Saturday, February 7, 2015

Joselyn Barnes and Jack Shuler On the Historical Persistence and Expansion of White Supremacist Violence Against Black People in the U.S. and Globally--And Why It Persists

Bringing Fanon's "Concerning Violence" to Film

 Thursday, 05 February 2015 
 by Alnoor Ladha
 Truthout | Interview
A still from from the film Concerning Violence.
                    (Photo: Concerning Violence)

Activist and author Alnoor Ladha interviews Joslyn Barnes, co-producer of Göran Hugo Olsson's film, Concerning Violence, which explores African liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s.

Alnoor Ladha: I recently watched Concerning Violence and was in awe during the entire duration of the film. What is it about these scenes from colonialism and imperialism that strike a chord at the deepest core of our humanity?

Joselyn Barnes: That they are true. As Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak says in her preface to the film, "The issue of colonization is a greed shared by humankind. No one is better than anyone; every generation must be trained in the practice of freedom, caring for others, as did [Frantz] Fanon, and that is what colonization stops. Within the greed for capital formation, colonization allows already existing ignorant racism to spread the markets in the name of civilization or modernization or globalization, as it does today. This film captures the tragedy of the moment when the very poor are convinced in the name of a nation, that is going to reject it once it is established on its own two feet, to offer themselves up for a violent killing. Fanon insists that the tragedy is that the very poor is reduced to violence, because there is no other response possible to an absolute absence of response and an absolute exercise of legitimized violence from the colonizers."

Spivak's preface was indeed powerful. And poignant. One could argue, and indeed we do, that our current brand of capitalism, neoliberalism, is simply a continuation of colonialism. That the logic of capital requires extraction, exploitation, violence etc. Would you agree with this line of thinking?

Decolonization, as Fanon pointed out, needs to work in both directions. The colonized and the colonizer both must be decolonized.

I was at a very large dinner party in Park City, Utah, a few weeks before the Mubarak regime tumbled in Egypt. I was genuinely (and retrospectively, naïvely) shocked by how many people at that dinner literally said, "Better the devil you know . . . " meaning they'd rather see the murderous dictatorship continue than take the risk of change for better or worse. But worse for who?

"We know who supplies the weapons; we know who makes the loans; we know who then demands structural adjustment or in a new guise - austerity."

It really struck me that even in this purportedly progressive environment, some people are clearly viewed as more human than others. And here again, we see a certain colonial mentality. Decisions are made every day in Washington, DC, and other centers of power that have a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of millions and millions of people who have no part in making those decisions. But we know who supplies the weapons; we know who makes the loans; we know who then demands structural adjustment or in a new guise - austerity.

We know, but we look away. And we've been looking away for so long that we not only don't see our connection to this global situation, we don't even see that we ourselves are a country rapidly headed in the same direction, where for example those same weapons are being used against some of us (e.g. Ferguson, Missouri), and eventually all of us. Maybe people at a dinner party on the other side of the world will think of us one day when we attempt to rise up, and say, "Well . . . better the devil you know . . ."

Where a regime cannot be established that capitalist interests view as friendly, then the plan B seems to be perpetual destabilization. This Boko Haram situation in Nigeria is a case in point. Who is benefitting from this horrific scourge? And of course, if you just listened to news reports you would never know that the roots go all the way back to colonization, to the discovery of oil, to the assassination of Murtala Muhammed, and beyond. Stability used to be valued for businesses to thrive. But the profits to be reaped through militarization, conflict entrepreneurism, extraction [and] land grabs are so incredibly massive and pertain to the highest echelons of power, that they have overshadowed even a desire for stability. This is an extractive mindset, and what can you call this but a form of colonization?

Indeed. Do you think neoliberalism is better or worse than its predecessor regimes?

I think the current economic system is destroying life as we know it on this planet, because it relies on an idea of unlimited growth that is so evidentially unsustainable, because it relies on militarization and debt, and also because it is inherently inimical to any idea of a commons - or a common good. So I wouldn't say it's a matter of the particular brand of capitalism, e.g. neoliberalism, but the logic of capitalism itself - the commodification of the environment and people through their labor, and private ownership of production.

"We are giving up every freedom but the freedom to choose what to buy or consume."

But I do wonder whether this particularly aggressive form of capitalism - get what you can, while you can - comes from a displaced fear of annihilation (Freud's return of the repressed) or from a fear of not being real enough (Buddhist philosopher David Loy). The latter idea points to a subconscious awareness that our "person" is constructed, which is also exacerbated in this social media era of the curated self.

Or perhaps we are still conditioned by the discredited social Darwinist construct that capitalism is the economic model that best suits our "human nature." Regardless, at this precise moment where the planet's ecological system has reached the limit of supporting what the global economic system demands, we have a no-limits, free-for-all extractive ideology and we are being deluged by an image environment that inculcates a continually deferred fantasy of wealth and power that invites us to enter a virtual reality - and shortly, an augmented reality - where we are giving up every freedom but the freedom to choose what to buy or consume.

What do you think is the relevance of studying the colonial resistances for the current struggle against neoliberalism? What are the key lessons for social movements?

Fanon walks us through Hegel's famous chapter on "Master and Slave" and turns it to his own use, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak writes and says in the film's preface: "Fanon's lesson was that you use what the masters have developed and turn it around in the interests of those who have been enslaved or colonized. In this he is with great leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois and Nelson Mandela."

This is certainly worth studying deeply. To consider just one element: the state. Social movements are reimagining the role of the state, recognizing that it is actually critical insofar as it is the only entity that can deal on a mass scale and potentially check the power of multinational corporations. But also that the state cannot be created or captured as it was during colonization, or compromised as it was during the postcolonial period, or in the current era of financialization of neoliberal economic policy, by private capital or global financial institutions in its search for sources of financing.

