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Serena “Hottentot” Williams: What Does Caroline Wozniacki’s Prank Mean?

By: Courtney Herring

This weekend, while playing a match against Maria Sharapova in Sao Paolo, Brazil, Caroline Wozniacki decided to play a prank – something commonly done among tennis players – and impersonate a fellow tennis player, Serena Williams. Wozniacki thought it would be humorous to play a point against Sharapova while looking like Serena Williams. No, this wasn’t black-face, but some argue that it was just as bad. Wozniacki came out with her hind-parts and chest stuffed to make her body look like Serena’s, while onlookers and commentators laughed. Only, it wasn’t her first time doing this. She did something similar last year, while dancing to a Rihanna tube. Yahoo News reported this weekend’s prank, making sure to note that Williams and Wozniacki are “friends,” calling the joke “hilarious.”

To me, this type of reporting subtly attempts to downplay Wozniacki’s actions. It sort of perpetuates that age-old defense used by Whites to excuse or dismiss racist actions by saying, “but my best friend is Black.”

Some bloggers and commenters took to the web to publicly denounce Wozniacki’s “prank” as racist, while others didn’t see what the big deal was. Is Wozniacki a racist? Would she have done the same thing in Williams’ presence? Would Williams’ have been okay with people laughing at her expense?  I don’t have those answers, but one thing is for sure: it’s clear the Dutch athlete is either unaware of the painful history regarding the degradation and dehumanization of Black women’s bodies or, she doesn’t care and may have just wanted to garner a few laughs. Whatever the case may be, we cannot critique or dismiss this weekend’s prank without first considering the context. We can’t forget the fact that Sarah Baartman, better known as “Venus Hottentot,” was considered a freak show by Europeans in the 19th century because of her voluptuous figure. Much like Bartman, Serena Williams has been criticized and even caricatured in the media because of some of the very same things.

And it’s not just Williams who has received backlash in the tennis world. Taylor Townsend, the number one ranked junior women’s tennis player in the world, was even discouraged from playing the U.S. Open by the USTA (U.S. Tennis Association) because of her weight and her figure earlier this year. She was told to get in better shape. Therefore, Wozniacki’s joke only furthers these problematic notions about Black women’s bodies – even if it was all in jest.

Clearly, we have not reached a point where the bodies of women of color are appreciated and celebrated like they should. Instead, we are still viewed as modern-day “Hottentots” to be consumed, picked apart and reduced to “T&A” for others’ pleasure, all the while being measured against arbitrary and unrealistic standards. Until the bodies of ALL women, especially women of African ancestry, are considered beautiful in their own right, occurrences like Wozniacki’s prank will forever be controversial.

About Courtney Herring

Courtney Herring is a 20-something witty rabble-rouser and opinionated provocateur dedicated to becoming a reliable source for news and current events while using her voice to bring issues to the fore impacting those 30 and under. You can find her sharing her two-cents and other musings on Twitter @thedivatweets and on Facebook as The Well-Read Herring.

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