Why Serena Williams Is The Definition Of #BlackGirlMagic
Before Beats By Dre and Nike were clamoring for her endorsement, or she was posing for paparazzi photos with Kim Kardashian, millions of black women knew and loved 'Rena, ReRe or "my girl," their terms of endearment for Serena Williams.
Serena, in all her #BlackGirlMagic glory, was first worshipped by the legions of girls and women who saw themselves in the determined, hardworking and charming phenom from Compton, California. It's these women who are among those cheering the loudest for Serena, because for them, she has already won.
They scream for her on and off the court because her magazine covers, Instagram posts and images of her with braids, beads, wearing catsuits or bikinis, are a different kind of victory for the woman many of them consider the epitome of beauty and excellence. For them, looking at Serena Williams is like looking into a mirror that affirms their own bodies and skin color.
As she chases history, attempting to score the first calendar Grand Slam in nearly three decades, there's a special section of women across the country forming their own players box for Serena. In their own words, a few notable black women share why they'll always be her biggest fans.
Nikki Giovanni, Poet and New York Times Best-Selling Author
I think it's wonderful because I'm an old lady. My mother was a tennis player. Mommy played tennis at the old Wilberforce during the age of segregation. That's where Althea Gibson started playing. This goes way back.
Serena curses [her detractors] out and I just love that. You don't have to be polite. She's fun. It's so wonderful that she's at the top of her game, playing people at the top of their game. There's nobody playing tennis right now who can beat her. It makes you feel good. It's like hearing Leontyne Price sing.
I think all of the black women, particularly, are going to open a bottle of champagne and watch Serena win.
Feminista Jones, Author/Speaker
Serena does not deny where she comes from. She stays true to her roots. She's committed. She's queen of the bounce-back -- she almost died in 2011. She's just dynamic on every front. Just watching her play is usually fantastic. Just how much she puts into her craft.
I think when you look at some of the advertisements ... they are really emotional, passionate. They say, "You can do this. You can be this person. You can work hard for this. You can still have these dreams even though we live in a society that tries to stifle black people, particularly black girls." We see her in the face of all this backlash. She still manages to go out there and win.
She's so smart, she's engaging. She's charming. I also think she's fantastically beautiful, particularly as a dark-skinned black woman. She belongs to a group that has been systematically excluded from this concept of beauty.
In May, I just decided randomly to post a picture of Serena Williams every single day, just to remind people of how fricking gorgeous this woman is. Whether it's on the beach, or on the tennis court, or out with her friends. [With these daily posts] I've had to deal with all kinds of people talking about how "manly" she looks. I have fiercely defended Serena Williams throughout the years.
Vanessa K. Bush, Editor-In-Chief, ESSENCE Magazine
She's made it a lot more acceptable to be different. To have the body type that she has, to have the physical prowess that she has, to be a black woman who's just dominating ... it's pretty phenomenal. We did our cover story on her a couple of years ago and really got a chance to learn more about her story and just her resilience.
What's so great about seeing Serena as a fashion icon ... it means that there's room for all of us. It's almost kind of a reaffirmation of how we as black women feel about ourselves. We're naturally confident, optimistic, embracing of our differences, but the world hasn't always seen us that way. Seeing her out front is a manifestation of all the pride we have in our particular beauty.
She's had to deal with so many disappointments and setbacks, and she just keeps coming back. That kind of resilience is a great example, particularly to black women. It just shows how we never give up.
She's very accessible. She feels like she could be like a girlfriend in your head. You would want to hang out with her. You know you'd have a good time. We just are all really happy for her. We want her to win. She's earned it. It's more than a tennis match. It's about seeing somebody win at life.
Alicia Garza, Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter
To be honest, I'm not a big tennis fan. But I have been watching her for the last few years now, and I'm just really impressed by a few things. One, I'm incredibly impressed by her leadership. Two, I just really think that she is completely graceful and humble in the face of really terrible treatment from fans and from the industry itself. And three, I'm really excited about her choices by way of creating space for philanthropy that are actually meaningful. She uses her platform to speak on those issues of race and gender.