Ensuring accountability and transparency, as with the work on the halting and return of illicit financial flows, or - as is being proposed by a growing number of developing countries together with civil society across the world - the proposed repayment of the climate debt that the [global] north owes the south, is badly needed. As is a re-evaluation of the catastrophic opportunity costs of the weapons trade, the war on terror, the war on drugs - all sources of the greatest corruption. But even this is not sufficient.

How can the state be reimagined so that it can determine its economy effectively, make decisions about where and how money gets spent, manage resources, build green domestic industries and a fair tax base, address inequalities and ensure human rights? A number of governments in Latin America and the Nordic countries are at the forefront of shaping progressive social policies, but monies to support these are generated within a growth model based on extractive industries, which social movements are challenging.

I agree with Fanon when he concludes, "We must try to set afoot a new human being." One that recognizes, as John Berger once said, that  suffering begins with the existence of the "other" as an unequal. Though, for Fanon, the issue was not about being the other; it was aboutnot even being an other.

What do you think will be the future of the violent struggle against the state? Do you think climate change will exacerbate or accelerate the clash between the power elites and the people?

The US government entity most prepared for climate change is the Pentagon. That says a lot about how the US government views climate change, as well as how it plans to address climate change. And we know from the history of many disasters that in fact it is government agencies that often exacerbate chaos and violence, whereas most ordinary people get themselves organized, cooperate and share when they are not armed to the teeth and concerned about a spectral, harmful "other" invented by elites interested in maintaining their own power.

Unfortunately, the corporate media is intent upon cultivating a culture of fear - and notably, nothing drives consumption like fear. Patriotic duties after 9/11 were spying and shopping, per the Bush II regime. And now they go hand in hand.

Imagined conflicts are connected with scarcity in the popular mainstream narrative, and of course, capitalism runs on scarcity as a premise. But scarcity is mainly a function of inequality, waste [and] poor or ineffectual infrastructure. And that is mainly a question of priorities.

"It's the state as currently realized that is most often violent. It  is capitalism that is the crisis. And climate change is one catastrophic result."

What happens in the streets during a crisis is rarely reported upon accurately. Corporate media creates a spectacle, and emphasis is placed on situations of conflict. In fact, narrative itself relies almost entirely on dramatic conflict in the West [or global] north. I think this has its roots in Judeo-Christian traditions, which demand a protagonist, and have a heavy emphasis on ideas of redemption and justice.

And while I think authentic defense is legitimate, this narrative is perniciously justifying tremendous expenditures on weapons, on massive surveillance - which whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and others have literally risked their lives to reveal for the common good, and which journalists like Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, James Risen and Andrew Feinstein have made visible - which is the heart of Fanon - for the common good - and on blatantly unconstitutional and often secret changes to the law, all in the name of keeping us safe. But who is this "us"?

I was not aware until I read Rebecca Solnit's book, A Paradise Built in Hell, that there is a clinical term called "elite panic." But it makes sense - as she notes, elites fear social disorder because it challenges their legitimacy. And they are so used to being in charge that when they are not in charge they actually think no one is in charge, fear the worst and panic. Often they are in a position of power to use or authorize deadly force or to control information that everyone should be privy to, and actually make matters worse or even commit crimes as a result.

It's truly psychotic, and this is where a psychiatrist - to return to Fanon - is useful, because he was able to analyze this insanity and propose a treatment, if not a cure. So, to return to your question, and to provide a Fanonian response: It's the state as currently realized that is most often violent. It is capitalism that is the crisis. And climate change is one catastrophic result.

But it doesn't have to be this way. As Naomi Klein says in her important new book, This Changes Everything, and in the new film that Avi Lewis has made based on this book (which I am producing with him), it's also an opportunity to rethink and rebuild social and economic systems and develop alternatives that will improve our quality of life and our connectedness for the common good.

This is not a utopian hope of ending all conflict - as that kind of hope may actually attenuate neoliberal capitalism. But we do now really have to deal with the inherent contradictions at the heart of our system, stop reaching for the shiny apple of tech fixes and conceive a new narrative. Fortunately, as was evidenced in the process of making Avi Lewis' film, there is already a global pattern of local movements living and working at the forefront of climate change who are modeling alternatives.

We are seeing the effects and constant implementation of imperialistic technik when it comes to terrorism. How do you think Concerning Violence relates to the recent attacks in Paris?

Yes, agreed. War is a diversion, as Walter Benjamin said, and the only way that people can be mobilized not as classes but as masses. Hence, desperately flailing politician Francois Hollande takes a page from the US handbook and declares war on terror - i.e. perpetual war. And his popularity rises, if not soars. "As if air-strikes in Iraq will help France with its social disintegration," Vijay Prashad immediately pointed out in Al-Araby. "There is as much a direct line from the 2005 Clichy-sous-Bois banlieue riots to the alienation of the French-Algerian brothers as any line that goes from them into northern Syria, Iraq or Yemen."

I think we should start there, rather than with the terrible attacks on Charlie Hebdo or the kosher supermarket, because there is something a lot deeper going on than a hashtag activism campaign or purportedly equal-opportunity-offender satire can address. Thomas Chatterton Williams noted in a recent piece in n+1 magazine, "What gets lost in all the sudden reflexive sentimentality is the degree to which #jesuischarlie creates a false binary between legally permissible bigotry and murderous terror - a virtually impossible political bind for many of the already marginalized targets of the publication's relentless ire."

"That is the heart of Fanon - making the invisible visible, both in life and in death."

