In a new interview, tennis ace Serena Williams has discussed how being a successful black woman has affected how the public perceive her.
In a cover interview for the September issue of Vogue, Williams discusses how she questioned being described as powerful at the beginning of her career – pointing out that she didn’t think she and sister Venus were hitting any harder than other players – and noting that strong personality traits are often viewed negatively when it comes to women.
“I think I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the idea of power,” she told the magazine. “In the beginning I didn’t like it when they said that my sister and I were power players. I thought, I don’t hit as hard as a Monica Seles […]
“Not only me, but women in general sometimes feel that power is a bad word. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to feel differently about it. Power is beauty. Strength is beauty.”
While now owning the idea of being powerful, Williams also said she feels her strength and determination have been misinterpreted by those who don’t know her, and that could be down to racial prejudice.
In April, she responded to racist comments from a male tennis player speculating about the colour of her unborn child’s skin, saying: “Yes, we have broken down so many barriers – however there are a plethora more to go [...] This or anything else will not stop me from pouring love, light and positivity into everything that I do.”
She told Vogue: “I feel like people think I’m mean. Really tough and really mean and really street. I believe that the other girls in the locker room will say, ‘Serena’s really nice.’ But Maria Sharapova, who might not talk to anybody, might be perceived by the public as nicer.
“Why is that? Because I’m black and so I look mean? That’s the society we live in. That’s life.”
She added: “They say African-Americans have to be twice as good, especially women. I’m perfectly OK with having to be twice as good.”
Williams has a stellar tennis career, breaking records with 23 Grand Slam titles. Now not playing as she prepares for her first baby (with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian) to arrive within weeks, she’s been rewatching her old matches to identify weaknesses – and says when she returns to the court, she’s going to give her all as she’s always done.
“If I lose, and I lose again, it’s like, she’s done. Especially since I’m not 20 years old. I’ll tell you this much: I won’t win less. Either I win, or I don’t play.”
Though she also said in the interview that finding out she was pregnant gave her a sense of “calm” and that she told herself she was now “allowed to lose, because you have something to look forward to”, she says she couldn’t imagine not wanting to return to the sport.
“I used to think I’d want to retire when I have kids, but no. I’m definitely coming back. Walking out there and hearing the crowd, it may seem like nothing. But there’s no better feeling in the world.”
Her strength and success have made her a role model for many an aspiring sportswoman, and Williams revealed that she suspects she’s having a baby girl because it appears to be showing the same resilient spirit: “Two weeks after we found out, I played the Australian Open. I told Alexis it has to be a girl because there I was playing in 100-degree weather, and that baby never gave me any trouble. Ride or die. Women are tough that way.”
Read the full interview here.
Image: Rex Features