Serena is really demonstrating what it means to be a public figure who feels accountable to a community in an era where a lot of public figures are afraid or discouraged from speaking on social issues. It makes a difference to me, and I know it makes a difference to others.
When she's been booed ... I think we really appreciate just her response, which is, "I'm fabulous! I'm out here being excellent! You can hate if you want to hate, but I'm still the best in the world." When that kind of sentiment gets lifted up, it's through men and we don't even question it, but when women do it, it stands out in a particular way. I'm incredibly inspired by her and her approach to that adversity.
We share an experience as black women in this country. As black folks, we're expected to work twice as hard. For women, we're expected to stay quiet -- especially when we're being talked about, when we're being shamed. What I really like about her is she's taking on these [race and gender] issues that I feel like are part of my daily existence, but are often not spoken about.
Tracy Clayton, Co-Host of the BuzzFeed Podcast "Another Round"
Serena, to me, is the walking epitome of what it means to be unapologetic and unbothered. She's amazing and she knows that she's amazing and she doesn't apologize for it. Whether she's Crip-Walking on a tennis court or killing it on a red carpet, she is who she is and that's it. The fact that she exists is proof that you can give the finger to people's norms and rules and still slay, and I need that reminder from time to time.
I have a T-shirt that I made that says "uppity" on it and I love it because when I claim that word for myself, when I wear that shirt, I'm saying to white America, "Yes, I do have the nerve to think I'm amazing, and I don't care that it makes you uncomfortable." If that shirt were a person, it would be Serena.
Laila Ali, Former Boxing Champion
It's funny because obviously Serena is black. I'm black. When I see her, it's beyond that. It's beyond her skin color. It's beyond even being a woman. She's just a phenomenal athlete. Of course as a black woman that makes you proud, as a woman it makes you proud. But, I don't care if I was blind and couldn't see, and color was not a thing or an issue ... and gender wasn't an issue, she's just a phenomenal athlete.
She's just been able to break so many records and keep going. It's like "Man, when is she going to stop?" You know? So that just gives people, I think, a tremendous amount of hope that no matter what it is, you can do anything you want to do, anything you put your mind to. She's obviously a very mentally strong person. I'm just super proud of her. I love it. I love seeing her do her thing.
Brande Victorian, Managing Editor, MadameNoire
When her New York Magazine cover came out, I'd never seen that magazine shared by so many women. They aren't tennis fans, but they love what Serena represents: Black woman excellence. And [she's a] dark-skinned black woman, which we don't get to see so often. She helps other black women be more comfortable with their bodies. It's an important moment.
We put on so much every day as black women, but she's carefree! She's like, "No, I get up, I have fun, I kill it, I go hang out with my boo ..." That's great to see that life doesn't always have to be "Woe is me." We know the racial undertones of the way people critique her. At least, from the outside looking in, it doesn't appear to have a strong effect on her or make her hide her personality. That's what greatness is.
When her name is trending, it's because of what she does. So many people trend because of controversy. We're talking about her because she's dominating. She's doing her job and being respected for it.
Latoya Peterson, Editor-at-Large of Fusion and Editor/Publisher of Racialicious
Tennis has always just seemed like a cold sport to me, very white, very upper-crusty. But if there's a game on and Serena's playing, I'll pay attention to it. At this point, you're talking the greatest of all time. She's the unequivocal champion. There's no bulls--- about affirmative action with Serena. She has whipped everybody's ass at this point!
[For black women, her greatness] is just one of those things you don't necessarily have to discuss: hair drama, work drama, Serena. You buy the magazines with her on the cover. It's part of, like, regular blackness, the stuff that you know that you have to do that becomes part of your ritual -- supporting Serena, making sure kids know who she is and why she's awesome. We're all just here for her. When I talk about her with my friends it's like, "I can't believe they're trying to do this to Serena now!"
At this point, she's playing her own game for herself. That's the best position for a black woman to be in. That's like nirvana. That's like getting to Oprah level, when your only competition is you! And it's just a matter of time before more women get to do it.
Errin Whack is an award-winning writer based in Washington, D.C., focused on culture and politics. She has previously written for the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter @emarvelous.
Shana Renee contributed to this report.