Serena Williams is greater than a tennis nice: she confirmed black girls we could possibly be ourselves | Natasha Henry

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“If you happen to can see it, you may be it.”

It’s a phrase repeatedly preached by sporting governing our bodies, educators and people within the media who champion range, like myself. Though it’s a tacky phrase, it’s 100% true.

When you find yourself the primary of your race, nationality, gender, sexuality or tradition to realize one thing, not solely do you turn out to be the face of the nation or group that you just have been representing on the time, however for a lot of, you turn out to be the bodily illustration of everybody “who seems such as you”.

So after I take into consideration Serena Williams retiring from the game she dedicated her life to – writing for Vogue that she could be “evolving away from tennis, towards different issues which can be necessary to me” – I’m tempted to suppose that her best legacy would be the one she continues to construct off the courtroom.

There’s no means we are able to ignore her file: 23 grand slam titles (to this point), 14 grand slam doubles titles and 4 Olympic gold medals to call just some.

However her best achievement has nothing to do with Wimbledon, any grand slam or any tennis racket. Reasonably it’s the means she continues making an attempt to create a world the place little ladies who appear to be her and me don’t must undergo the issues she did or really feel excluded from the worlds that we regularly have been. As a sports activities journalist, I perceive the journey of beginning out in a world the place individuals don’t count on to see you, or don’t all the time welcome you with open arms.

So the best way that Serena and Venus strutted right into a world the place nobody gave the impression of them and nobody appeared like them, and constantly proved they’d a proper to be there, was not solely a win for them, however a win for each certainly one of us little black ladies who by no means thought these sorts of desires have been ones we may obtain.

After they informed Serena her vibrant competitors outfits have been the incorrect color she discovered one which was brighter; once they questioned the fashion or texture of her hair she modified it once more; and once they informed her that her stunning black physique was too masculine, she received stronger and gained much more titles.

Serena Williams on the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork’s Costume Institute profit gala, New York Metropolis, Might 2019. {Photograph}: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

When barbs have been thrown, she saved her pleasure and her dignity. In 2014 Shamil Tarpischev, the Russian Tennis Federation president, derided Serena and her sister Venus because the “Williams brothers”. She known as him out as “extraordinarily sexist” and “racist” and continued making historical past. When simply final yr Ion Țiriac, the previous Olympic tennis participant and director of the Madrid Open, claimed she ought to have the “decency” to step down from the game attributable to her “age and the load”, she was as sturdy and unflustered as she has all the time been on courtroom. The denigrators have been all the time there, however they all the time got here off second finest. Time after time she has confused tennis’s largely middle-class viewers with the best way she stood up for herself. She all the time felt like certainly one of us.

And lots of could not know that her dedication to society and inclusivity spreads previous the courts of Wimbledon. She was one of many first traders in LA girls’s soccer group Angel Metropolis, her household are concerned in a number of charities, and she or he teamed up with different organisations to guard youngsters in the course of the pandemic.

I feel the one one who represents this greater than Serena Williams is her pal Lewis Hamilton – one other sports activities celebrity who continues to interrupt the foundations whereas taking each problem in entrance of them.

All of us felt it when Williams stated: “It has been stated I don’t belong in girls’s sports activities – that I belong in males’s – as a result of I look stronger than many different girls do. No, I simply work laborious and I used to be born with this badass physique and happy with it.”

Right here was somebody within the public eye, who appeared like us, telling us it was OK to be us. Willy T Ribbs, Althea Gibson and Arthur Wharton all walked in order that Lewis Hamilton, Serena Williams and Viv Anderson may run. We’ve already seen others, corresponding to Naomi Osaka and Sloane Stephens, comply with Williams’ lead, and there will likely be many extra after.

Williams confirmed us to not permit the racism, the body-shaming or the misogynoir to distract us from our targets. And as a black girl of a really comparable age, for me and people round me it was a message felt strongly and deeply – a message that we would have liked to listen to, and a name to motion that we’d been ready for. For us, notably these of us who cherished sport, she was the speaker we would have liked. And whereas she could also be retiring, tennis’s loss is society’s achieve as she continues to remind us of how highly effective we’re, how sturdy we’re and the way succesful we’re as proficient black girls.

As one of many greats says goodbye, I for one say thanks.


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