Serena Williams on the challenges of being a Black woman and the struggle against racism in the US

January 18, 2017
Serena Williams and Common discuss race, gender and sport in an ESPN interview.
Serena Williams and Common discuss race, gender and sport in an ESPN interview.

One of the best tennis players and athletes of all time, US star Serena Williams has been scrutinised so much for being a strong, Black woman that she herself began to doubt her own strength and body, the star told her long-time friend and rapper, Common, in a special ESPN interview last month.

“There was a time where I didn’t feel incredibly comfortable about my body because I felt like I was too strong,” Williams said during the one hour-long ESPN special, The Undefeated In-Depth: Serena with Common.

“And then I had to take a second and think, who says I’m too strong? This body has enabled me to be the greatest player I can be and I’m not going to scrutinise that. This is great. I mean, this is amazing.”

Common asked if she should be considered one of the greatest athletes of all time, to which she responded by pointing out that such conversation has been avoided by sports critics because she is a strong Black woman.

“I guess [the critics] couldn’t relate to me because I’m Black, I’m strong, I’m tall, I’m powerful and I’m confident,” Williams said. But over the years, while she did question her own body and strength, she did not “let that influence me or bring me down in any way”.

Williams also talked about using her fame for social activism and speaking out against injustice. “I feel I want to do more and I have to do more with all the stuff that is socially happening in the United States,” Williams said. “It is just incredibly frustrating and sad.

“I think when you are in a position, in front of a crowd, and you can influence people, I really think it is important to speak for what is right and what you believe in.”

She said that celebrities and famous athletes should not be forced to speak out about the issues facing their communities unless they have a sincere and deep connection with those issues and feel that they can make a difference.

“It is so crazy, 10 years ago we were not dealing with a lot of this stuff, it was more hidden and social media was not out.”

She spoke about her “disgust and sadness” with the recent police killings and how these feelings are the main driver behind her activism.

“I was at Wimbledon this year and someone got killed and I was just over it. I am trying to play a semi-final and I turn on my phone and I went through social media.

“And it hurts me because it is my people that are being killed because they look like me. Who is to say that I would not be next? I just want to use my voice to influence other people to change.”

Common released his 11th studio album, Black America Again, last November, and Williams appeared in Beyonce’s Lemonade earlier last year, which was hailed as an anti-police brutality album and a nod to Black Lives Matter.

Through social media, Williams has frequently expressed dismay and anger over police killings in the US in recent months. In September, Williams made a Facebook post in support of Black Lives Matter, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr and writing “I won’t be silent”.

[Reprinted from TeleSUR English.]

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