Serving Realness: Naomi Osaka and the Importance of Black Self-Care
On this episode of democracy-ish, Danielle and Toure have a lot of questions.
Naomi Osaka, who is the number-two-ranked female tennis player in the world, was willing to pay a fine instead of participating in media interviews at the French Open.
Osaka, who is half Black and half Japanese, cited the need to protect her mental health. But the French Tennis Federation ejected her from the competition.
Coming on the heels of gymnast Simone Biles’ truly epic achievement (and a score that didn’t remotely match), we have to ask: F**kery, or abject racism?
As the attacks on critical race theory continue, how can we teach Black kids to navigate the challenges they’ll face?
“In this week's White People Fuckery –– International Edition –– our sister Naomi Osaka went to the French Open, fully intending to win,” says Toure. “Part of her plan to win was to keep the media's probing, negative, doubt-filled questions out of her space. She said she wanted to protect her peace.”
But the French Federation of Tennis had other ideas.
Citing the need to prioritize her mental health, Osaka, who is ranked the number-two female tennis player in the world, was willing to pay a fine instead of going through with her contractual obligation to participate in post-match media interviews.
However, the federation made the sudden decision to default her from the tournament, “which was not the original penalty,” Toure adds. “I can't remember anyone ever being defaulted from a major tournament for something they did off the court.”
There are stacks and stacks of issues to unpack around this debacle: mental health, employment rights, racism in sports –– and an unhinged, invasive, racist, misogynist media.
Danielle and Toure get into it all and more, including what Venus Williams had to say about the Osaka controversy, Simone Biles’ historic but marginalized achievement, and how to talk to kids about white supremacy. Plus, they dish on their plans for Pride Month and why great TV is the self-care we all need sometimes.
Episode Highlights –– Wypipo Stay Plottin
Racism knows no boundaries
Danielle applauds Osaka for “owning her power and her truth.” But even though it’s nothing new, she’s disgusted by the implication that athletes are property owned by institutions like the French Federation of Tennis.
“I don't even like the language we use in sports, trading players as if they are horses or are cards and not people with lives and families,” she says.
She thinks Osaka’s situation is indicative of what happens with Black women and women of color in the workforce, regardless of the industry.
“If you set boundaries for yourself, you're either labeled a bitch or you’re told you're not easy to work with … a difficult woman, and you don't get promoted.”
Toure points out that Osaka critics are arguing that she signed on to these conditions and she should just do her job; that she makes a lot of money and … shouldn’t complain?
But agitating to change the conditions of one’s job “used to be considered revolutionary and valuable in this country,” he says. “We celebrated workers who asked for a change.”
Queen Serena has no rival
So it’s strange to him that so many folks are reflexively supporting the position of management, as it were, even though almost everyone would agree that the French Open could have handled the issue a lot better.
And Osaka’s stance was really limited to the media scrum. She willingly met fans after her single match in Paris.
“She just didn't want to go through the battering ram of reporters from around the world who ask all kinds of crazy things,” says Toure.
If you aren’t familiar with the level of crazy reporters engage in when they grill tennis stars, he offers a prime example: Serena Williams was once asked in a press conference if she was intimidated by Maria Sharapova's beauty.
“I don't even know what to say to that level of misogyny, fuckery and anti-Blackness,” says Danielle.
“And white supremacy,” Toure adds, pointing out that not only was Serena not intimidated in any way by Sharapova, but that she’s never had a rival. At all.
Venus kills at the presser
This week, Serena’s sister Venus responded to the Naomi Osaka story with an epic takedown of the media:
For me personally, how I cope, how I deal with it, is that I know every single person asking me a question can’t play as well as I can and never will. So no matter what you say, or what you write, you’ll never light a candle to me. That’s how I deal with it. But each person deals with it differently.
“Did they send in the medical examiner when she was done? I have never seen somebody ether a fucking room the way she did,” says Danielle. “It was a master class in shut the fuck up.”
Toure thinks the battle between athletes and reporters stems from the fact that “reporters are quite often failed athletes themselves, who crapped out in JV. Who were perhaps never good at sports, but are enamored with sports, so they go into the sports world. And they see themselves as more intelligent than the athletes themselves.”
But those journalists are simultaneously resentful of sports stars, who not only have physical gifts but are awash in money and accolades. So they want to cut athletes down with the pen (or the computer, as the case may be).
Respect is the real MVP
Naomi Osaka and Venus Williams aren’t the only ones defending themselves and pushing back against the pressure to conform to the media’s stereotypes, expectations and judgments. When Toure interviewed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for his other podcast, Toure Show, “we had a fantastic interview,” he says.
“In the middle of it, I was like, you know, you have this reputation of not wanting to talk to the media and being rude to them. He said: Well, when I have people who respect me and know what they're talking about, I'm happy to talk to them.”
