Even better: Because she’s helping racists like President Trump.
Serena Williams has excelled at playing the celebrity pregnancy game. When she released pictures of her baby bump, a) she looked good; b) those who grasped her pregnancy timeline immediately realized that she’d won the Australian Open while pregnant; and c) it just happened to be her disgraced rival Maria Sharapova’s birthday.
Game, set, match: Serena.
So it’s not surprising that pictures from Serena’s 1950s-themed baby shower took the world of social media by storm. They are chock-full of other celebs: La La Anthony, Eva Longoria, Kelly Rowland, and of course, sister Venus. Clad in the Fifties-era vintage style and posing with props on hand at Nick’s 50’s Diner in West Palm Beach, Fla., the women looked incredible and clearly had a great time.
There is something to be said for them appropriating an era, laying claim to the enjoyment of the lighter side of a time when many women, and especially women of color, experienced incredible discrimination and unbearable hardship. And in embracing the aesthetic of the 1950s while clearly living as modern, empowered women, they are making an unspoken but marked point about how things have changed.
Yet by glorifying 1950s culture in the political climate in which we live, these women, who assuredly would not want to return to Jim Crow-era Florida, unwittingly reinforced a dangerous nostalgia that obscures the era’s harsh historical realities. Although the 1950s were great for white, heterosexual Americans, for people of color and sexual minorities it was a time of racial violence and pervasive sexism and bigotry.
But Williams’s baby shower does not just promote a romanticized history of the 1950s. This very nostalgia itself has served as a cultural justification for restoring the politics and hierarchies of the era. One cannot venerate the culture of poodle skirts and sock hops without furthering the cause of those who want to Make America Great Again.
President Trump attracted fans with this slogan because a segment of the population has long imagined a triumphant return to 1950s America, an America not yet irrevocably changed by the New Left, counterculture and the civil rights, women’s liberation and gay liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s.