Serena Williams has won Wimbledon for the seventh time as well as achieving 22 grand slam titles. Yet even with all her success in tennis and being number one in the world, Serena Williams has only just became the highest paid female athlete after surpassing Maria Sharapova, world number two.
I remember finding myself in conversation with a white guy who had recently graduated from Oxford University and was now traveling to “get some more stamps on the old passport”. We began talking about sports and, when Wimbledon came up, he immediately exclaimed, “I just hate Serena Williams”. Perplexed, I asked him why and he said, “I just hate when the same person keeps winning. She’s just so annoying.” In that moment, I couldn’t help but think if Andy Murray was talented enough to win every year this guy wouldn’t have had a problem with it. I also wondered if he took issue with Usain Bolt winning at the Olympics every four years. (Probably not, I’d guess).
Tennis is historically and predominantly a white middle-class sport and, yes, there have been some people of colour who have risen to fame in the sport, such as the first African-American Grand Slam title-winner Althea Gibson, or the world number one ranked Arthur Ashe, for example. But when Serena and Venus Williams first came onto the scene they took the world by storm. Nobody could understand how these African-American sisters, with their beaded braids and on-point outfits, had come out of nowhere and changed the sport of tennis forever. As a child who went to tennis lessons, I finally had someone who looked like me to idolise. Together, Venus and Serena Williams have won all of the fourteen Grand Slam women’s doubles championships that they have played. And the more that they win, the more it seems that white people are irked by their success.
Recently, Serena Williams’ body has not only been fetishised and dehumanised by the media but her curvy, toned physique is constantly being compared to her white counterparts’ as well as seen as attributing to her successful career in tennis. Already during this year’s Wimbledon, more attention has been given to her nipples rather than her performance. The notion that black people are better at sports because of some magical sporting gene or due to our muscle mass is ludicrous.
Historically, the entertainment industry is one of the only industries black people are regularly seen to succeed in. Whether through sport, music, or acting, entertainment has given black people social mobility. As that has been a way for us to secure wealth, a higher education through scholarships, and success, we are going to try and be the best at it. It’s hard work, practice, talent and the need to elevate ourselves in one of the very few ways afforded to us that sees black people at the forefront of a lot of sports.
Secondly, the notion that our bodies are somehow stronger and more animalistic directly relates to slavery. Our bodies were viewed as tools for production, much like cattle. In the 1936 Olympics, Adolf Hitler couldn’t fathom why black people were winning so many events over what he believed to be the superior race of Aryans. He claimed to have scientific evidence that black people were stronger and it had nothing to do with talent.
Luckily for us, Serena Williams probably doesn’t care what any of us think. She is just too busy being the definition of black girl magic, most likely preoccupied with polishing her new Wimbledon plate to concern herself with any more hurt feelings. Watching her dropping it low and fittingly exclaiming “I ain’t sorry” in Beyonce’s music video, it’s pretty clear that Serena is here to stay and continue achieving black excellence in a time when we are still having to scream black lives matter.
Sorry, I ain’t sorry.