Serena Williams had to be so good no one could deny her. Black women can relate
Sports is a male-dominated space, just like comedy. I know Serena’s dad told her the same thing my dad told me: ‘Hey, you’re good, but you’ve got to be better than everybody else’
What people don’t understand about strong Black women is that we were raised strong. We have a different experience. The one thing I remember my father always telling me was: ‘Hey, you’re good, but you’ve got to be better than everybody else.’ That’s what Serena Williams represents to me. What sets her apart is her endurance to keep going and keep going no matter what the obstacle is to reach that higher standard. To be undeniable.
It’s just harder for us. We all know this. Racism is the dumbest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. The fact that she’s dealt with that and still made it to No 1 and never used it as an excuse is something else. We know her as a Black phenomenon, but she just wanted to go into her field like all of us want to go into our fields, as actresses or comics or tennis players. We don’t want to be the first Black this, the first Black that – it’s great when it happens, we’re not scared to be first either – but what stands out is how hard she had to fight just to get a seat at the table.
When I was coming up, I went to Lynwood High School in South Central Los Angeles. And there’s a tennis court in Lynwood Park. I don’t remember Compton having tennis courts, so I think Serena and Venus had to come and practice there. I remember some nights hearing them playing when I was going through the park on my way back from basketball practice. We used to always laugh at those tennis courts in Lynwood. Who’s gonna play tennis in the hood? People would go play backhand ball there, but it was like why are they there?
Turns out that’s why. That’s why they were there. Those Lynwood courts that we used to laugh about gave birth to two phenomenons, against all the odds.
Serena and Venus have brought a whole different crowd into the sport. It’s like what Tiger Woods did for golf: there might have been some Black people who watched golf before Tiger, but I can tell you the percentage was probably very low. The day that I got Saturday Night Live, I was in a parking lot off of Crenshaw and Adams. That’s the hood. And I was screaming: “I got SNL! I got SNL!” None of these motherfuckers knew what SNL was. But now they do. A whole different audience of people now know what SNL is, just like a whole different audience of people know what tennis is.
There’s also the way Serena embraces her femininity and how beautiful she is and how strong she is. I remember my best friend telling me one time, when I was crying about how big my feet were: So what are you gonna do? You just going to cut them off, have a foot surgery or something? She said if anybody is going to accept who you are, you have to start accepting yourself. And that’s what Serena did when people were said her body type was all wrong for tennis. Serena accepted who she was, who she was gonna be and went right through it. That message got through to a lot of people whether she realized it or not.
And she did it all with flavor and swag. Those tutus and all of those outfits. I’ve never seen another tennis player dress like them. The shoes, the glitter, the braids. It’s like a whole cultural funk. They brought that Flo-Jo flair to it. That’s just the Black Girl Magic she brought to the court. That’s just her.
Sports has always been a male-dominated space, just like comedy. I hate to say it, but so many men – instead of looking at a woman and recognizing their talent and ability – they’d rather say fuck them instead of giving them their due. That’s their insecurity coming out and it’s just so dated and old. Serena has dealt with that her entire career.
When I think about all the ridiculous criticism that she has faced, it reminds me of that old Michelle Obama saying: when they go low, you go high. At some point, it really becomes a thing where it’s like: I already know you’re gonna call me a bitch. I already know you’re gonna call me a nigger. I already know you’re gonna call me less than. It’s like the final battle in 8 Mile when Eminem does the rap where he just says all the shit they were going to say about him. When Serena walks out there, she doesn’t give a shit. Her parents, her family, her life has taught her to hold her head high and play right through it. And those are the best players in any sport, who don’t let anything get in their head.
I know Serena’s dad told her the same thing my dad did: Be undeniable. If you’re so good, nobody can deny you. At the end of the day not even her biggest critics could deny what she became. I do hope I can have the same strength as her. I do hope that everyone sees the same strength that I see in her. I do hope that they know years from now, we will still be talking about Serena Williams.
Leslie Jones is a comedian and actress.