There’s a huge difference, Toure adds, between a pack of entitled white guys who seem to think an athlete is just lucky to be playing, versus someone who has deep respect for what they’ve accomplished.
Abdul-Jabbar called it “an entirely different conversation.”
The GOAT without a perfect 10
The belittlement of Black athletes isn’t limited to tennis (or basketball), of course.
Just weeks ago, Simone Biles (the third-most-decorated gymnast of all time), landed the Yurchenko Double Pike in the U.S. Classic. Biles was the first woman ever to perform the move, which is the most difficult vault –– ever. But the judges didn't give her a 10 for landing it, or for the difficulty of the move itself.
Toure thinks it’s simply “tragic.” Biles is head and shoulders above everyone else, doing things her fellow athletes can’t even attempt, “but the response of the powers that be is to downgrade her,” he says.
“Aren't you considered the GOAT of all GOATs, the athlete of all athletes, if you're able to accomplish a feat others are not able to do? Isn't that the point of competition?” asks Danielle.
She thinks cutting a Black person down, particularly a Black woman who is beyond exceptional, is a theme throughout the world. And nothing pisses white people off more than clapping back when it happens.
“It's either shut up and dribble, or shut up and sit before the cameras and let us berate you with bullshit,” Danielle says. “Let us make you choose between your Japanese heritage and your Black heritage –– which have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the skills you are showcasing.”
There are no green or purple people, bro
Whether we're talking about electoral politics or the politics of sport, a common theme runs throughout: White fragility, says Danielle.
“When you talk about the differences between the athlete –– the gladiator –– and the fucking critic hiding behind their computer, it is about their feeling of insecurity, needing to tear down other people and to subject them to racial animus because they have no other place to go.”
White fragility is what’s behind the GOP’s incessant attack on critical race theory, which has been covered at length on democracy-ish “but continues apace,” says Toure. “They are so afraid of critical race theory. And when I say that, I substitute the phrase the truth. They’re afraid of the truth.”
He describes a viral video he just saw of a Black father talking to his young daughter, who was probably about six or seven years old. The man says she “doesn't really see race,” that she “thinks anything is possible for a Black person,” and that “it doesn't matter if you're white, or Black, or yellow, or green or purple.” (Ugh.)
Apparently, the father in the video used this as evidence of “why critical race theory needs to be stopped and needs to not be taught,” Toure explains, adding:
“It's nice to teach your child they can accomplish anything. I think that's important and valuable. My parents taught me that. But at the same time, we were open about history and racism and the reality of white supremacy. Because if you are not taught the realities of race, you are left totally unequipped to understand the real world, where white supremacy, white privilege, racism, the wealth gap, the criminal justice gap, all these sorts of things, exist.”
When teaching kids about racism, honesty is the only policy
How can that little girl, Toure asks, ever understand what happened to George Floyd? Or why she didn’t get a job she was hyper-qualified for. Or what happened to Stacey Abrams.
“She would be completely lost. And should she feel like white people are superior? Because if racism does not exist and white people have been just super successful, the answer must be that they are inherently superior. And I damn sure don't want my children to think that.”
Danielle doesn’t have kids. But she imagines that parents have a difficult time finding a balance between protecting their children and preparing them for the realities they’ll eventually face.
“You’d do them a disservice if you made them believe they live in a world that sees them the way you see them,” she says to Toure, who is a proud dad of two. “The world does not see your kids the way you do. That is clear. Because if they did, Tamir Rice would have been allowed to play on the playground. Trayvon Martin would have been allowed to walk home from the local store.”
She thinks it’s important to teach Black children they can achieve anything. But we have to also tell them they’re going to have to work twice as hard to get half as much.
“There are going to be so many obstacles in their way, we need to teach them how to navigate them... how to show up in a way that gives them a fighting chance in a world that’s trying to keep them down,” Danielle says.
Critical race theory = Essential, unequivocal history
Toure’s parents were always honest with him about the realities of racism and “the hard parts about Black history,” he says.
He’s troubled by the notion that “teaching children these sorts of things will somehow hold them down,” because for him, it had the opposite effect.
“It gave me an extra sense of mission, that I have to make it … I could see, almost tangibly, the shoulders I stood upon. I have to keep fighting, because so many people have fought and died for me to be here.”
All the opportunities he had –– private school, college, graduate school, a career in the media –– were “completely unthinkable” even just one generation ago, says Toure. He feels gratitude that he was able to do those things instead of “fighting just to drink out of a certain water fountain,” thanks to the basic rights that the folks before us won.
“That's what critical race theory, or as we called it, history, gave to me,” he adds.
As Black people, “it's not just about the shoulders we stand on … it’s literally the stilts that hold up this fucking country,” Danielle says.
Pride Month and prejudice
On a lighter note, it’s Pride Month. Toure asks Danielle if she has any plans, now that we can party again.