By Vernon A. Williams
Thanks, Coco. We needed that.
Your timing could not have been more perfect. Your youthful smile and enthusiasm is infectious. Your sensible articulation is a throwback to a time when it was common for parents to take pride in well-mannered offspring. Your incredible skills are mind-boggling, but almost incidental. There is so much about you to like.
You are a soothing elixir bringing relief at a time during which Black folk are – in the words of Fannie Lou Hamer – are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
People much older are equally wowed by Coco’s amazing tennis acumen and her intellectual capacity that far exceeds her adolescence. Right now, she doesn’t fully get it. There is no way to make a 15-year-old – no matter how bright – comprehend the depth of the impact of her meteoric rise for people whose good news moments these days come far and few between.
To be clear, it’s not that wonderful accomplishments are not being achieved by Black Americans of all ages from coast to coast. It’s just that the media conveniently ignores them; waiting for more sensational negativism. On the stage which Coco is rising, ignoring her ascent wasn’t an option for the press. It was Wimbledon, for God’s sake!
To fully grasp the importance of this refreshing young tennis player’s “out of the blue” rise and reactions among people of color, you have to put things in context; you have to be familiar with a time when African Americans were not bombarded with the level and frequency of negative media that they experience today.
While this country has never been Utopia for people of color, measuring the level of current-day stress requires application of the concept found in the title of the Les McCann song, “Compared to What?” In other words, pain and suffering are relative.
There are still Black folk alive who had to pick cotton as children – or watch parents work the field. Though not slavery, the agonizing drudgery of sharecropping was a thinly-veiled incarnation of that diabolical institution.
Then into the 1940s and 1950s, Black people traveling through the South couldn’t even contemplate pulling into one of the roadside hotels for a night’s rest during a weary point of a family road trip. Even Black entertainers performing to adoring crowds in hotel showrooms didn’t enjoy that accommodation.
And there was a reason that Black families traveling by car always packed a hearty container of food and drinks. They knew pulling off the road into a restaurant would only bring them the frustration of “white only” signs and glares from people whose snarling expressions said they would rather starve than sup in the presence of people of color.
Even entering the 60s, years after Rosa Parks, Freedom Riders were greeted by barbaric brutality by those incensed at the notion of integrating interstate transportation. As in most cases, law enforcement showed up to either participate in the beat down or arrest the bloodied victims in the aftermath. Lynching and violence were bitter realities of a hateful Jim Crow period. Some evildoers wistfully contemplate the resurrection of that horrendous spirit under the guise of returning to a “great” America.
Racial affronts in 2019 affirm that mindset as Blacks witness a resurgence of those polarizing times. In media, constant reminders of glaring inequities cut like a knife, leaving viewers the choice of either to ‘grin and bear it’ or turn off disheartening news. Then came this one amazing story — for which there could be no possible negative slant.
So inspired were African Americans by Coco’s feat that luminaries in their own right could not contain their enthusiasm. Coco was ecstatic to get a tweet from First Lady Michelle Obama, whom she considered her inspiration. And, there were accolades from so many others—like Magic Johnson, Jalen Smith, and Joel Embid—who compared the excitement of watching Coco play to the seventh game of an NBA championship.
American tennis prodigy Cori “Coco” Gauff is the youngest player to advance through qualifying to reach Wimbledon’s main draw; where she defeated compatriot Venus Williams. The Delray Beach, Florida, resident, who’s been touted as the next Serena Williams, told an interviewer for Wimbledon, “I’m still in shock.”
In subsequent matches, she proved her first win was no fluke, outplaying the competition. She has reason to feel good about herself, but Coco is confident without an ounce of cockiness. Maybe having mother and father – who also coached her – sitting in the stands was all that was required to ignite her masterful performance.
Not even the ugly behaviors and “tweets” of ridiculous racists protesting the choice of a Black actress to portray the main character in the live action version of “The Little Mermaid,” could detract from the moment. The outcome of Wimbledon was secondary. Clearly, Coco emerged from the experience with a sustainable victory. She has won all our hearts.