Naomi Osaka became the first Black female athlete to appear on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover on Monday. Then, almost inevitably, she became the first Black female athlete to be shamed for it. “Since saying she’s too introverted to talk to the media after tennis matches, Naomi Osaka has launched a reality show, a Barbie, and now is on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue,” Clay Travis, a talk-radio host who replaced Rush Limbaugh, tweeted. Megyn Kelly, a person who was fired from NBC for defending blackface, decided to pile on Osaka, who is Haitian and Japanese, adding: “Let’s not forget the cover of (& interview in) Vogue Japan and Time Mag!” Piers Morgan subsequently involved himself, as he is wont to do whenever there is an opportunity for bigotry.
Both Travis and Kelly (and, ugh, Morgan) know full well that Osaka didn’t say she’s too introverted to talk to the media. When the 23-year-old withdrew from the French Open in May (and later Wimbledon), she shared that she experienced “huge waves of anxiety” before addressing the tennis press, on top of “long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018,” when she was deluged with international attention for defeating her idol Serena Williams. The implication from the trolls is that it’s now hypocritical for Osaka to engage with the media at all—an intentionally dense, made-for-Twitter attack. Of course, Osaka is unveiling Barbies and appearing on magazine covers; she is one of the best tennis players in the world. She ostensibly said she wasn’t feeling mentally up for dissecting her wins and losses in a press-conference format, not that she intended to retire to a deserted island, never to be seen again. As Kelly and co. also know, magazine lead times are months ahead of publication dates—as Osaka said in a since-deleted tweet before blocking Kelly, she shot S.I. and other covers last year, long before her recent hiatus. Her eponymous Netflix limited series was years in the making.
But the Osaka backlash isn’t about hypocrisy anyway. It’s about diminishing a Black and Asian woman taking care of herself. And sadly Osaka isn’t the only biracial woman to experience this kind of social vitriol as of late.
Critics crow about privacy every time Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and/or Prince Harry share a family photo or announce a new project—but detractors were especially emboldened after the landmark Oprah Winfrey interview in March, in which the couple explained they resigned as senior royals after a character assassination of Meghan by Britain’s tabloid media led her to experience suicidal ideation. “Meghan and Harry beg for privacy—but are hungry for attention,” one headline blared. “Harry and Meghan insist on privacy. Apart from when they’re the ones doing the dishing,” another claimed. But like Osaka, Meghan and Harry never asked for complete privacy. They asked for dignity. They asked to be free of a situation triggering depression and anxiety. They never said they didn’t want to be public people—just public people who aren’t subject to a torrent of racist and sexist abuse.
After sharing their mental-health struggles, both Osaka and Meghan experienced a wave of backlash, including from tennis champion Martina Navratilova, who reportedly said Osaka should “woman up,” and British business magnate Lord Alan Sugar, who accused Meghan of lying. Certain toxic media personalities have presented Meghan and Osaka with a false choice: Accept the status quo, or disappear altogether. “Asking for privacy in your own personal life does not mean that you don’t want to also use your platform to help the world see itself differently,” Oprah said of Meghan and Harry in an interview with the Today show.
In fact, both Meghan and Osaka advocate for a reformed landscape—in Meghan’s case, responsible, ethical journalism and a more compassionate internet, including a study of how algorithms target Black women and girls. In her Time cover story, Osaka said her issue “was never about the press, but rather the traditional format of the press conference,” which she believes is “out of date and in great need of a refresh. I believe that we can make it better, more interesting and more enjoyable for each side. Less subject vs. object; more peer to peer.” (When Osaka thanked “those in the public eye who have supported, encouraged and offered such kind words” as she’s opened up about her mental health, she mentioned Meghan’s name.)
There should be space for Osaka and Meghan to air fair criticism of the media without some within it demanding they disappear. (Imagine this: nuance.) “It’s about boundaries,” Meghan told Oprah, “and it’s about respect.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue