Serena Williams has been a role model since she was 15 years old. She was a role model to me through my most formative years. There have been many times in my life when just looking at Serena Williams—a black woman, the Greatest Of All Time, the smart, stunning, capable champion that she is—has helped me to love my own body. Serena’s role model is her mother, Oracene Price. Yesterday, Serena posted an open letter to Oracene to Instagram, via Reddit.
Dear Mom, You are one of the strongest women I know. I was looking at my daughter (OMG, yes, I have a daughter 😳) and she has my arms and legs! My exact same strong, muscular, powerful, sensational arms and body. I don't know how I would react if she has to go through what I've gone through since I was a 15 year old and even to this day.... Read the rest on my @Reddit profile. Link in bio.
The letter is a beautifully-written declaration of gratitude from a new mom who clearly has a new sense of appreciation for her mother but it’s also a deliberate snap-back at anyone who has ever tried to belittle Serena’s gifts or degrade her “strong, muscular, powerful, sensational arms and body” with coded racial language. It’s a message to anyone who has tried to negate her achievements and diminish her to a stereotype. Who does that make you think of?
“I've been called man because I appeared outwardly strong. It has been said that that I use drugs (No, I have always had far too much integrity to behave dishonestly in order to gain an advantage).”
I do not think Maria Sharapova’s name deserves to be in the same sentence as Serena Williams. There is no rivalry. There is no competition. There’s just an inferior white woman who continues to justify her mediocrity with racism. Serena does not mention her by name but this line is pointed. It’s purposeful. You don’t get to use performance-enhancing drugs, use the GOAT’s name to promote your sh*tty book, and reinforce all the most f-cked up stereotypes black women have been fighting against our whole lives without getting called the f-ck out. Many people have deemed this letter as Serena’s official response to the racially-charged excerpts from Maria’s book which revealed her to be a sniveling, bigoted, entitled bottom feeder.
When we were emailing about Serena’s post, Lainey said her first reaction was “F*CK YOU MARIA SHARAPOVA YOU GODDAMN PIECE OF SH*T PRICK MOTHERF*CKER ASSHOLE.” Of course, Serena (and I) may have been thinking all the same cuss words to hurl back at Sharapova but she could never say them. She would be labelled an Angry Black Women by the same people who have been implying this for years without grounds. Serena can’t post an all-caps ragey Instagram caption because of all the points Lainey made when she read Sharapova for filth in this post. Here’s a refresher on the words Sharapova used to describe Serena Williams: Intimidating. Big. Thick. Strong. And the words she used to describe herself? Small. Little. Skinny. Let’s not forget that Maria is five inches taller than Serena.
A study was released earlier this summer that found that black girls between the ages of 5 and 14 were seen as less innocent and older than their white peers. Girl Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood detailed the ways in which black girls are disciplined more severely than white girls at school and are seen as needing less protection. Because we’re all intimidating. Bigger. Thicker. Stronger. Right?
Even now, she can make me feel like a little girl.
Sharapova’s words get more utterly infuriating each time I read them. But Serena’s letter to this alleged “little girl” is stripping these words of their power. Serena is saying that Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. will grow up knowing that she is powerful, black, beautiful and that those distinctions should be sources of pride, not contempt. Serena grew up in the spotlight hearing her body spoken of in the most derogatory ways and yet, her mother maintained her composure.
“I'm not sure how you did not go off on every single reporter, person, announcer and quite frankly, hater, who was too ignorant to understand the power of a black woman…I am proud we were able to show them what some women look like. We don't all look the same. We are curvy, strong, muscular, tall, small, just to name a few, and all the same: we are women and proud!”
This is all class. So inspiring. So good. Emotionally, I was holding it together until the last paragraph when Serena refers to her mother as “meek and strong.” Those two things are often viewed as being in opposition of one another. Oracene’s meekness is her strength. Oracene’s meekness gave the GOAT the strength she needed to persevere through the bullsh*t. For many black women, for too long, it feels as if our mothers are the only people telling us we’re worthy and beautiful and capable of persevering through bullsh*t. For too long, we’re forced to listen to the Maria Sharapovas of the world categorize us as something we’re not.
This letter is the classiest, most poignant and powerful “F*CK YOU” Serena could have given.
To read Serena’s full letter, click here.