To examine this from a Fanonian standpoint: When Fanon says in "Concerning Violence" that decolonization is always violent, he means effectively that things have to change, and because of the mindset of power, this means that someone has to lose. He also underscores that it's naïve to think that violence will make the change that's needed. But what we are seeing unfold before our eyes is exactly what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak points out to in the preface: The moment when people are convinced to offer themselves up for a violent killing, and exploited for this very purpose, "the tragedy is that the very poor is reduced to violence, because there is no other response possible to an absolute absence of response and an absolute exercise of legitimized violence from the colonizers."

Why do we not see this cause and effect equation clearly? Because it is deliberately obfuscated. We immediately get the so-called "terror experts," whom Intercept journalist Jeremy Scahill rightly excoriated this past week. And we get the bugbear "clash of civilizations" narrative when what we are seeing here is more a clash of barbarisms. Western values? Really? Shall we do a body count? Because that is the heart of Fanon - making the invisible visible, both in life and in death.

Teju Cole, in a recent New Yorker article, echoes Judith Butler in her book Frames of War, where both ask the very pertinent question of whose lives are grievable? "Specific lives," Butler says, "cannot be apprehended as injured or lost if they are not first apprehended as living."

This is exactly Fanon's point - whatever is being done to you, the colonized, is not registered as unethical because you don't even appear in an ethical relationship. And this is precisely why so many people live in a situation of violence. And apparently the only way to not be violent is to be invisible within this framework.

In a competition for a kind of visibility, we get 90,000 militarized French police taking to the streets to find three armed men. And a  parade of world leaders, many of whom imprison journalists; disavow, justify, torture and bomb civilians; and have their entire populations under surveillance in programs that dwarf anything the Stasi ever conceived of, under the guise of championing free speech. Among these are repressive regimes that the West has supported and armed. And then there is Benjamin Netanyahu flying in to invite the Jewish population of France to emigrate to Israel, that exemplar of Western values in the Middle East: He-Who-Mows-the-Lawn of Gaza every few years, most recently slaughtering some 2,000 people - a third of them children.

I think Fanon is important here because he has a response to this lunacy. He understood violence as a condition into which he was born. He felt he had to do something about it or he would be complicit. So he left Martinique as a teenager and went to fight the Nazis in World War II. His traumatic experiences, which he details in his work, led him to become a psychiatrist. During the Algerian struggle for independence he dealt with patients who had psychiatric problems because they had been torturers or because they had been tortured. He began to analyze and write about the sick society. And as Professor Lewis Gordon has pointed out, "Fanon had a critique of people who claimed to be anti-violent. If your anti-violence means doing nothing about violence, then you are an agent of violence. You have to actually do something to support human dignity."

Fanon offers a way out of hell, literally by walking us through it. And this is what the film Concerning Violence does so well. This is the project of Fanon, to awaken people to seeing themselves and their societies and countries in ways that they may not have seen themselves, or may not wish to. Everyone needs the practice of freedom, as Spivak said, and every group has to understand that it has to set the conditions for the "new concepts" Fanon proposed. The direction in which we will go, depends on every one of us.

What is the main takeaway from your film? Why did you make it? What lesson do you want to impart on the world?

Louverture Films became involved in making Concerning Violence because we trust Göran Hugo Olsson [the director] and his partners at Story SA in Stockholm, with whom we made Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975. And also because we feel that Fanon's essay is of tremendous historical and contemporary relevance. It provokes important questions. It's never our intention to impart a lesson. As for the takeaway, I think that's for audiences to decide, it's the viewer who completes the work, after all.

Concerning Violence is showing at select theaters across the United States in February. You can see the viewing schedule here. Lauryn Hill, the narrator of the English language version of the film, will be showing the film and playing acoustic sets at select venues.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Alnoor Ladha

Alnoor Ladha is a co-founder of /The Rules, a global collective of activists and organizers focused on addressing the root causes of inequality and poverty. He is also a board member of Greenpeace International, USA.

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A History of Killing Black Men and Getting Away With It
Friday, 06 February 2015  
by Jack Shuler
Truthout | Op-Ed
                 (Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

On February 8, 1968, Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton and Henry Smith were killed when white highway patrolmen fired at a crowd of students protesting in front of South Carolina State College, a historically black college in Orangeburg, the town where I was born and raised.

That violence was the culmination of weeks of disruption over continued segregation in local medical facilities and at All Star Bowling Lanes. Two days before the shooting, an attempt to integrate that bowling alley had ended in a brawl between students and law enforcement officers. Communications between the college and the community reached a standstill. National Guardsmen rolled in. Patrolmen loaded their weapons.

And then, on a Thursday night, those three young men were killed and at least 28 black men and women were wounded, most of them shot from behind. Gov. Robert McNair expressed his sorrow, but claimed the students had been out of control and had fired first on the highway patrolmen (though there's no proof of that allegation). He blamed former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizer Cleveland Sellers for what happened. Sellers was the only person connected to the events of that week to serve any jail time. On May 27, 1969, the nine patrolmen were exonerated. The victims received no restitution.

A year after that fateful decision, student protesters at another historically black college, Jackson State College in Mississippi, were fired on, leaving two dead and 10 injured. That event was mostly ignored because a week earlier, Ohio National Guardsman had killed four white students at Kent State. In the balance of things, the official narrative decided those white lives mattered more.

If we take the long view, one that begins with slavery and traces the violence through the lynching epidemic and Jim Crow, we shouldn't be surprised to learn that every 28 hours a black person is murdered by police or vigilante law enforcement.

All that's left of All Star Bowling, the focal point of the 1968 protests, is a rusted sign and dusty lanes that haven't seen pins in more than a decade. The old brick building is flanked by storefront churches in a withered postwar shopping plaza where the parking lot pavement is broken and weeds push through the cracks. But the memory of what happened there in 1968 persists in the collective memory of Orangeburg.

