Photos from left: Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated
On a superficial level, we gasped as we laid eyes on Queen Williams perched on her golden throne, slaying that cover in her Beyoncé-inspired black cat suit with her glistening legs and flawless red pout. This alone sent the much-needed message that curvy bodies can be strong and sexy and chocolate women can be stunningly beautiful, too.
But we all know that Williams is more than just her looks and physique. She is one of the most dynamic tennis players to ever grace the court, if not the best to ever pick up a racket in the history of the game. And despite her emotional and disappointing loss at this year’s U.S. Open, no one can deny that 2015 has been one of the most electrifying times in the player’s near 20-year career as she won the coveted “Serena slam” with her Wimbledon win, marking her twenty-first Grand Slam singles title.
But what’s most powerful is what her accomplishments represent.
In the same fashion as Viola Davis’s historic Emmy win and Misty Copeland being named principle dancer for the American Ballet Theater, this history-breaking Sports Illustrated cover reaffirms the strength that Black girls possess, not only being unapologetically spectacular, but to be so in traditionally white spaces that we were never expected or encouraged to dominate. And so we bask in the glow of the greatness of Ms. Williams because we needed to be reminded that in a world that constantly devalues African-American women, winning really can be our reality.
But sadly, Black joy can never last long, mostly because they won’t let it. So like your hating white neighbors who always call the cops when you’re having a party, our celebration was too prematurely interrupted when the Los Angeles Times published and tweeted the originally titled, “Serena or American Pharoah: Who's the Real Sportsperson of 2015" with a split image of the tennis legend next to a damn horse.
Yeah, they tried it.
Granted, they never should’ve put Williams’s exceptional athleticism into question because clearly she is the GOAT, but they didn’t even have the decency to do it with another actual human being like the jockey who rides American Pharaoh. Instead, the editors compared this highly intelligent woman's legacy with a beast that eats hay and can't count.
But did the LA Times see the error of their ways by deleting the story and the tweet and issuing an apology? Nope. The article and original tweet are still online. In terms of the poll, it stayed up for a few more hours, with Serena winning 3-1. They did however change the image and headline, tweeting that they did that "to treat this story with greater sensitivity.”
If they had any sensitivity or journalistic integrity, this never would have been written in the first place. And despite what anyone claims, this worthless story wasn’t created to spark a well-intentioned conversation about anything legitimate. This was about dehumanizing and undermining the success of this amazingly talented Black woman all because the paper can and wanted to. Never, would the personhood of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady been in question like this.
Sadly for Williams, this treatment is par for the course. As Vox poignantly summed up, since Serena was a teen, her career has been plagued with racist, sexist and even transphobic remarks from the media and the public. On one hand, the public refuses to let Serena own her femininity by calling her a “man” or comparing her to an animal. And on the other hand, her physique has been eroticized and gawked at like she is this generation’s Hottentot Venus.
But what the LA Times did stung me harder than expected.
Perhaps it painfully reminded me of when Black folks were sold, compared to, hosed down and unwillingly operated on like animals. Or, in these more current times, hunted down like them. Or maybe I’m just exhausted of witnessing the shine of the Serena Williamses of the world being diminished by the mediocrity of the Abigail Fishers, who refuse to believe that we can be better than them — let alone the best at something.
But what I do know for sure is that Black people are brilliant, worthy and beautiful and, no matter what white folks like the ones at the LA Times do or say to refute our accomplishments, please remember that Black excellence isn’t going anywhere. It’s only getting stronger.
Follow Kellee on Twitter @kelleent.
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(Photos from left: Yu Tsai for Sports Illustrated, December 21, 2015; Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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