Why Noami Osaka Sets an Anti-Racist Example for Us All
Osaka brings the reality of racism to those that might have an easy time avoiding it, she sets us all an example
Osaka, the champion of the 2020 US Open has continued to highlight the harsh reality of racism in the United States. At her matches, Osaka has donned seven face masks that bear the names of African-Americans George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice: all of whom were murdered by police officers in the US.
As well as this, the Japanese-Haitian star took the decision not to play her semi-final match in reaction to the shooting of an African-American man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer. In a statement on her social media accounts, Osaka wrote:
“I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction. Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hands of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach.”
She later returned to the two-week tournament sporting a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and won her match against Elise Mertens.
Questioned about her seven masks (one for each match), Osaka, the 2018 champion, and the winner of the 2019 Australian Open told reporters:
“I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story. For me, [it’s] just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interested they’ll become.”
Osaka’s comments, which highlight spreading awareness of racial injustice in a majority white domain — like tennis — set us all an example. Her actions at the US Open call for unwavering attention on the harrowing reality of racism. She does not leave room for people to look away, or for it to be brushed under the carpet.
I hope that Osaka is making white tennis players and white tennis watchers uncomfortable, uncomfortable enough to do something about it; to speak up, to donate, to sign petitions, to make changes that promote racial equality. She brings the reality of racism to those that might have an easy time avoiding it, and, with this, she sets us all an example.
It is very easy to vocally support Black Lives Matter and racial equality within an environment and amongst peers that share the same values as you. However, as Osaka’s actions show, to make the anti-racist change we want to see in the world, we have to push out of our comfort zones to reach those that don’t click on our Instagram stories or like our tweets.
Of course, it’s not your job — especially people of colour (I know how tired some of us are) — to educate everyone and their mum about racism. Ideally, people should be actively seeking this education on their own. The point here is that Osaka chose to spread awareness of racism in a majority white sport, and that spreading this awareness amongst those who are privileged enough to be able to learn about, and not experience racism, is important.
Obviously, we are not all famous tennis stars who have the world’s media outlets at our disposal, but we can broaden the people we engage with in meaningful ways. We can start by challenging our racist grandparents, pulling up a colleague for that ‘joke’ they made, sharing an anti-racist post on Facebook so that that aunt will see it. Like Osaka says, it is important to get conversations started and people interested — like she did with her masks. By challenging ourselves to speak out, we challenge others. Hopefully, their problematic views will grow into new ones through these conversations.
Osaka’s actions clearly demonstrate that using what you have at your disposal is a valid way to spark much-needed conversations and to bring attention to important issues. I will follow in her footsteps, I hope you do too.
Follow Ella Sinclair on Twitter @ella_clair