While writing my book Blood and Bone, I mined my town's history - my own history - interviewing neighbors and acquaintances, and researching what happened in Orangeburg in an effort to reconcile with that history. I was humbled by the firsthand accounts, admissions and recollections of those I spoke with - like when victim Ernest Shuler (no relation) described his chronic pain from buckshot still stuck in his  foot. Or when Geraldyne Zimmerman described the fear she felt as she heard the wailing sirens and cars racing down her street that night. Or my great uncle, J.C. Pace, who was on the scene as a state highway patrolman, telling me that he thought about those gunshots every day for the rest of his life.

I found that, no matter whether it was a guardsman or patrolman, a student activist or citizen who was alive then, near to or far from the massacre, they were all touched by those bullets in some way. And when I spoke with archivists, historians, journalists, pastors, community leaders and young college students, those shots were still reverberating for them, too.

But the story seems to reverberate most for black men. Black student leader John Stroman told me in an interview, "[What happened in] Orangeburg taught me one thing: My life ain't mine." The massacre taught him that white people could kill black people and get away with it.

We're still teaching that lesson.

In South Carolina, there have been apologies for what happened in 1968 from governors and mayors, but when it comes down to it, that doesn't amount to real justice.

South Carolina Rep. Bakari Sellers, in the name of his father, among others, continues to present legislation to the state government of South Carolina asking for a new investigation of the massacre. Others write letters to newspapers with the call to never forget. And then, of course, some just want to leave the past exactly there, in the past, wishing no further harm to South Carolina's reputation and legacy. But a state-sanctioned investigation could foster a public conversation that has yet to happen and give South Carolina and this country a desperately needed story of redemption and reparations. It might also validate the concerns those students had in 1968 and that many people still have today.

If we don't do that, we're perpetuating the same old lie - that black lives don't matter.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Jack Shuler is John and Christine Warner professor and associate professor of English at Denison University and author of three books including one exploring the Orangeburg massacre entitled Blood and Bone: Truth and Reconciliation in a Southern Town (University of South Carolina Press, 2012). His most recent book is The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose (PublicAffairs, 2014).

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Beyond Sports: The Fearless Commitment of Serena and Venus Williams To the Struggle for Justice, Equality, and Self Determination Both On and Off the Court


I have been saying loudly for nearly 20 years to any who would listen that Venus and Serena Williams were by far the most impressive and socially/culturally significant of sports figures of their generation generally both globally and particularly in the United States--on and off the court--and that they were especially the most important and socially/culturally significant of African American athletes in all sports of their generation by a very wide margin.  I am very proud to say I have never wavered from that deep and abiding conviction and the article below just proves once again exactly why I love, respect, and honor them as much as I do.  Serena is truly a CHAMPION in the very best sense of the term whose massive achievements and astonishing contributions as the best damn individual athlete of the 21st century is only eclipsed by her mature and even broader social awareness and consciousness of her role off the playing field.  As usual Serena and her big sister Venus make me PROUD to be an African American human being and a fervent fan of the grace, intelligence, courage, and power that they bring to both the game of tennis and to life itself…Continue to kick ass and take names...


Serena Williams, Indian Wells and Rewriting the Future

by Dave Zirin
February 6, 2015
The Nation

            Serena Williams (Reuters/Philippe Wojazer)
"Serena and her big sister Venus brought to mind Zora Neale Hurston's ‘I feel most colored when I am thrown against a white background.'… Serena and Venus win sometimes, they lose sometimes, they've been booed and cheered, and through it all and evident to all were those people who are enraged they are there at all—graphite against a sharp white background."
—Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

Tennis icon Serena Williams and her older sister Venus have spent their careers not only surviving but thriving in a hostile space: a white background that often threatened to swallow them whole. As Serena's individual legend flourished, so did her antagonists in the aristocratic, imperious world of professional tennis. Biased judges, grotesque mockeries and other indignities ("crip walk"?) pock her career. While accumulating scars and enduring the burden imposed by the "white background," the girl known for years as "Venus's little sister" has also— remarkably—made herself into perhaps the greatest player to ever pick up a racket. The numbers speak for themselves: nineteen Grand Slam wins, sixty-six singles titles, along with twenty-two doubles championships, and all done with wicked flair in dazzling technicolor.

Now Serena Williams, for all she has accomplished, is attempting to enter a club even more restricted than those that host certain events on the WTA tour. It is reserved for the few defined by history as being "more than just an athlete." Ms. Williams has announced both in a video message and the pages of Time magazine that she will be returning to play at the Indian Wells Tournament after a fourteen-year absence. Serena and Venus have famously boycotted Indian Wells since 2001 when "racist slurs" and "false allegations" of match fixing were levied against the Williams family. As she recounted in Time, their father, Richard, had "dedicated his whole life to prepping us for this incredible journey, and there he had to sit and watch his daughter being taunted, sparking cold memories of his experiences growing up in the South."

Serena Williams' has decided, after years of apologies and invitations from the new directors at Indian Wells, to "forgive freely," "follow [her] heart" and return to place she describes as "nightmare," a place where at the age of 19 she spent "hours crying in the Indian Wells locker room after winning in 2001…feeling as if I had lost the biggest game ever—not a mere tennis game but a bigger fight for equality."

In an effort to grasp the momentousness of all of this, I asked Georgetown professor and author Michael Eric Dyson for his thoughts. He said:

"Serena's decision to return to Indian Wells suggests the majestic arc of forgiveness in black life that has helped to redeem America. Without such forgiveness, America may have well flowed in the blood of recrimination and revenge. Instead black folk have consistently proved to be moral pillars of American conscience, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Sybrina Fulton, black athletes in particular have carried the water of grievance for black life, sometimes against their wills, and have represented the heartbeat of black resistance to racism. Serena's—and her family's—painful experiences at Indian Wells was a low moment in American sports history. She was right to remain visibly absent. She let her lack of presence do the speaking—a protest of strategic absence. Her decision to return is equally effective. She has decided that Indian Wells will no longer be an individual sore spot, and therefore no longer a collective one for her or her fans or the black Americans who love and support her. As the most dominant athlete of her generation, Serena carries huge symbolic capital. This gesture of principled forgiveness once again proves that black athletes at their best have been thermostats who changed the temperature of society rather than thermometers that merely recorded the temperature."

