What Black Girls Can Learn From HBO’s “Being Serena”

Mild spoilers

When I think of Serena Williams, I’m more inclined to elevate her to the “larger-than-life” realm of unattainability.

She’s literally the greatest athlete alive.

She’s the Black woman who grew up in Compton, California, with her equally talented older sister Venus, and under the management and nurturing of their father Richard Williams, she impeccably mastered the art form of an elite sport.

It’s absolutely the greatest American story ever told.

So, when it was announced that a five-part series titled Being Serena, would make its debut on HBO, I was elated at the notion that we would get the chance to watch the star athlete, who has racked up a whopping “total of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, which marks the record for the most Grand Slam wins by a tennis player” —magnificently thriving in her element

As I made my way into the personal diary of Serena Williams, I discovered that it’s a broader and vivid portrait of a career woman who still has to deal with the challenges that are assigned to her station.

The Williams Sisters are Black women who look Black.

Their features aren’t carved from exoticness of mixtures that provide the preferred default for all the other global establishments. And there’s no doubt that if they had the security of refinement, without the ethnic qualities, the shameful treatment that has greeted them at every turn would be non-existent.

In order to be a viable contender in entertainment or the fashion and beauty industry — you have to boast an aesthetic that doesn’t deviate too far from the colonial blueprint of desirability.

That’s why it’s hard to come up with at least five names of young Black actresses under the age of thirty— who are enjoying the ingenue phase that White actresses so easily claim. That’s why almost all the young up and coming female musicians of color, are either biracial or light-skinned Blacks. That’s why the fashion world is populated with White faces — with the only Black face belonging to the iconic Naomi Campbell, and without her legendary status — there would be no alternative.

But, in the world of tennis, the sheer determination of a Black man who wanted his two Black daughters to conquer the task of making White people squirm — under the duress of an unbeatable duo who come from modest means and don’t look the part, but ultimately battle their way to a gleaming trajectory — has become the testimony that will propel future generations.

As we watch Serena Williams indulging in motherhood after the life-threatening birth of Alexis Olympia Ohanian, the daughter she shares with hubby and Reddit co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, we see the softer side of a woman that the media consistently tries to demonize.

All through their illustrious careers, Serena and Venus have endured the brutal climate of overt racism in ways that should have crippled them, but somehow they resolved to rise above the insults — with dignity and enviable grace.

The worst was the infamous outing at the Indian Wells tournament back in 2001— when the sisters were subjected to a disgusting combination of boos followed by peppering of the n-word, with the the topping of threats to their father’s life. This prompted Serena and Venus into a 14-year boycott, which ended when they returned to the tournament to play against each other in early 2018.

And who can forget this gem from 2015, when Serena Williams was named Sportsperson of the Year by Sport Illustrated — instead of a damn racehorse.

When you realize the extreme obstacles that Williams has had to overcome, including health emergencies, that almost forced her into retirement, and the embarrassingly vile references by the press and tennis officials, that aim to demean her physical attributes — you can’t escape the pride and joy of witnessing a true champion finally relishing her blessed disposition.

The birth of her baby girl almost killed her and even though the details were publicly shared — viewers get to see Williams while she’s pregnant in the earlier episodes, as well as the harrowing hours after the delivery — when it’s clear that something is very wrong. Despite already knowing the outcome, the intensity of those scenes grips you, and revives a new appreciation for the woman who never considers the possibility of failure.

Her gorgeous wedding in New Orleans is a pleasant interlude, as family members and celebrity friends gather to celebrate the partnership of a couple that have demonstrated the vitality of their union. Whatever reservations observers may have had when their engagement was announced — will swiftly melt away after witnessing the seamlessly intimate bond between the two heavyweights.

As a dark-skinned Black woman, it’s refreshing to see Serena Williams win the heart of a man who can’t hide his affection and genuine admiration for the mother of his child. His unyielding support encompasses every chapter of her life, and proves the value of having that person by your side through the good times and the bad.

In the last two episodes — we’re treated to the attempt at a comeback, that features rigorous training sessions, that challenge Williams’ patience by showcasing her vulnerability, which leads to heated clashes with her coach, who refuses to sugarcoat the truth about the downside of breastfeeding while training.

