sportswriters quoted him calling Spirlea “a big, tall, white turkey” after the Romanian reportedly used an obscenity in reference to his daughter. His comments not only were unwarranted and in extremely bad taste, they revealed his own racist attitude.
Spirlea admitted that she may have caused the initial on-court confrontation. Some of the older players feel a lack of respect from the younger players. But does this mean that the incident was racial? Is it racial when a white football player hits his black opponent after the whistle has blown, or when a black pitcher purposely tries to hit a white batter with a baseball in a very heated game? The race of the players is generally only incidental to the encounter. Athletes test and challenge each other all the time; it’s called trying to gain the upper hand. Some even say it is a part of the game. If an opponent can rattle your cage a little, he feels that he has an advantage.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s say the Williams-Spirlea incident was racially motivated, that Irina Spirlea provoked a confrontation because she doesn’t like blacks. Is it the end of the world? Has Venus’ psyche been permanently damaged? Has she been traumatized for life? Aren’t confrontations and altercations integral parts of the sports world and life itself?
Confrontations happen. If Venus is not ready for confrontations--on and off the field--she is not ready for the big time. As a coach, her father should know this.
I am really ashamed today that so many people feel a need to cry racism every time things don’t go their way. Why must every conflict have a racial basis? In the real world, people become angry and upset for numerous reasons. A person doesn’t have to be a racist because he disagrees or instigates a fight. It is beginning to be clear that those who constantly cry racism not only trivialize the word, but they also often reveal their own biases.
Richard Williams is Venus’ personal coach and, apparently, he is personally responsible for her tennis development. He has done a terrific job with her. But by making these type of incidents racial, he not only is doing his player a disservice, he is failing her as a father. She needs to learn how to interact with all people and to differentiate between healthy competition and true racism. Venus and every youngster needs to know that racism is not behind every hard-to-open door.
I am sorry, Mr. Williams, the only racism I saw in this tournament was yours.