What is particularly stunning about this return to Indian Wells is that Williams is not only writing a narrative of her own racial reconciliation but also linking it to a broader anti-racist struggle that touches millions of lives. 

She has announced that fans could enter a raffle for ten dollars, the winner getting to "stand with me at Indian Wells." All raffle proceeds are going to the Equal Justice Initiative, which fights racism and class bias in the jails and courts by providing legal representation to those lost in the catacombs of the Prison Industrial Complex. This is an organization dedicated to ending our system of deeply racialized mass incarceration, and Serena Williams is leveraging the "white background," that corporatized, country club world of pro tennis, to assist them in their fight.

I contacted Andrew Jones, a reporter at The Intercept and a freelance sportswriter who perhaps knows more about tennis than anyone under 30 in the United States. He e-mailed me about the joyous "shock" he felt upon learning that Serena was using this moment to promote the work of EJI. "No one expected her to do that," he wrote. "No one. It was quite the rare sight seeing a notable figure, celebrity or celebrity athlete, highlight a criminal justice organization. That was so unexpected and it added even more awesomeness to her returning to Indian Wells. Her going back to the tournament was one thing. But her support for a criminal justice law firm located in the Deep Southern town of Montgomery, with its racist past and systematic racist present, was staggeringly tremendous."

He is absolutely right. Sportswriter Jessica Luther put it this way: "Serena is literally using her return to the most racist incident in her career to raise money for an organization that actively works to dismantle the systemic racism that plagues the criminal justice system. Serena is inspiring. She's inspiring on the court, no doubt. But she and her sister have inspired me for many, many years now. This is a good example of why."

Jon Wertheim, editor and senior writer for Sports Illustrated said to me that he believes, "as trite as it sounds, it's a proud day for tennis. All credit to Serena for having the strength to take a principled stand for all these years; and then the intellectual and emotional flexibility to soften and reverse that stance. I credit the tournament, too, for reaching out repeatedly and making it clear that—while respectful of Serena's decision throughout the years—she would be welcomed back. I can't imagine she receiving anything other than a warm reception next month."

Wertheim is certainly correct that the people at Indian Wells, not to mention the Women's Tennis Association, will breathe a sigh of relief over her return. At this point in her career, the WTA needs Serena Williams more than Serena Williams needs the WTA. As she wrote, "I'm still as driven as ever, but the ride is a little easier. I play for the love of the game. And it is with that love in mind, and a new understanding of the true meaning of forgiveness, that I will proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015."

The background to Serena Williams is still sharply white. But she is showcasing a power to sculpt that background into an alabaster marble platform. She is changing tennis, choosing to rewrite its future instead of being victimized by its past. Nineteen career Grand Slam wins, sixty-six singles championships, twenty-two doubles championships. And utterly fearless.


Serena Williams: I’m Going Back to Indian Wells

2015 Australian Open - Day 13
Hannah Peters—Getty Images Serena Williams holds the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after winning the women's final match against Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open on Jan. 31, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.

The tennis star writes exclusively in TIME about her decision to return to a tournament that has haunted her

We were outsiders.

It was March 2001, and I was a 19-year-old focused on winning and being the best I could be, both for me and for the kids who looked up to me. I had spent tens of thousands of hours—most of my ­adolescence—­serving, running, practicing, training day in and day out in pursuit of a dream. And it had started to become a reality. As a black tennis player, I looked different. I sounded different. I dressed differently. I served differently. But when I stepped onto the court, I could compete with anyone.

The tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., held a special place in my heart. I won my first pro match there in 1997, alongside my sister in doubles. I then sat and watched Venus qualify for the singles event and make a magical run all the way to the quarterfinals. It was a giant win not only for her but also for our whole family, and it marked the beginning of a new era that we were unknowingly writing. My first big tournament win also happened there, when I beat Steffi Graf in the ’99 final.

When I arrived at Indian Wells in 2001, I was looking to take another title. I was ready. But however ready I was, nothing could have prepared me for what happened in the final. As I walked out onto the court, the crowd immediately started jeering and booing. In my last match, the semifinals, I was set to play my sister, but Venus had tendinitis and had to pull out. Apparently that angered many fans. Throughout my whole career, integrity has been everything to me. It is also everything and more to Venus. The false allegations that our matches were fixed hurt, cut and ripped into us deeply. The under­current of racism was painful, confusing and unfair. In a game I loved with all my heart, at one of my most cherished tournaments, I suddenly felt unwelcome, alone and afraid.

For all their practice, preparation and confidence, even the best competitors in every sport have a voice of doubt inside them that says they are not good enough. I am lucky that whatever fear I have inside me, my desire to win is always stronger.

When I was booed at Indian Wells—by what seemed like the whole world—my voice of doubt became real. I didn’t understand what was going on in that moment. But worse, I had no desire to even win. It happened very quickly.

This haunted me for a long time. It haunted Venus and our family as well. But most of all, it angered and saddened my father. He dedicated his whole life to prepping us for this incredible journey, and there he had to sit and watch his daughter being taunted, sparking cold memories of his experiences growing up in the South.

Thirteen years and a lifetime in tennis later, things feel different. A few months ago, when Russian official Shamil Tarpischev made racist and sexist remarks about Venus and me, the WTA and USTA immediately condemned him. It reminded me how far the sport has come, and how far I’ve come too.