The French Open is the next big hurdle on the horizon, and in order to give it all she’s got — Williams has to make major adjustments to her routine in order to have a fighting chance of displaying the level of excellence that she’s known for.

It’s no surprise that despite the setback of manipulating a body that has drastically changed after childbirth — Williams is determined to make motherhood a booster instead of a buzzkill. And so she makes the moves that will separate her from familiar surroundings in order to support the re-alignment of the mental and physical components that have given her the wins.

Of course we now know that her session at The French Open had to be cut short due to a pectoral injury — but the disappointment is short-lived as we expect to watch her kick ass at Wimbledon — which is currently underway.

At the end of Being Serena — we are left with the visual of a Black woman who has achieved more than most will in their lifetime — and yet the hunger for more is even greater — especially now that she has a daughter to make proud.

But — even more vital is the lesson of never permitting the static noise of detractors to weigh down dreams that deserve to be realized as many times as possible

The supposed rivalry between Williams and disgraced doper Maria Sharapova has been a bone of contention for those of us who can’t even stand both women being mentioned in the same sentence.

Sharapova is enjoying the benefits of White privilege that allows her to still be viewed as a professional — despite her less-than stellar trajectory, and it has everything to do with her globally viable template, that shields her from the scrutiny and condemnation that would have surely cursed Serena Williams if she had been found guilty of the same crime.

Ever since her recent return to tennis after her suspension, which she spent at Harvard Business School (imagine that) — the media has done its best to belittle the esteem of Williams by constantly pitting the two women against each other.

The latest controversy was set up by idiot White male reporter, Bill Simons, who inexplicably recalled a conversation he had with Donald Trump back in 2004 — when the now American President expressed his fondness for Sharapova’s “alluring shoulders.”

Simons used that as a catalyst for a ridiculous question aimed at Williams where he asked if she was indeed “intimidated” by the “supermodel good looks” of her so-called nemesis.

Williams gave the perfect answer:

“I honestly don’t have any thoughts about that, I can’t say I have been intimidated by anyone. That’s all. That’s it.”

It goes back to the tradition of diminishing the worth of Black women who are too Black to escape the damning labels that are afforded us — based on the assumption that we’re tough and angry enough to take it.

Maria Sharapova is a doper and Serena Williams is the greatest athlete of her generation, and yet — there’s the universal appeal and endorsement of the blonde and blue-eyed angel — who has the “supermodel looks” to override her misdeeds, and propel her into the same arena of an immaculate sportswoman — who shouldn’t be saddled with the weight of an inferior and tarnished competitor.

But — Williams is graceful under the graceless temperaments of fiery critics and the unevenness of the media — who will never stop glorifying the habitual persecution of a Black woman who is unapologetic in her stance to avoid the trappings of blatant ignorance.

My adulation for Serena Williams goes beyond her numerous titles and is more rooted in her ability to keep coming back for more — even when the stakes are higher, and the reception to her mightiness is met with symbols of why Black women are relentlessly tested beyond our capacity.

Despite the subtle and not so subtle jabs that are meant to rattle her into playing the role of the “angry Black woman” or worse, Williams manages to remain stoically coherent and dignified, and this stems from years of mental discipline, and the pure love for the game that she’s sacrificed so much to dominate.

It’s the ultimate lesson for young dark-skinned Black girls — who dare to dream the impossible — and almost give up from the discouragement of not having enough examples of success stories — amassed from mentors that resemble their template.

The journey to greatness is hard and it doesn’t get any easier even after proving your unmatched genius — but the key is to be charismatically defiant in your pursuits. When giving up isn’t an option and only the vision of victory will do — there’s basically nothing that can derail the pure destiny of a little girl from Compton, as she prepares to hold the world hostage with her dopeness.

They say the darker we are, the more challenging it is to get to the top — and while that is true — there’s also the proof in the Black girl who fought to have it all — and now as a Black woman who surpassed her expectations — the fight continues.

And that’s the most enduring lesson of all for the Black girls struggling to find a spot in the landscape of Whiteness and lightness.

Never stop fighting.


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