In a year wrought with soul-killing headlines of racialized and gendered violence, the #SerenaSlam came right on time for Black women across the globe who may not care much about tennis except for when someone with the last name “Williams” is on the court.
(Ed. Note: Please refer to this audio of Mary J. Blige, at the 6:05 mark for the proper pronunciation of "Williams" as it appears in this story.)
Serena is a princess, a queen, a goddess, a living legend. She is all of the things, all of them. She’s one of the world’s greatest living athletes, and she is aware of this while still maintaining the perfect balance of grace and sass. And she means something very, very special to sisters for a number of reasons. Here are a few.
White Folks (and a Few Black men) Shade Her: Instead of enjoying the glory and the titles that Serena brings to American sports, we have heard countless writers, commentators, tennis fans and random White folks who have probably never seen a tennis ball that wasn’t filled with dog spit work to discount her worth, her talent, her AMAZING AND BEAUTIFUL body (we will get back to this).
They say she isn’t graceful or feminine enough. They ask if she’s on steroids. Her wins are taken as flukes, or some sort of unfair “brute” force that has violated the delicate flowers of White womanhood who have the unfortunate luck of meeting her on the court. Her losses are cited to prove that she’s reeeeally not that great anyway, despite now having the third best women’s record in tennis history. She’s been booed by racist crowds and her non-American competitors have gained the sympathy of American viewers because, “Poor little girls—this isn’t even fair! The big Black lady stole your wins.”
And that’s not even to mention the “rivalry” with a player who she has beaten SEVENTEEN TIMES IN A ROW, yet out-earns her in endorsements because White and acceptably “pretty.” And that's not to mention all the things said about her by Awful Dudes on Social Media.
Ah, and if only these horrific comments were limited to White folks. Alas, some of the nastiest things I’ve read about Serena have come from Black men. Most of them seem to be from the kind of brother who always has vitriol for Black women who don't introduce themselves by mentioning multi-hyphenate ethnic backgrounds. But ESPN’s Jason Whitlock is a Serena Hater of note (we’ll use “of note” loosely here), with the absolute lowest moment of his years-long vendetta against her being an infamous Fox Sports column that resurfaced in the wake of her Wimbledon win.
(FWIW: I don’t know if it’s fat-shaming to say that Whitlock looks like he’s carrying Serena in a kangaroo pouch himself at any given moment, but I think it is something to consider about someone who referred to the tennis player’s eating habits as “grazing” and her bottom as “an oozing pumpkin.”)
The more Serena gets hated on, the more Black women love her. The more her body is skewered, the more her talent and hard work are discounted, the louder the collective roars of “YAASSSSSSSS” will get, until we effectively silence anyone who isn’t YASSSSSSSing with us. Get right or get left, dammit.
She’s a Real Black Girl: Far be it from me to make myself the arbiter of authentic Blackness… I’m the arbiter of authentic Black Girlness. And Serena Jameka Williams is a RBG, through and through. The hair, the body, the moves, the outfits, the… Serena is your cousin, draped in couture, speaking French and C-walking through the history books. While she hasn’t been particularly outspoken about Black struggle, she’s acknowledged the racism she faces AND avoided the “New Black” madness that other celebs have either toyed with (i.e., her former beau Common) or embraced full-on (Raven Symoné, the daughter of all the continents we didn’t know existed). Oh, and she used her return to Indian Wells (where she was attacked with racial slurs a decade ago) as an opportunity to raise funds for the Equal Justice Initiative.
Serena hasn’t distanced herself from her race, and you get the feeling she’d be equally comfortable sipping Moët with Anna Wintour as she would Moscato with Vivica A. Fox. (Fox just comes to mind as someone who is gloriously Black; work with me here.) Real Black Girlhood isn’t about complexion or where you were raised, it’s about how you show up and represent, and Serena is definitely one of ours.
She’s Physically Perfect: Long before the ample bottom was devastatingly attributed to Jennifer Lopez and the women of that frightening land called “Kardashia,” Serena’s glorious shape made headlines across the globe… and as I mentioned earlier, many of them were biting, nasty and racist as hell. But when sisters see That Body, we see ourselves—even if we weren’t blessed with such ample curves and/or the drive to keep them as fit as hers. Serena is soft and strong all at once. And without trying to assign any unreasonable amount of significance to the physical frame of one of the world’s greatest athletes, I’m inclined to say it is part of the reason why we love her so.
SERENA BE WHUPPING ON THEM GIRLS, MAYNE: Folks who think President Obama is a divisive figure who represents the “true” American racism that holds the country back will be offended by this, as will the folks who think “All Lives Matter” is an appropriate phrase. Alas, this is a truth that people should understand: Black women love to watch Serena spank White women. We LOVE IT.
Why? We are constantly told we aren’t as good as White women, we aren’t as valuable, aren’t worthy of the spoils the world provides for them. The institutions designed to protect White womanhood beat us up constantly (and in the case of the police, quite literally).
We are also told that while Black women in general are mediocre and inferior, a certain kind of Black woman is more acceptable than the rest—and Serena does not pass that test. She’s not light skinned and 120 pounds. You can’t squint and pretend she’s not actually Black. Her Blackness shows up on the court loud as those clicking beads she and Venus used to rock, and then what does it do? It defeats the women who are “supposed” to be good at tennis and better at femininity. It says “GOTEEEEEM.” Serena bathes in racists' tears and they make her smarter, faster, stronger. She reminds us that yes, we are good enough and at our best, we are THE BEST.
Serena Williams epitomizes #BlackGirlMagic. She’s getting better as she gets older. It’s virtually impossible not to hear the opening strains of the Commodores’ “Brick House” when you look at her in this dress. She battled her way back from a potentially life-threatening illness and has suffered two decades of slander to shake all of her haters off. Rappers fought over her. She is a queen, and if you dare challenge that, please prepare to feel the wrath of a nation of Black women who need her now more than ever.
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com’s Senior Editor. Views here are her own.