I have thought about going back to Indian Wells many times over my career. I said a few times that I would never play there again. And believe me, I meant it. I admit it scared me. What if I walked onto the court and the entire crowd booed me? The nightmare would start all over.

It has been difficult for me to forget spending hours crying in the Indian Wells locker room after winning in 2001, driving back to Los Angeles feeling as if I had lost the biggest game ever—not a mere tennis game but a bigger fight for equality. Emotionally it seemed easier to stay away. There are some who say I should never go back. There are others who say I should’ve returned years ago. I understand both perspectives very well and wrestled with them for a long time. I’m just following my heart on this one.

I’m fortunate to be at a point in my career where I have nothing to prove. I’m still as driven as ever, but the ride is a little easier. I play for the love of the game. And it is with that love in mind, and a new understanding of the true meaning of forgiveness, that I will proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015.

I was raised by my mom to love and forgive freely. “When you stand praying, forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father who is in the heavens may also forgive you” (Mark 11:25). I have faith that fans at Indian Wells have grown with the game and know me better than they did in 2001.

Indian Wells was a pivotal moment of my story, and I am a part of the tournament’s story as well. Together we have a chance to write a different ­ending.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Once Again The Great Serena Williams Dominates Maria Sharapova To Win Her 19th Grand Slam and her Record Setting Sixth Australian Open Title


It’s time to not only celebrate but bow down in gratitude to not only one of the greatest players in the history of tennis (male or female) but the absolute greatest single individual athlete in all of sports period in the 21st century thus far.  This amazing, extraordinary champion has won more major titles in her sport than all the other individual male icons in their respective sports, including the most celebrated and iconic living legends in the individual sports of both tennis (Roger Federer) and Tiger Woods (golf) over the past 20 years.  THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MOMENT.  Then reflect on what it means to the history of sports in the U.S. since 2000 and how this magnificent black female dynamo from Compton, CA. has not only won 19 major titles since making her professional debut in 1998 but has won 70 million dollars thus far for her work and over $60 million more in commercial endorsements.  And at 33 (an age considered almost ancient for major competitive tennis stars) Serena is not only still going strong but has already won more major titles after the age of 30 (six) than any other player in tennis history, male or female.  Also since she turned 30 in 2011 Serena’s overall won loss record in matches is a phenomenal 197-18 or .916—also the greatest win-loss percentage for ANY player in tennis history past the age of 30, male or female.  So we should revel in this woman’s  legendary exploits while we can because we are not likely to see such a major dominating athlete in any sport for many years to come…



Serena Williams Wins Australian Open With Coughs, Guts and Aces
JANUARY 31, 2015
Serena Williams won her sixth Australian Open singles title Saturday, beating Maria Sharapova. Credit William West/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia — The record still shows that Maria Sharapova is a pushover for Serena Williams: her muse, her matchup made in tennis heaven.

Williams’s 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory on Saturday in the Australian Open final extended her winning streak against Sharapova to 16 matches, despite all the velocity and volume that Sharapova has mustered over the last decade.

Forget head-to-head. This is off with her head.

Yet Williams, who said she had a severe cold for much of this tournament, encountered some headwinds. She left the court during a rain delay in the first set and, for the first time in her nearly 20 years as a professional, threw up during a match.

“I guess there’s a first time for anything,” she said. “I think, in a way, that just helped me. I felt better after that.”

Complacency has never been a Williams failing in Grand Slam finals. There is a reason she is 19-4 in such matches, for a winning percentage (.826) superior to those of all the serial champions in women’s tennis history except for Margaret Court.

Williams, being Williams, kept blasting clutch serves and returns and also kept fighting that feeling in the pit of her stomach that something might go awry. The skeletons in her Grand Slam closet got a good rattle in the seventh game of the second set, when a hindrance call cost her a point after she shouted, “Come on,” in the middle of a rally.

Shouting the same words had cost Williams a point and her composure during the 2011 United States Open final, which she lost to Samantha Stosur of Australia. But on Saturday, Williams, the No. 1 seed, accepted the penalty with equanimity, even levity, mocking the situation with a sarcastic “come on” later in the game delivered well after a winner had landed.

“I would have never done that three years ago, four years ago; I would have stayed in the zone,” she said.

She hardly went on cruise control, however, which was just as well because Sharapova, for a change, was not making her way quickly to the  consolation prize. The second-seeded Sharapova kept clawing back. She saved one championship point when serving at 4-5 in the second set with a forehand winner that landed in the corner. She saved another at 4-6 in the tiebreaker with a gutsy second serve that set up another big, bold forehand.

More From the Australian Open
Sharapova, who had already saved two match points in the second round, could have been excused for feeling the tug of destiny. When it was Williams’s turn to serve on a match point, she slammed what she thought was an ace into the corner, dropped her racket to start celebrating and then realized it had been called a let.

“I thought after the let, Man, I am not meant to win this tournament,” she said. “I had a couple of match points. I mean, she played great on those match points. She totally went for broke. I was like, come on!”

But Williams has not made it to 19 Grand Slam singles titles by dwelling in the past instead of swinging big in the present.

All she did this time — once she had removed her hands from her hips and the slightly incredulous look from her face — was return to the service line and slam an ace into the same corner to finish off Sharapova and win her sixth

 Australian Open singles title.

“I think only Serena can do that,” her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said, referring to the ace.

It was quite a serve, quite a set of circumstances, but as Williams pointed out in her emotional victory speech, she has overcome a great deal more than that in her 33 years. With her 19 titles, she is tied for third on the career list of Grand Slam singles champions.

“Growing up,” she told the crowd at Rod Laver Arena, “I wasn’t the richest. But I had a rich family in spirit and support, and standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen. I went on the courts with just a ball and a racket and a hope, and that’s all I had.”

Williams was already the oldest woman to reach the Australian Open singles final in the Open era. She is now the oldest woman to win the singles title in the Open era, surpassing Li Na, who won it last year at 31.

