Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t! The Curious Case of Serena Williams

Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t! The Curious Case of Serena Williams by Arvel Blair

I’ve always been a team sports kind of person. Growing up I mainly played Baseball, Football and Basketball. I never cared much about Tennis or golf because those seemed more like elitists sports reserved mainly for wealthy white folks. But then Tiger woods entered the Golf World and the Williams sisters began to dominate Tennis. Suddenly these sports didn’t seem as inaccessible as they had previously.

Although I didn’t become an actual fan of Golf or Tennis, I’ve yet to actually go see either game in person even when offered “free tickets”, I do stop and watch on television when the Williams sisters or Tiger Woods is playing. Why? Because they’re BLACK. Yes, Tiger Woods is considered Black even if he calls himself a Cablinasian and excludes Black women from his dating pool. That doesn’t matter because in America Skin color still Trumps all.

So now you know. I only watch tennis and golf when there are people of color playing. Why? Because unfortunately America excluded blacks from participating on the highest levels of most professional sports and golf and tennis were the granddaddies of exclusion. It’s great to see people of color break that glass ceiling in areas once denied to us. It’s also a shame that the phrase, “he or she is the first Black to” ______ (insert which ever accomplishment you choose) still applies in 2018? One would think that a group of people, some who can trace their family lineage on this land long BEFORE the arrival of Christopher Columbus, would no longer be facing such a reality after all this time in the U.S. But for Black folks that has been the essence of America.


Serena Williams is on the verge of becoming THE UNDISPUTED GREATEST OF ALL TIME (GOAT) in the game of tennis. And much like Hank Arron breaking Babe Ruth’s Homerun record, there are some people who are less than ecstatic about the idea of an African American woman becoming the “ultimate” face of tennis for possibly the remainder of this century.  It’s also sad to note that some of her detractors are some of my brothers. I can’t believe I’ve seen so many Black males hating on Serena, but that’s an issue I will address in detail at another time.

The backlash Serena faces is often subtle and at other times it’s directly in her face. But let’s be clear, Serena has been the most publicly maligned player in the history of tennis. They talk about her outfits, her physical power, her physique, her doing the “Crip walk” when she won at the Olympics, her hair, her father’s tenacity and her personal intensity when she’s playing a game. They even test her for drugs more than any other player, yet it was Marla Sharapova that was suspended for drug use. It makes you question why she receives so much scrutiny? Is it just because she is black? No, it’s because her success has already fostered the next generation of young dreamers of color. See once young black people see one person become successful in a sport or profession, other blacks realize it is an obtainable option. That increases the possibility that young black women could possibly dominate the sport as we have in basketball and football.

Serena’s success becomes an unintended political statement in a sport never intended for the “common man” or woman to participate in. The Williams sisters and Tiger Woods have invaded the last bastions of whiteness and they both know it. But Serena is very different than Tiger. Tiger tries hard to be apolitical. He even recently refused to address a direct question about the current racial climate in America and when asked about his relationship with Trump he simply said, “We must respect the office of the President.” Serena, on the other hand, realized that she was going to catch hell regardless of her persona. When she first started winning she was confident but humble. Yet they still attacked her. So, she learned to embrace her blackness and womanhood unapologetically because she knew that she was damned if she did or damned if she didn’t. The last thing the Eurocentric elite wanted was an unapologetic black woman signaling young women of color that’s it OK just being themselves. The funny thing is they’re already too late.

By: Arvel Blair

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About Randi B.

Randi is a diversity and inclusion strategist, speaker, trainer and writer, focusing on making connections and cultivating empathy in this diverse world one trip, speech, article, book and conversation at a time.

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