There is a stereotype about the angry Black woman, but white women are the ones who stay mad.

-Sherronda J. Brown

Kylie Jenner allegedly unfollowed Rihanna on Instagram when Fenty Beauty dropped, and the way I cackled left me aching and in tears. This was not long after I learned Maria Sharapova released her memoir, where she casts Serena Williams in the role of a jealous and begrudging contender.

This vein of fragility is the modus operandi of white womanhood. In my experience, white women tend to divorce from reality when Black women are winning.

These incidents, while markedly different, are representative of the muted aggression that Black women are all too familiar with experiencing from white women, and on behalf of white women, from those who uphold white womanhood as a beacon of innocence and worthiness. It is a kind of dog whistle aggression that might hardly be read as aggression at all by most people who are not accustomed to experiencing it, but Black women know this story quite well.

There is a stereotype about the angry Black woman, but white women are the ones who stay mad.

At the root of this aggression is the misogynoir insisting that Black women are not allowed to prosper, and that we certainly cannot do so peacefully. Our prosperity is a threat to white women because white womanhood itself is defined through its participation and complicity in the subjugation of Black women.

Simply put: white women hate losing to Black women.

But not necessarily losing in, say, the way that Maria Sharapova has lost to Serena Williams eighteen times on the tennis court. Losing as in having only peripheral attention and recognition in the shadow of a Black woman, or even simply having to share the spotlight.

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White supremacy and misogynoir together allow for a culture in which white women like Sharapova can have a total lack of self-awareness and inability to admit to their own mediocrity.

Serena Williams is one of the world’s greatest athletes, and Sharapova has lost to Williams many, many times while benefiting from the ugly misogynoir and vitriol aimed at her. Even while taking banned performance-enhancing drugs, she still lost to Williams at last year’s Australian Open. Yet, in her memoir, she paints Williams as the one consumed by feelings of inferiority and animus.

“I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon. I think she hated me for taking something that she believed belonged to her. I think she hated me for seeing her at her lowest moment. But mostly I think she hated me for hearing her cry. She’s never forgiven me for it.”

The presumed innocence and delicacy of her thin, blonde, white femininity is a property to which Williams can never lay claim, and Sharapova knows this. More insidious than her attempt to frame Williams as a begrudging rival is her intentionality in painting Williams as a towering and threatening monstrosity, even though Sharapova stands at a daunting 6’2, while Williams has a robust 5’9 frame.  

“First of all her physical presence is much stronger and bigger than you realize watching TV. She has thick arms and thick legs and is so intimidating and strong. It’s the whole thing—her presence, her confidence, her personality. Even now, she can make me feel like a little girl.”

In reality, her memoir ought to detail a career defined by her consistent losses to a far, far superior athlete. The story that she attempts to tell instead, however, is of a decade-long rivalry with an opponent on equal footinga fabrication of her own mind.  

White women’s aggression towards us comes along with feigned victimhood, entitlement, petulance, and attempts to reframe narratives. It also often comes with disassociation and dissonance, both of which can take various forms.

The success of Fenty Beauty apparently caused Kylie Jenner so much discomfort that she attempted to remove Rihanna from her sight by unfollowing the mega star on social media. Her actions certainly read as a disassociation from the reality of the situation—that her makeup line will never be as good as Rihanna’s.

Jenner’s own foray into and current position within the makeup industry is defined by her appropriation of Blackness. She has successfully capitalized on the praise she continues to receive for the same “pouty” lips deemed unattractive on Black bodies, even as she continues to blatantly steal from Black creatives. The success Jenner has achieved on the backs of Black women can literally be measured.

Meanwhile, Rihanna’s success with Fenty Beauty was immediately read as a threat, not just by Jenner, but by damn-near every other makeup brand. There is a collective social anxiety about the kind of prosperity Rihanna is currently experiencing, because white supremacy and misogynoir dictate it should instead be reserved for someone like Kylie Jenner.

Society’s ascendant understandings of white womanhood demand that white women be held up as inherently more valuable and more worthy of love, protection, and thoughtfulness. It demands that they always be prioritized over others.

This is why Sharapova is able to earn more than the world’s greatest tennis star whom she has l0st to eighteen times, and also why my friend’s Black daughter is the best dancer in her troupe but is always passed over for solos in favor of the mediocre white girls surrounding her. This is why a Mississippi high school’s first Black valedictorian was asked to share her honor with a white student despite the girl having a lower GPA. This is why Abigail Fisher drew out her affirmative action “reverse-racism” lawsuit for years because she felt her whiteness was enough to secure her spot at The University of Texas.

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The reactions of Sharapova and Jenner to their loses when up against Black women’s excellence are indicative of what seems to be a pathological need for white womanhood to take up the most space possible. By reframing narratives and manipulating situations in a way that constructs whiteness as the perpetually slighted victim, white womanhood continually dissociates from reality in order to maintain its pedestal.

Black women like Serena Williams and Rihanna will continue to be a threat to white womanhood as long as we continue to hold it up as its own untouchable institution. White women are accustomed to being valued above all other women, especially Black women. Being outshined by us is detrimental to their established worldview, in which white womanhood always wins out and is always in the spotlight, and they will do everything to defend and maintain this view.