Citizen: An American Lyric

Chapter 2

The second chapter consists of Rankine's meditation on Serena Williams, the tennis star, the racially motivated attacks on Serena when she competed at Indian Wells in 2001, as well as controversial calls made against her throughout her tennis career. Rankine uses an example from youtuber Hennessy Youngman from his video[2] How to Be a Successful Black Artist to argue her point that certain stereotypes exist about black people. In his video, Youngman "advises black artists to cultivate ‘an angry nigger exterior’"(Rankine 23) , which exposes that black people's anger is a marketable tool that lives up to the expectations of how blacks are perceived in a white-dominated society. Rankine further points out the difference between this sellable anger and the other type of anger that results from the individual experiences of feeling invisible, unimportant and undermined in a society that has designed itself in a way to make these feelings possible and unavoidable. To do so, Rankine brings up multiple occasions where it seemed as if her color caused Serena Williams to be treated unjustly and unfairly on the tennis court as in the case when umpire Mariana Alves made five bad calls against Serena at the 2004 US Open (Rankine 26). Rankine uses Serena's behavior and very presence in a primarily white-dominated sport to justify her claim that having a black body in a white environment brings out or draws attention to your differences, your blackne.

Returning to the youtuber Hennessy Youngman, Rankine states that in another video How to Be a Successful Artist Youngman makes the claim that if "a n***** paints a flower it becomes a slavery flower…" (Rankine 34), showing that anything created by a black person is automatically representative or associated with their blackness. Like the fabric sculpture used in the chapter (Rankine 33), created by Nick Cave which are supposed to blend the aesthetics of visual art and dance together into one medium are turned into something that represents or resembles traditional African customs, particularly ritual masks and costumes, because their creator is black and so must be connected to his ‘blackness’ in some form (Jack Shainman Gallery). This connects to how later, Rankine brings up that Serena Williams no longer makes sudden outbursts and dramatic scenes in response to the injustices acted upon her but instead keeps herself contained. Her new demeanor is in line with the assertions made by Youngman in his Art Thoughtz that it is better to remain vague and ambiguous or "be white" (Rankine 36), as, according to him, this is the only way to be truly successful. Rankine comments that when Dane Caroline Wozniacki imitated Serena "by stuffing towels in her top and shorts" (Rankine 36) at an exhibition match in December 2012, that the former had "finally given[s] the people what they wanted all along by embodying Serena's attributes while leaving her [Serena’s] ‘angry n***** exterior’ behind" (Rankine 36). Their ‘expectations’ of what a quality tennis player should look like had been fulfilled.

According to Rankine, in her article, "The Meaning of Serena Williams," she states that, "There is a belief among some African-Americans that to defeat racism, they have to work harder, be smarter, be better".[3] This means that they have to give their 150 percent in order to show white Americans a black excellence that is supposed to perform with good manners and forgiveness in the face of any racist slights or attacks. The chapter also focuses on an on-court incident in 2009, where Serena told a linesman regarding n controversial call, "I swear to God I’m fucking going to take this fucking ball and shove it down your fucking throat, you hear that? I swear to God!’’ (Rankine 29). According to Anna Leszkiewicz, in her article, "Black Bodies in America," she states that, "In a long essay on Serena Williams, Rankine wrote that the tennis star's body was ‘trapped in disbelief code for being black in America’ (Leszkiewicz 26). Even John McEnroe, known as an ill-mannered and foul-mouthed player during his professional tennis days, felt moved to tell Williams that he thought she was being treated unfairly by judges who seemed determined to rule against her and by fans who considered her sometimes rude and embarrassing (Rankine 28). Rankine implies that Serena, who is admittedly vocal on the court and sometimes disparaging toward officials, has been mistreated, or at least misunderstood, because of her race. Throughout the chapter the media characterizes Serena Williams as hyper sexual, aggressive, and animalistic. When she dares to express frustration, she is stamped with the infamous "angry black woman" stereotype.

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