A responsibility to speak up

Vania King | May 23, 2021

Throughout Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, will feature a series of first-person essays from prominent AAPI voices in the tennis world. This week, the series features thoughts from Vania King, who retired from the WTA Tour earlier this year. In addition to being a two-time Grand Slam champion in doubles, King was a member of the WTA Players' Council, worked closely with the WTA Charities program and also founded her own nonprofit organization, Serving Up Hope.


In her essay, King addresses her transition from a playing career to one as a tennis administrator as a newly-elected member of the USTA Board of Directors, how her personal experiences have influenced her and why she hopes to make a difference in the sport.


I am so proud to be Asian-American. I represent two groups that have a rich cultural heritage and traditions that have made me the person I am today. 


However, it wasn’t always that way.


When I was growing up, I struggled with my dual Asian-American identity. I tried being “American” and I tried being “Asian,” and however much as I tried, I never quite fit in.


I was too Asian for an American and too American for an Asian. 


I realize now of course, that I had no need to try to be one or the other. Having multiple cultures is the epitome of being an American. Our country was founded and sustained by immigrants. We all take pride in our cultural and ethnic heritage, which helps grounds us and gives us a sense of pride. We find commonality in our differences and share the vision of a prosperous and strong nation.


However, I am not always treated with open-mindedness. 

Photo credit: Getty Images

I am judged by my appearance and have been discriminated against, harassed and bullied because of my ethnicity. Discrimination as a child impacted my self-esteem, exacerbating the feeling that I didn’t fit in. Sometimes, the discrimination I face is subtle—reinforcements of Asian stereotypes, often female Asian stereotypes. I have lived with it for so long that it is only recently that I started to really dive deep into how much it affects me.


As a player, I was often reluctant to express my personal opinion on topics outside of tennis, because dealing with the challenges of tennis were hard enough for me and I was quite sensitive to what others thought about me.


I would receive harassment after almost every match, win or lose, I didn’t think I could handle any additional stressors. However, as I have gotten older and been able to work on my own responses in a healthier way, I feel a responsibility to speak up about issues that affect not just myself, but many others. 


Everywhere I go, I subconsciously assess the threat of what being a minority means there and how I might be treated. I try to speak first, so people will see that I speak English, and try to be extra-friendly to proactively discharge any potential confrontation. On social media, I was often called derogatory words only used for people of Asian or Chinese descent.

King won Wimbledon and the US Open with Yaroslava Shvedova in 2010. (Photo credit: Mike Stobe)

My mom used to tell me that the only way to “retaliate” against discrimination is to be successful, so I tried harder on court and prioritized getting a post-graduate degree. However, this was not retaliation, but just to be seen as equal. To be given the same opportunities, minorities must work harder and achieve more, while facing more challenges. 


I am lucky to have two cultures. I understand more about American and Taiwanese history, traditions, values and communication. It has helped me be more empathetic and allows me to share my experiences to help those that may be going through the same issues I had faced.


I also understand that many of the comments and reactions I face are not due to malice, but ignorance; however, this type of ignorance perpetuates harmful stereotypes. 


As a new USTA National Board member, one of my main priorities is diversity and inclusion. I know the USTA has really put D&I at the forefront of its priorities, with the hire of a new Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Marisa Grimes, and an understanding across the national organization and sections how important it is for us to communicate and action our values and beliefs in this space.


I hope to use my position with the USTA and all the other work that I do to help move the needle in the right direction and continue to use my voice in addressing the need for equality. 

I believe that our society is progressing in the right direction, recognize there is more to be done, am working as best I can to be a catalyst for change, and celebrate my fellow Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders this month and every month! 

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