I’m thrilled that my friend and colleague Isabel Molina Guzman has entered the blogosphere with Color (Re)adjustment, an extension of her valuable scholarship on race and representational politics. In her words, Color (Re)Adjustment (an homage to the late great filmmaker and educator Marlon Riggs) hopes “to disrupt the burden of representation by stepping outside of a commitment to respectability; to move conversations outside of the confining dichotomy of the positive and negative image debate.”
Her thoughts on the mind-boggling controversy over Venus Williams’ tennis shorts at the Australian Open are absolutely right-on. That some commentators might believe or suggest that Venus Williams would perform without underwear in a global arena –examining closely, and inviting others to do the same, photographs of Venus’s backside to try to discern exactly what they might (or might not) be seeing– seems continuous with long histories of discourses and practices of scrutiny and surveillance aimed at black female bodies.
In Spectacle of the Other Stuart Hall writes, “Representation is a complex business and, especially when dealing with ‘difference’, it engages feelings, attitudes and emotions and it mobilizes fears and anxieties in the viewer, at deeper levels than we can explain in a simple, common-sense way.” So I ask you, in a world where women tennis stars are paid millions to wear as little as possible on the courts, what is underlying the public hysteria surrounding Venus Williams 2010 Australian Open outfit, an outfit that she designed for herself under her label?
It appears that the spectacle of the black female bootie threatens the spectra of upper-class respectability surrounding the predominantly white sport of tennis, a sport that has only had two black elite female stars in the last 20 years — Venus and Serena Williams. What I find truly humorous and troubling is that tennis fans and the mainstream media find it plausible that one of the world’s best women’s athlete would actually go on international television flashing her butt and vagina. What does this say about the contemporary representational status of black urban femininity and sexuality?