Serena Williams might be the no. 1 ranked tennis player, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t afraid to tackle controversial racial issues.
Williams, who turns 34 in September and is currently on the cover of New York Magazine, could easily focus only on tennis. But instead, she’s using her platform to lend her voice to social justice.
Williams recently took to Twitter to voice her concern about the latest police slaying of a young Black man, Christian Taylor, an aspiring college football player who was shot dead by Arlington, Texas police after acting erratically and vandalizing a car dealership. Taylor was unarmed.
Williams tweeted, “Really? are we all sleeping and this is one gigantic bad nightmare? #ChristianTaylor how many hashtags now?”
Last November, Williams reacted to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. After Officer Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted, she tweeted, “Wow. Just wow. Shameful. What will it take?”
The Williams family has experienced its fair share of violence. Serena’s step sister, Yetunde, was killed by gun violence in 2003. Serena and her sister Venus, a former no. 1 seed currently ranked at no. 11, learned to play tennis on courts in Compton, Calif., where they often heard gunfire in the background. Although the family lived in Long Beach, Calif. their father, Richard, had them train in Compton, because he wanted them to learn mental toughness. It seems even then their father was preparing them for the adversities they would face as Black women who came to dominate a mainly white sport.
“My plan was simple: to bring two children out of the ghetto to the forefront of a white-dominated game,” said Serena and Venus’ father, Richard Williams, as reported by New York Magazine.
Richard Williams was originally from the deep south and experienced virulent racism growing up. According to his autobiography, Black and White the treatment of his family was harsh, and he was determined to teach his daughters mental toughness as a result of his own experiences. In the book, he says his daughters would have to “run even harder, just like I did when I was fleeing white people in the south.”
And while the Williams sisters have dominated the game of tennis, it has not always been a smooth ride, confirming their father’s fears about the racism his daughters would encounter. The sisters have faced racist comments from both fans and fellow players. A lot of recent comments have been about their muscular physiques. The Williams’ don’t look like what the female tennis world has come to expect—slender and white. This has led to some ridiculous accusations— some people have even questioned if they were born male. The head of the Russian Tennis Federation went as far as to refer to them as “the Williams brothers” while political pundit, David Frum, publicly wondered if Serena was on steroids.
Further, although Serena Williams has beat Maria Sharapova 18 times and lost only twice, she makes less in endorsements—proof that Serena’s plight for social justice is not only necessary, but personal, as she continues to rise above the racism that has tainted her own career.