Williams’s latest phase of excellence began at Wimbledon in 2012, when she joined forces with Mouratoglou. Since they began working together, Williams has won six of the 11 Grand Slam events she has contested.

“You really believed in me,” she said to Mouratoglou from the court, referring to her health problems in Melbourne. “There were moments I didn’t believe in me, but you did. I’m so grateful to have you in my life and on my team.”

Williams is now tied with Helen Wills Moody on the career list at 19, behind Margaret Court (24) and Steffi Graf (22). Saturday’s victory broke her tie with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Navratilova presented Williams with the winner’s trophy as Sharapova looked on, composed but deflated. Again.
Maria Sharapova in Saturday’s final against Serena Williams, whom she last defeated in 2004. Credit Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Sharapova has won all four Grand Slam singles tournaments, twice coming back from major shoulder problems. But despite her competitive spirit and her self-improvement streak, she has been unable to come up with an antidote to Williams.

Sharapova last defeated her in 2004 and has won just one set in their last 12 matches. Over all, she trails, 17-2, but remains a gracious loser.

“I haven’t beaten her in a really long time, but I love every time I step on the court to play against her because she’s been the best, and as a tennis player you want to play the best,” Sharapova said in her postmatch remarks on court.

Williams’s serve remains the most devastating weapon in the women’s game, and it made the difference again Saturday as she hit 18 aces and won 84 percent of the points when she put her first serve in play.

Sharapova, a world-class returner, made significant inroads when she got to face second serves, winning 62 percent of those points. But at critical junctures, Williams rarely gave her a second serve to attack.

In the opening set, with Williams serving at 3-2, play was stopped at 30-30 because of light rain, and there was a 12-minute delay as organizers closed the roof and turned the final into an indoor match.

Williams, who had been coughing before some serves and returns, left the court in visible distress. She said the respite provided considerable relief. She returned and, with no warm-up, nailed an ace down the middle to get to 40-30. She won the next point with a forehand winner.

“I just threw up, and I had to run back on the court, and I thought, I’ve got to hit an ace,” she said. “For me there’s no other option. That’s my game.”

Sharapova struggled to hold serve and was broken three times in the match, finishing with five aces and four double faults. It required some great escapes for her to even reach the tiebreaker in the second set.

But Williams eventually imposed her will by hitting the same unreturnable serve twice, and was soon celebrating with a series of kangaroo hops down under.

Next step: No. 20.

Ben Rothenberg contributed reporting.

Serena Williams beats Maria Sharapova to win Australian Open – as it happened:

Serena Williams claimed her 16th straight victory over Maria Sharapova, winning 6-3, 7-6, to secure her 19th grand slam title and sixth in Australia

Serena Williams on her Australian Open triumph
Katy Murrells:

Saturday 31 January 2015

Right, that’s it from me, I’ll leave you with Kevin Mitchell’s match report:
What was most remarkable about Serena Williams’s 17th career win over Maria Sharapova, delivering her a 19th major to draw within three of Steff Graf’s Open era record of 22, was that she could not lose, whatever the result. So publicly had she suffered throughout the 2015 Australian Open with a hacking cough that could be heard even over the screaching of the game’s loudest interjectionists, it was impossible for Sharapova to win. As it happened, their 19th encounter went the way of nearly all the others, Williams winning 6-3, 7-6, despite the Russian’s best fighting instincts. In grand slam finals, Williams, the oldest champion here in the Open era, is 19-4, the best percentage performance in either the men’s or women’s game. She is a phenomenon.

“I love you back,” she shouted to a fan in the audience before accepting the trophy on court. “In the end I was able to come through. I also have to congratulate Maria who really pushed me tonight. She gave us a great final. “Growing up I wasn’t the richest, but I had a rich family in spirit. Standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen. I went on a court just with a ball and a racket and with a hope.” Thirty years after she won her third Australian Open, Martina Navratilova was on hand to witness Williams’s untrammelled progress towards further glory.

And here comes Williams, described by the announcer as a “phenomenon, an icon and a legend.” Navratilova hands over the Daphne Akhurst trophy and Williams holds it aloft. Navratilova looks extremely gracious, considering Williams has just overtaken her tally of 18 grand slam singles titles. “I love you Serena!” shouts one fan. “I love you too,” replies Williams.

I have to congratulate Maria. She gave us a great final, not only for you guys but for women’s tennis. I’m really honoured I got to play you in the final. Growing up, I wasn’t the richest, but I had a rich family in spirit and support, and standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen. I just went on court with a ball, a racket and a hope, that’s all I had. And it’s an inspiration for you guys who want to be the best – you can be, never give up and you don’t know who you can inspire. You never know what can happen. I’m so honoured to be here tonight and to hold this 19th trophy.

Williams looked quite choked there, that was a heartfelt speech. The 19th title clearly means so much to her. And so it should. She’s proved her tennis greatness once again and, if she can stay fit, has a fantastic chance of closing in on Graf’s record of 22. We’re so lucky to be able to watch such a wonderful player, athlete and competitor in this era.
Serena Williams receives the trophy from Martina Navratilova. Photograph: Rob Griffith/AP

Trophy time

Sharapova trudges up to collect her third runners-up plate at the Australian Open from Martina Navratilova. Here’s what she has to say:
"First of all I’ve got to congratulate Serena for creating history. It’s really an honour playing against her. I haven’t beaten her in a really long time, but I really love playing against her as she is the best and you want to play against the best. So congratulations on an incredible achievement. It’s been a long couple of weeks. I was almost down and out in the second round, so I feel like I had a second life in this tournament. It wasn’t quite enough today, but I gave it everything. I love playing in the Rod Laver Arena, I’ve had some of my best memories and toughest losses, but that’s the life of a tennis player."

