NYT under fire for Venus-Serena mix-up… in a story about business bias

Serena-Williams-Alexis-Ohanian

Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian. Source: Women's Agenda.

Tennis star Serena Williams has blasted The New York Times (NYT) for publishing a story about her capital-raising efforts to combat bias — that mixed up her and her sister, Venus Williams.

Serena, one of the most famous tennis stars of all time, had raised some US$111 million for Serena Ventures, her new venture fund that invests in founders who have a diverse point of view.

“Serena Ventures doesn’t require that its founders come from historically underrepresented backgrounds, though it says about three-quarters of its portfolio company founders do,” the NYT article reads.

But the paper had undermined the premise of the story by running it alongside an erroneously captioned photo of Venus Williams, her equally famous sister.

“No matter how far we come, we get reminded that it’s not enough,” Serena tweeted.

“This is why I raised $111M for @serenaventures. To support the founders who are overlooked by engrained systems woefully unaware of their biases.

“Because even I am overlooked. You can do better, @nytimes.”

It’s perhaps one of the most high profile examples of media mixing up African Americans but certainly not the first — in 2014, actor Samuel L. Jackson was mistaken for fellow actor Laurence Fishburne, and in 2018 a photo of Patti LaBelle was used in a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin.

In 2019, Australia’s Who Magazine ran a story about Sudan-born model Adut Akech Bior, but printed a full-page image of another model, Flavia Lazarus.

At last year’s Oscars, a South African reporter asked Daniel Kaluuya, who won Best Supporting Actor, how he felt about being “directed by Regina” — but Regina King had directed fellow nominee Leslie Odom Jr in One Night in Miami, not Kaluuya.

An ashen-faced NYT responded to the tweet saying “This was our mistake”.

“It was due to an error when selecting photos for the print edition, and it did not appear online,” the NYT Business account continued. “A correction will appear in tomorrow’s paper.”

Radio host Notorious VOG commented saying mix-ups are “done to us individually to marginalize us collectively”.

“When nativist press such as @nytimes & other engrained systems overlook us as unique individuals, what they’re really saying is, we’re all the same — nothing special,” he wrote.

Some studies suggest people recognise the faces from their own race better, but misidentification can leave people feeling isolated, invisible or unimportant, damaging career advancement and self-worth.

Serena Ventures is the latest diversification for the tennis pro, who holds 23 Grand Slam tennis titles — she has during her career diversified into fashion lines, entertainment deals and taken a seat on the board of fashion empire Poshmark.

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