Organized by Patrick Salkeld

Starting August 27 and culminating on September 8, 2018, Serena Williams played in the 2018 U.S. Open. Williams faced Naomi Osaka in the Women’s Singles Final overseen by chair umpire Carlos Ramos on September 8. During the second set, Ramos “called a code violation for coaching” when he saw Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou use a coaching hand gesture. Mouratoglou later admitted to coaching. She talked to Ramos and explained she did not cheat. In the changeover, they conversed again and she repeated that she did not cheat.

Then in the fifth game of the second set, out of frustration for an unforced error, Williams “fired her racket onto the court and destroyed it” for which she received a code violation and a point penalty. Ramos followed the rules which say “the first violation is a warning, then loss of point, loss of game, and finally loss of match.” Williams argued with him about the coaching and asked for an apology from him because inferred with the coaching warning that she cheated. She received a third code violation for verbal abuse and lost a game after Williams called Ramos a thief. At one point, Williams then appealed to the officials in charge of the U.S. Open and argued about the gender bias in the violations because male tennis players receive more lenient punishments (if any) for worse things they have said or done. For a more detailed timeline, see David Walstein’s New York Times article ““Serena Williams vs. Naomi Osaka: How the U.S. Open Descended into Chaos.” 

After the match, Williams received a $17,000 fine for the violations. Despite the dispute, Osaka defeated Williams and became the first Japanese winner of the U.S. Open. Three million viewers watched the Osaka-Serena match compared to the 2.06 million that watched the Men’s Singles Final between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Porto the following day.

On September 9, newspaper cartoonist Mark Knight of The Herald Sun in Melbourne, Australia published a cartoon about the incident. Knight received backlash for its racist and sexist connotations. In the cartoon, Serena Williams is depicted as an ape-like angry black woman stomping on her broken racket with a baby’s pacifier on the floor near her. In the background, a female tennis player presumably supposed to depict Naomi Osaka can be seen talking to the chair umpire, who asks Osaka, “Can you just let her win?” Yet she is depicted as a blonde, white woman resembling Maria Sharapova when Osaka is a woman of color with blonde highlights. Editors at The Herald Sun defended Knight, who has deleted his Twitter account, and his cartoon with a new cartoon titled, “Welcome to PC World,” on the front page.

This controversy follows an incident in the U.S. Open on August 28 when Alizé Cornet returned to the court with her top on backwards. Cornet removed it on the court, which revealed her sports bra, and subsequently received a violation for unsportsmanlike conduct. Judy Murray, the mother of men’s tennis player Andy Murray, pointed out the double standard with this violation since male tennis players regularly remove their shirts in between sets, which according to the WTA is not a violation because it occurs at the end of the set (the key caveaut).

Earlier in August, the French Open banned Serena Williams from wearing a bodysuit which resembled the Black Panther’s costume in future editions of the tournament. She had worn the outfit during the 2018 French Open which took place from May to June.

These incidents highlight the institutionalized sexism and racism within the tennis community and society at large. Taking inspiration from the #CharlestonSyllabus organized by Chad Williams, Kidada Williams, Keisha Blain, Melissa Morrone, Ryan P. Randall, and Cecily Walker and other members of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) as well as other collaborative syllabi since then (especially the #ColinKaepernickSyllabus published by Mark Anthony Neal), the following resources have been crowd sourced and published here to help facilitate discussions in both scholarly and general settings.


Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917, (University of Chicago Press, 1995).

Susan K. Cahn, Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Women’s Sport, 2nd Edition, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015).

Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, (Routledge, 1990).

Aimee Meredith Cox, Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship, (Duke University Press, 2015).

Nicole Fleetwood, On Racial Icons: Blackness and the public imagination (Pinpoints (Series)) (London: Rutgers University Press, 2013).

Nicole R. Fleetwood, Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness, (University of Chicago Press, 2011).

Eric Allen Hall, Arthur Ashe: Tennis and Justice in the Civil Rights Era, (Johns Hopkins University Press August 2014).

Matthew Klugman and Gary Osmond, Black and Proud: The Story of an Iconic AFL Photo, (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2013).

Jennifer H. Lansbury, A Spectacular Leap: Black Women Athletes in Twentieth-Century America, (University of Arkansas Press, 2014).