Maria Sharapova during the presentation ceremony. Photograph: Made Nagi/EPA

Sharapova sits slumped on her chair, probably pondering just what she has to do to beat her bête noire. While we wait for the presentation, some Twitter reaction ...
— Anne Keothavong (@annekeothavong) January 31, 2015
Did you expect anything other than an ace from Serena to take the title? Too good #19Slams #AusOpen

— Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) January 31, 2015
Big congratulations to my big sis @serenawilliams on #19! Such an inspiration! #champ

— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) January 31, 2015
You would think that SW might get couple more slams this year to inch closer to Steph

— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) January 31, 2015
Honestly Shazza could not have played any better but that is not good enough to beat a in form SW in a grand slam final
After the hostilities, the pair share a warm exchange at the net. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty


Williams think she’s won it with an ace – the crowd think she’s won it – but the umpire calls a let! But Williams recovers her poise, and settles matters with another ace, her 18th of the day. A fairly fitting end given her serving performance in this final. Williams looks subdued for a second, probably checking the umpire’s not going to halt her celebration this time, before skipping to the net and a fairly warm exchange with Sharapova, it has to be said. Williams jumps up and down with joy, lets out a squeal or two before signalling to her box. She’s the Australian Open champion for a sixth time, it’s her 19th grand slam title (she’s now only three behind Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 and moves ahead of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on the all-time grand slam winners’ list) and, once again, Sharapova ends up being a vehicle for Williams’s greatness.

Serena Williams is jubilant after winning her sixth Australian Open title. Photograph: Barbara Walton/EPA
Serena Williams winning speech (Final) - Australian Open 2015—January 31, 2015:

(Serena Williams speaks to Rod Laver Arena at AO after her win over Maria Sharapova in the Women's Final of the 2015 Australian Open)

Serena Williams vs Maria Sharapova 
FINAL CEREMONY HD Australian Open 2015:

By Jonathan Liew, in Melbourne
31 Jan 2015


Finally, a match worthy of the hype. Finally, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova gave us a contest worth talking about. And even if the outcome was a familiar one – a 16th consecutive victory for Williams, 6-3 7-6 – this was a final of high tension and high thrills, as the world’s top two players stared each other down, screamed each other down and refused to budge an inch.

“She really pushed me tonight and played so well,” Williams said after her Australian Open success. “She gave us a great final, not only for you guys, but for women’s tennis.”

It was Williams’s 19th grand slam title, moving her ahead of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, with only Steffi Graf left to catch. And although she will cherish them all, you could tell as she bounded across the Rod Laver Arena in victory that this one felt particularly special.

She had, after all, beaten two opponents: the indefatigable Sharapova, and her own body.

Williams has been feeling poorly all fortnight. On Friday, she had been forced to cut a practice session short because of it. On the morning of the match, she was running a temperature of 102 degrees. In the middle of the first set, when play was temporarily halted for rain, she went to the bathroom and promptly emptied out her insides.

None of this managed to slow her down.

Imperious: Serena Williams was at her brilliant best in Melbourne

“I ended up throwing up, actually,” she said. “I think that helped me, when I got everything out of me, cleared my chest out. I just got a really bad cold and a really bad cough. Usually when that happens, you stay in bed.”

Only a woman of Williams’s rare and peculiar optimism could take the positives out of a mid-game vomit. And at the same time, you had to feel for Sharapova. Since her last victory over the American in 2004, Williams has beaten her in every imaginable fashion – on grass and clay, indoors and outdoors, in three-set thrillers and hour-long drubbings, in sickness and in health. So perhaps it was simply muscle memory kicking in when she took the microphone and delivered a magnanimous tribute to her greatest foe.

“I love every time that I step on the court against her,” she said. “Because she’s the best. And you always want to play against the best. I’m proud to play in the same era as her.”

So does Williams bring the worst out of Sharapova, or does Sharapova bring the best out of Williams? Too often it has been the former, but here it was resolutely the latter. It was loud and fiery and gladiatorial, the pair trading screams as readily as they traded groundstrokes, and that seemed to suit Williams.

Agony: Maria Sharapova once again failed against her old rival Serena Williams

It was, in every respect, a consummate display from her, founded as much on defence as attack. She returned about as well as she has ever done, made Sharapova play one more ball, pounced on her opponent’s second serve. And when she found herself in trouble – as she did more than once in the second set – she was able to call on her Nasa-designed serve to bail her out of trouble.

And so this is at least one respect in which Sharapova – or, indeed anyone – will probably never be able to match her. “As much as I would love to hit a 200kph serve, I don’t think that’s feasible with my shoulder,” Sharapova smiled. “There’s a lot of things I would love to do in this world, but I can’t.”

When Williams took the first set, breaking three times along the way, another mismatch threatened. But as the stakes rose in the second set, so did the temperature, and so did the volume. At one point it was hard to tell whether they were wailing at themselves or each other, or possibly both. Williams was docked a point at 3-3 for shouting “Come on!” before Sharapova had played her return, thinking she had hit a service winner.

But while there may be a deep well of animosity between them, a rivalry fomented over 11 turbulent years, there is respect there too. At 4-5 Sharapova saved her first match point with a crunching inside-out forehand winner. Even Serena had to applaud.

And so to the tiebreak. Sharapova claimed the first mini-break, but Williams won the next three points to seize control. At 5-4 up Williams, standing almost halfway to the service line, slammed a perfect return winner to bring up two match points. Sharapova saved the first, but a crunching ace – how else? – brought up title number 19.

Suddenly Williams looked a little tired; as if the exertions of these two weeks and these two hours were all weighing on her at once. Then, at last, she found a second wind, and started leaping in pure delight: a vaulting tribute to skill, will, endurance and the power of a good spew.