Good God Almighty!!!
The woman that many now consider the greatest athlete of the modern era is a picture of beauty and strength. The accompanying article is disappointing in that it focuses on the issue that seems to surround Serena Williams wherever she goes — critiques of her body.
Inevitably, the sisters’ on-court style was described as “confrontational.” One sensed in early accounts of the Williams sisters’ dominance, and senses even now, a certain tightening of the available vocabulary in describing a muscular black woman on the court. Doubles-sideline-to-doubles-sideline-in-three-strides is an act of avian grace, and yet Serena is perpetually “crushing” and “slamming” and “rolling over,” as if the entire sports commentariat picked up English at a construction site. It’s instructive here to spend a few minutes googling “Roger Federer,” two words that inspire sportswriters to pseudo-spiritual cant: Federer crushes and slams but also “lifts” and “lobs” and “taps,” his stroke “liquid,” his forehand a humanity-saving treatise on the seraphic potential of the fallen human form, his feminine delicacy evidence that he exists on a higher spiritual plane…
Serena and Venus can never simply be Serena and Venus. They are inevitably spectacle, fodder for abstractions both crude and lyrical. They have inspired not just racist commentary but also celebrated works of poetry… These are works in which the sisters stand for the Sweep of History or the Black Body, and they do little to prepare one for meeting a five-nine, selfie-obsessed, hyperfeminine phenom under a blanket and a Yorkie.
I would argue that Serena and Venus can never simply be Serena and Venus because of mainstream America’s unending mix of admiration and derision. She is not a spectacle because of who she is, she is a spectacle because of what America is. As for Serena, she doesn’t see herself as representative of anyone but herself.
I ask what it is like to bear the weight of representing people of color, women, 33-year-olds who want to believe in the imagined possibility of their athletic dominance.
“I don’t think about it,” she says. “I don’t dwell in the past. If I do, I’ll be swallowed up by negativity. As Mandela once said, ‘I will be in a mental prison.’?”
We love that #carefreeblackgirl way of thinking! The article suggests that it is Serena’s father and long-time coach who is responsible for her mental toughness.
But Richard was grooming his girls for a takeover, bestowing upon them a carapace strong enough to withstand the doubt, discomfort, and contempt of an entire culture. Winning depended on self-belief so impenetrable that a genteel lynch mob could not slice through.
You can check out the full NY Mag feature here.