This Black History Month, I am sharing 28 stories of Black women who shaped me and showed me the way towards liberation. Because Black women are often not cited for their ideas, I thought this would be one way to give flowers to those who influenced me.
On Day 18, I would like to celebrate athlete and entrepreneur Serena Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
Serena Williams started playing tennis when she was four years old. When she was 9 years old, The Williams family moved to Florida so Serena and her sister Venus could attend a Tennis Academy. Because of racist encounters with white parents at tennis tournaments, Richard Williams withdrew his daughters from the academy to coach them himself. Serena began playing professionally at age 14. Four years later, Serena went on to win her first major singles title at the US Open. Serena would dominate the sport for the next two decades, winning 39 major titles, four Olympic gold medals, and winning over $90 million in prize money.
While she was dominating the world of tennis, Serena faced many of the challenges faced by Black women at work. Her hair and dress were often criticized, pulling focus away from her talent and hard work. She and sister experience racist taunting at tournaments. Sports analysts would often use language that would compare the Williams sisters to animals, drawing from racist tropes used to dehumanize Black people through the years. (https://www.vox.com/2018/8/28/17791518/serena-williams-catsuit-ban-french-open-tennis-racist-sexist-country-club-sport) When Serena reacted with frustration after an unfair call in a match, she was described as angry and aggressive, calling to mind the trope of the angry Black woman. As many Black women can attest, we are often not given the freedom to outwardly express the full range of human emotions, without negative and harmful consequences. For many of us, witnessing how the world reacts to and treats Serena is incredibly familiar. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-45476500)
Serena Williams has used her platform to inspire social justice. For example, she has raised awareness about Black women’s pay gap. She has spoken at length about the Black maternal health crisis, after her own harrowing experience with the healthcare system. In 2014, Serena founded a venture capital firm to focus on early stage startups with 78% of investments going to women and people of color. Serena says about her investing, “Men are writing those big checks to one another, and in order for us to change that, more people who look like me need to be in that position, giving money back to themselves.” (https://www.vogue.com/article/serena-williams-retirement-in-her-own-words)
Photo credit: sperry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Image Description: Serena is standing outside. She is wearing an orange tank top that says "Falcon" on it.