Serena Williams Keeps It 100 on the Challenges of Being a Black Woman in Tennis: 'There's a Double Standard in Everything We Do'

Illustration for article titled Serena Williams Keeps It 100 on the Challenges of Being a Black Woman in Tennis: 'There's a Double Standard in Everything We Do'
Photo: Clive Brunskill (Getty Images)

Being one of the greatest athletes in the history of professional sports comes with a tremendous degree of privilege. But at the end of the day, Serena Williams is a Black woman first. And as she explained during a recent sit down on The Kelly Clarkson Show, she hasn’t always felt like herself on the tennis court despite her accolades.


“In tennis—which is a sport that no one really looks like me, at least in the beginning—you can’t really express yourself or it’s seen as bad,” she said. “Or you might say something, and you could never even use profanity at all, and they’ll take a game from you, which is crazy.”

Since arriving on the scene at 13 years old at the Bell Challenge in Quebec, the 23-time Grand Slam champion has endured more than her fair share of blatant mistreatment and racist onslaughts.

There was also that infamous incident during the 2018 U.S. Open in which Williams was belittled, accused of verbally abusing an umpire and fined $17,000 during a controversial loss against Naomi Osaka.

But in being a trailblazer within the sport, she’s also acutely aware that being branded as an “angry Black woman” could adversely affect other Black women and women of color who continue to follow in her footsteps.


“There’s a double standard in everything that we do,” she said. “And that’s just the society that we happen to live in and it takes generations to change.”

Despite these challenges, the 39-year-old is humbled by how the next generation of tennis stars has drawn inspiration from her accomplishments on the court.


“It’s the most amazing thing. [...] I’m like, ‘OK, is this really a byproduct [of me]?’ Because I’m still in it, you know?” she said. “It just seemed to happen so fast, but it’s just so exciting to see so many people of all kinds of different backgrounds just playing and being a part of something so special.”

If you love Serena as much as the rest of us here at The Root, check out the rest of her interview below.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for y'all to stop putting sugar in grits.


A Woman Named Willow Bay

Serena always struck me as more touchy than “angry.”

There’s a long line of female tennis players before Serena who were “angrier.” If we widen the meaning of that word beyond “emotional,” it’s clear that Chris Evert-Lloyd played angrier than Serena ever could.

The difference is self-control: Evert-Lloyd turned her anger into silent, steely determination to win. She wasn’t one to play to the crowd or the media with complaints afterward. Or during.