I’m sitting here watching the 2017 Australian Open women’s final between Venus and Serena Williams and I’m weeping.
Growing up, my father would watch tennis regularly, particularly during the Grand slam tournaments. I would casually peek up from whatever book that I was reading at the time to observe the matches but never really paid close attention to the sport. That is, until I saw them. Who were these girls with the beads in their hair? For the first time, I saw someone who looked like me on a tennis court (though my mom had preferred barrettes to beads). I was hooked and from there I grew to love the game, though I couldn’t never get the hang of playing it myself.
Over the years I have followed other tennis players. I liked Lindsey Davenport and Kim Clijsters. On the men’s side, Roger Federer is my man. But no one will ever hold my heart like the Williams sisters have.
My love for them goes beyond their skills at the game. They are the epitome of excellence and resilience in a predominantly white world, a world that didn’t initially accept them and at times, continues to disrespect them. They, especially Serena, are unapologetic in their blackness, not shrinking back, being quiet, and unthreatening, as black women are often asked to be (and need to be sometimes, out of pure survival). Their brown bodies are beautiful. Serena, with her ample curves, and Venus, with height and grace, are prominent displays of loveliness that is not often celebrated.
The tears I am crying are not gentle tears. They are ugly tears. Cathartic tears. Eight days into a Trump presidency that has aggressively sent the message that people of color are worthless, I needed this all-Williams final so much. I needed to be reminded that there are black women who can navigate a white world and not just survive, but thrive.
In their mid-thirties, Venus and Serena are uniquely playing great tennis. 10 years ago, I never thought that they would still be playing now. I sometimes wonder if their longevity is a gift from God to myself and other black girls and women, to encourage us and inspire us to unapologetically be who we were created to be.