Before I begin let me say this. Serena Williams is Serena Williams. She is her own unique person and shouldn’t be reduced to anything else. Her accomplishments are her own and as a black woman these are extremely important especially to other little black girls who are constantly told by society that they aren’t beautiful, smart, etc. Serena puts white supremacy in its place whenever she plays because even though she is the best they still won’t give her her fare share. Whereas basketball players and football players have a choice to remain silent over racial issues (until something happens to them) Serena’s mere presence at these majority white tennis competitions defies global white supremacy and reasserts that Black Girls/Women Rock.
Serena is this generation’s Jack Johnson. The reason I am making the comparison to Jack Johnson is because both were black athletes in a majority white sport and as a result were persecuted for it. Jack was criminalized, while Serena’s body is often criticized on social media. I don’t watch tennis but I am always aware of the Williams sisters. I remember in the 90s when they first came out on the tennis court and the buzz they created rocking their beads and hailing from Compton. I didn’t know much about race and the world back then but I saw how the older black people looked at these two black girls with pride and commended their father. I also noticed how white their competition was and being that I was starting to realize my own blackness and how underrepresented it was on TV seeing them made me proud. I always celebrate when one of the Williams sisters win because like black people everywhere their success also means my success.
Jack Johnson was the equivalent during the early 20th Century. He was not only popular among African Americans but also West Indian immigrants who had migrated Central America to work on the banana plantations. Serena is the 21st Century contemporary. She continues in a long line of being unapologetically her black self no matter who it upsets. When she did a dance after winning a match one time I remember Fox News decided to have a segment where they criticized her for perpetuating gang culture. (See image of my response here). When a black athlete wins something and they are saying how hard they work and how happy they are, commentators always criticize black athletes for their “lack of humility” even though white athletes are allowed to gloat *side eye*. This type of oppressive respectability politics that says black athletes aren’t allowed to revel in their success is important because it stems from the tradition of black people having to be grateful for everything we receive i.e. our freedom from slavery, the end of segregation, to ability to have healthy food options in our communities, the ability to go to college (you get the point). Even during the Final for Wimbeldon 2015 today, the majority of the crowd was noticeable cheering for Serena’s competition but that couldn’t stop destiny. Serena Williams is her own self but she also joins other black athletes like Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali who were stigmatized and even punished for defying the rules of white supremacy. Now to the casual reader who may say this has nothing to do with race I respond this has everything to do with race. Immediately after Serena won the same racist tropes that existed since slavery started to emerge. One white guy said he always wants Serena to lose and went on to say she should be playing Men’s Tennis (If you’re gonna be racist be more creative sir) but there are many that feel this way.
At the end of the day Serena won and will forever be remembered as a legend. I am happy for her because I remember a few years ago when she was injured and unable to play as she would have liked so her win today is amazing. Also it is important to remember that Serena and Venus stand on the shoulders of Althea Gibson who paved the way for them to enter into tennis and end up dominating just like how black women always do. Lastly, in light of all the racial violence the black body is constantly subjected to both by the state and vigilantes, black athletes winning is a form of divine justice. Serena may have been playing for herself today but her battle on the tennis court today can be viewed metaphorically as a black person’s battle against the current system that is filled with naysayers and those who don’t want you to win. Her win is symbolic for Black Lives Matter as it defies notions that black people are inferior and therefore disposable. Despite the people saying her form is bad, she won. Despite the people saying she is too muscular, she won. Despite growing up in Compton and how people held their noses up at her and her sister, Serena Williams still won. So today I’m celebrating because Serena has once again has shown that we as black people can and do win.