*originally posted on Women AdvaNCe’s website*
As I sat and watched Serena fight back, tears formed in my eyes.
Her words were sharp.
Her eyes were piercing.
Her body language was stern.
She was fed up.
She’d had enough.
She was exhausted.
I’ve only played tennis maybe three times in my life yet I knew exactly what she was going through.
I felt her pain.
I understood her pain.
I knew her pain.
Simply because, I, too, am a black woman.
I know what it’s like to be treated unfairly due to the melanin that richly flows through my skin.
I know what it’s like to be criticized because I refuse to back down.
I know what it’s liked to be labeled as aggressive, rude, belligerent, disrespectful, abrasive and my “favorite”, angry. I know simply because, I, too, am a black woman.
For as long as I can remember the words above have been associated with us. They’ve been used to justify the unfair treatment, assumptions and judgement of us. What I find interesting in all of this is that a lot of these words tend to only be used when we refuse to back down from a character assassination, a threat to our well-being or a belittlement of our existence.
You see, many want us to sit around, play a role and do nothing to rock the massive ship we were brought over on. Many want us to do what we’re told to do, not see things for what they are and never challenge the system. We’re expected to allow others to degrade us, badger us, berate us, punish us, chastise us and oppress us regardless of the valid reasons we have for fighting back.
And these are the feelings that welled up inside of me as I watched not only the greatest tennis player of all-time but one of the greatest athletes of all-time fight for her dignity, reputation and blackness.
Now I already know many will read this and say to their inner selves, “Here we go again. Someone always has to pull the race card.” Well let me let you in on a well-known fact: It wouldn’t be so easy to pull the card from the deck if this country’s foundation wasn’t built upon it.
To my knowledge, Serena hasn’t attributed what happened to racism but to sexism. She as well as millions of us across the world have watched men fuss, cuss, kick, scream, stomp and yell in response to an umpire’s decision. John McEnroe was notorious for this. So was Andre Agassi. Want to bring it current? Novak Djokovic had a very expressive exchange with the same chair umpire during this year’s Wimbledon tournament. He wasn’t assessed a match or game penalty. Only a code violation for throwing his racquet.
While many will and have singled out a few instances where Serena unleashed a fury of words, many won’t search to understand the kindling that sparks the fire. And while she hasn’t suggested race played a part in the incident, I will.
See. I know what I saw on Saturday. I didn’t just see Serena fighting for her name that she has worked hard to protect for twenty years. I saw a woman, a black woman, who has had to fight harder than anyone, other than her sister Venus, to be respected during the last twenty years simply because of the color of her skin.
I saw the frustration.
I saw the weariness.
I saw the emotional toll.
I saw the hurt.
I saw the anger.
I saw the sadness.
I saw the 23-time major champion nearing her brink.
And I dare you to try and “forget” her journey to that point.
Remember when she and Venus first started to gain national attention twenty years ago? The naysayers had a problem with their dad, Richard Williams’, confidence. Remember when they started to win? The naysayers had a problem with the beads on their braids. Remember when they started to feel more comfortable on the court? The naysayers had a problem with them being vocally expressive during matches. Remember when they started to win major titles? The naysayers had a problem with them questioning equal pay. Remember when Venus started experiencing health issues and Serena started staking her claim as the GOAT? The naysayers had a problem with Serena’s physical stature. And remember how Serena gave birth to her daughter Olympia nearly a year ago, almost died as a result, suffered from postpartum depression and came back to play in two major finals? The naysayers ordered more “random” drug tests, outlawed her catsuit and tried to break her.
However, what they failed to still realize is that the same resilience that flowed through the veins of her ancestors now runs like a river through her body. It runs through the body of every black woman on this planet.
In the meantime while the naysayers are plotting their next move, I have a headline for you: Black women are tired. And we are fighting back – whether it fits into your perfect little narrative or not. You won’t run over us. You won’t silence us. You won’t control us. No matter what foolishness you stack up against us, we won’t fold.
And you better get used to it cause here’s the real headline for ya’ll: We may bend but we will NEVER break.