David Leonard & C. Richard King. (2010). Commodified and criminalized: New racism and African Americans in contemporary sports (Perspectives on a Multiracial America). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Rita Liberti and Maureen M. Smith, (Re)Presenting Wilma Rudolph, (Syracuse University Press, 2015).

Louis Moore, We Will Win the Day: The Civil Rights Movement, the Black Athlete, and the Quest for Equality, (Praeger, 2017).

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2014).

Kim Toffoletti, Thorpe, H., & Francombe-Webb, J. (2018). New Sporting Femininities: Embodied Politics in Postfeminist Times (New Femininities in Digital, Physical and Sporting Cultures).

Susan Ware, Billie Jean King and The Revolution in Women’s Sports, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

Book Chapters


Pamela Grundy, “Ora Washington: The First Black Female Athletic Star,” in Out of the Shadows: A Biographical History of African American Athletes, David Wiggins, ed. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2006), pp. 79-92.


Sarah Projansky, “I’m Not Changing My Hair: Venus Williams and Live TV’s Racialized Struggle Over Athletic Girlhood” in Spectacular Girls (New York: NYU Press, 2014), pp. 127-154

Earl Smith and Angela J. Hattery, “Venus and Serena Williams: Traversing the Barriers of the Country Club World,” in A Locker Room of Her Own: Celebrity, Sexuality, and Female Athletes, David C. Ogden and Joel Nathan, eds. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), pp. 72-91.

Media Coverage

Associated Press, “Serena Williams’ catsuit controversy evokes the battle over women wearing shorts,” WTOP (September 5, 2018), https://wtop.com/life-style/2018/09/serena-williams-catsuit-controversy-evokes-the-battle-over-women-wearing-shorts/.

Jai Bednall, “American explains why he believes Serena Williams cartoon was racist,” news.com.au (September 11, 2018), https://www.news.com.au/sport/sports-life/american-explains-why-he-believes-serena-williams-cartoon-was-racist/news-story/04f0c6daf38998336a2f8b2c0b766e33.

Zeba Blay, “The Whitewashing of Naomi Osaka,” Huffington Post (September 11, 2018), https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-whitewashing-of-naomi-osaka_us_5b967eb3e4b0cf7b004209b5.

Nicole Chavez, “Serena Williams is calling out sexism in tennis. Here’s why, CNN (September 10, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/09/us/serena-williams-sexism-tennis-controversy/index.html

Clare Corbould, “The Herald Sun’s Serena Williams cartoon draws on a long and damaging history of racist caricature,” The Conversation, (September 11, 2018). https://theconversation.com/the-herald-suns-serena-williams-cartoon-draws-on-a-long-and-damaging-history-of-racist-caricature-102982

Dayna Evans. “Serena Williams on the Gender Pay Gap in Sports: We Have a Lot of Work to Do.” The Cut, 2016, The Cut, June 7, 2016.

Renee Graham, “Serena Williams and the Angry Black Woman,” Boston Globe (September 10, 2018), https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2018/09/10/serena-williams-and-angry-black-woman/P5Q87bHnFFW0pue4NHU9WP/story.html

Sally Jenkins, “At U.S. Open, power of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka is overshadowed by an umpire’s power play,” Washington Post, (September 8, 2018), https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/tennis/at-us-open-power-of-serena-williams-and-naomi-osaka-is-overshadowed-by-an-umpires-power-play/2018/09/08/edbf46c8-b3b4-11e8-a20b-5f4f84429666_story.html?utm_term=.bedafb005dba

Shanon Lee, “Serena Williams and the epidemic of policing black women’s anger,” The Lilly (September 10, 2018), https://www.thelily.com/serena-williams-and-the-epidemic-of-policing-black-womens-anger/.

Jessica Luther, “Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka deserved better than 2018’s sexist U.S. Open. But fans shouldn’t be surprised,” NBC News (September 11, 2018), https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/serena-williams-naomi-osaka-deserved-better-2018-s-sexist-u-ncna908531.

Martina Navratilova, “What Serena Got Wrong,” New York Times (September 10, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/10/opinion/martina-navratilova-serena-williams-us-open.html.

