Naomi’s masked statement

Tennis star wins US Open and hearts

Naomi’s masked statement

Naomi Osaka kisses the trophy. USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Naomi Osaka has shown that good girls win, too. You don’t necessarily have to be an egocentric, madly-driven, tunnel-eyed super-athlete to win a tennis Grand Slam tournament, which Naomi did for the third time on Saturday night. Naomi came back from a set down against Victoria Azarenka to win 1-6 6-3 6-3 for her second US Open title. She had won the first two years ago at the same venue — which was then filled with a crowd whose boos drowned her joy because their favourite, Serena Williams, had been penalised by the umpire. This time around, there was nothing to mar Naomi’s happiness. There were no spectators at the venue but, if you believe in such things, Naomi was, surely, accompanied by the blessings from families of at least six men and one woman, all black, killed by police or racists for, mainly, being black.

In times when celebrities endorse expensive branded masks, Naomi’s simple black masks with names of black victims of hate crime — the youngest was Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old carrying a plastic toy gun, killed by police in a playground — touched hearts and lent a powerful voice to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Statistics drown the individuality of victims of crime; by naming the victims — even if only seven among thousands — Naomi humanised them. She reminded people that institutionalised racism and bigotry are deeply entrenched in every country, every society — one only needs to become honest to see and acknowledge them.

It’s not very original to be an idealist at 22, as Naomi is. But she’s not an accidental activist — daughter of a black American from Haiti and a woman from Japan, Naomi is acutely aware of what being the ‘other’ feels like. She has lived in Japan and the US and has travelled the world. She has seen the bigotry of people, whether they are American, Japanese or from anywhere else. Even before she became a superstar, she had acquired a following among sports writers for her idiosyncratic and intelligent sense of humour and her sensitive and profound comments on social issues. Her dignified and deep commitment to the BLM movement is completely in character and a lesson to all of us.

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