Tennis has never been kind to Black athletes. No wonder Osaka walked away from the French Open this year rather than subject herself to brutal and vitriol-laced questions from biased reporters. How else is she supposed to protect herself from the bold statement she made at the U.S. Open when she wore face masks each match with the names of those murdered, like Trayvon Martin, or Breonna Taylor.
Naomi’s walk away is about more than mental health. However, the powers would like to reduce her actions to just mental health issues and erase racism as a factor. Osaka took a strong stance against injustice in America. Instead, some interests would prefer she shut up about injustice and racism, take the media punches, and keep swinging the racket. Osaka chose another option, the walkway. She removed herself from the immediate source of her discomfort. Osaka set an example for people of African descent of what to do when the stresses of racism get too much to bear–walk away and protect your mental fitness. She set a firm boundary some folks aren’t used to seeing. For right now, her silence is the last word.
Osaka cut off access to her from the agents of abuse, micro-aggressions, and racially laced questioning. In an act of racial protectionism, Osaka went “no contact” to protect herself. Racial protectionism is when Black or people who have been “othered” remove themselves from harm’s way by disengaging or withdrawing totally from the hostile environment and choose not to be a target of harmful or offensive acts.
Wellness begins with the mind. Research on race-related stressors published by the Journal of Health and Social Behavior reveals that the mental health of Black people and all those whose lives have been marginalized by those in power experience life differently from those whose lives have not been devalued. Black people and those who have been “othered” experience overt racism and bigotry far too often, which leads to a mental health burden that is deeper than what others may face. Racism is a mental health issue because racism causes trauma. And trauma paints a direct line to mental illnesses, which we need to take seriously.
People who identify as being two or more races (24.9 percent) are most likely to report any mental illness within the past year than any other race/ethnic group. (MHA)
Naomi Osaka identifies as Black and Japanese. She has added pressures of being a superstar professional athlete. To pretend racism has nothing to do with her mental health pressures is ignoring the fact that Osaka is Black. Her father is Haitian. Like the Williams Sisters, Osaka uses her vast platform to speak out against the injustices against Black people. Backlash and resentment are inevitable. Richard Williams prepared his daughters, Venus and Serena Williams for this harsh reality. The Williams Sisters and their father survived being called “Nigger” at the Indian Wells Tournament in California. They too walked away. For years the Williams Sisters boycotted the Indian Wells Tournament.
No. Not all Black and marginalized people can walk away when met with racially hostile or problematic situations. But they can withdraw mentally, weaponize their dollars, and focus on taking care of their mental health.
Naomi’s walk away is an example for the rest of us to follow. Walking away is a power move. When the environment is too toxic and starts to impact your health, walk away. Take a respite to somewhere else, disengage, until your armor is solid enough to cope. It is not weakness; it is not dropping out. It is an act of self-preservation.
Alice T. Crowe- Opinion columnist
My passion is correcting the missing pages in our history books. Secrets of the Hollow is my latest film series. The first segment, Last Disintegrated School, the untold story of Thurgood Marshall’s fight to desegregate the Brook School in Hillburn, NY, in 1943. This untold story happened eleven years before Brown v. Board of Education. Infobase distributes Last Disintegrated School. Visit my website for information at www.acroweflyz.com. I am currently editing the revised edition of my book, How to Get Black on Track. Follow me on Twitter.