Brooke Newman, “The long history behind the racist attacks on Serena Williams,” Washington Post, (September 11, 2018): https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/09/11/long-history-behind-racist-attacks-serena-williams/?utm_term=.31f481bc91f7

Trevor Noah “Serena Williams & Sexism in Sports – Between the Scenes,” The Daily Show (September 10, 2018), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUijN7g_Mg4&app=desktop

Anna North, “After her US Open loss, Serena Williams had to manage other people’s feelings about her. Again.” Vox (September 10, 2018), https://www.vox.com/2018/9/10/17837150/serena-williams-us-open-tennis-2018-sexism.

Carron J. Phillips, “Serena Williams, Jalen Hurts and the burden black athletes have to carry,” NY Daily News (September 10, 2018),  http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/more-sports/ny-sports-phillips-serena-hurts-20180910-story.html.

Claudia Rankine, “The Meaning of Serena Williams, “ New York TImes (August 25, 2015),  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/magazine/the-meaning-of-serena-williams.html.

“Serena Williams cartoon: Herald Sun publishes defiant front page defending Mark Knight,” ABC News Australia (September 12, 2018), http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-12/serena-williams-herald-sun-republishes-mark-knight-cartoon/10235886.

David Waldstein, “Serena Williams vs. Naomi Osaka: How the U.S. Open Descended into Chaos,” New York Times (September 9, 2018),  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/09/sports/serena-osaka-us-open-penalty.html.

Scholarly Articles

Kimberlé Crenshaw with Sumi Cho and Leslie McCall, “Toward a Field of Intersectionality Studies: Theory, Applications, and Praxis,” Volume 38, No. 4 Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (2013): 785-810.

Delia D. Douglas, “Venus, Serena, and the Inconspicuous Consumption of Blackness: A Commentary on Surveillance, Race Talk, and New Racism(s),” Journal of Black Studies Volume 43, No. 2 (March 2012), pp. 127-145.

Delia D. Douglas. “Venus, Serena, and the Women’s Tennis Association: When and Where “Race” Enters.” Sociology of Sport Journal. 22, no. 3 (2005): 256-82.

Rob Lake, “The “Bad Boys” of Tennis: Shifting Gender and Social Class Relations in the Era of Nastase, Connors and McEnroe,” Journal of Sport History Volume 42, No. 2 (2015), pp. 179-199.

Chelsea Litchfield, Emma Kavanagh, Jaquelyn Osborne, and Ian Jones. “Social Media and the Politics of Gender, Race and Identity: The Case of Serena Williams.” European Journal for Sport and Society 15, no. 2 (2018): 154-70.

James McKay and Helen Johnson, “Pornographic eroticism and sexual grotesquerie in representations of African American sportswomen,” Social Identities 14, No. 4 (2008): 491-504.

Jaime Schultz, “READING THE CATSUIT Serena Williams and the Production of Blackness at the 2002 U.S. Open,” Journal of Sport & Social Issues, Volume 29, No. 3, August 2005, pp. 338-357: http://www.csub.edu/~rdugan2/soc%20477%20culture%20readings/serena%20and%20cat%20suit.pdf

Nancy E. Spencer, SISTER ACT VI: VENUS AND SERENA WILLIAMS AT INDIAN WELLS: “SINCERE FICTIONS” AND WHITE RACISM, Journal of Sport & Social Issues, Volume 28, No. 2, May 2004, pp. 115-135

Hortense J. Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics Volume 17, No. 2 (Summer 1987): 64-84.


Burn It All Down – “Hot Take: Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, that chair umpire, and the US Open Final”

If you would like to add additional readings or other resources please leave citations in the comments and we will update this post.

One thought on “#SerenaWilliamsSyllabus

  1. Two citations:

    ARTICLE: Rebecca Traister’s “Serena Williams and the Game That Can’t Be Won (Yet) What rage costs a woman.” At The Cut. https://www.thecut.com/2018/09/serena-williams-us-open-referee-sexism.html

    RADIO/PODCAST: The Takeaway— “Serena Williams’ Emotional U.S. Open Loss Points to Broader Bias in the Sport” Date aired: Sep 10, 2018. Features and interview with ESPN’s culture critic Soraya McDonald. https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/serena-williams-us-open-loss-bias-sport-tennis


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