Serena Williams is greater than a tennis nice: she confirmed black girls we could possibly be ourselves | Natasha Henry

Serena Williams at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit gala, New York City, May 2019.

“In case you can see it, you may be it.”

It’s a phrase usually preached by sporting governing our bodies, educators and people within the media who champion range, like myself. Though it’s a tacky phrase, it’s 100% true.

If you find yourself the primary of your race, nationality, gender, sexuality or tradition to attain one thing, not solely do you change into the face of the nation or crew that you simply had been representing on the time, however for a lot of, you change into the bodily illustration of everybody “who appears to be like such as you”.

So after I take into consideration Serena Williams retiring from the game she dedicated her life to – writing for Vogue that she can be “evolving away from tennis, towards different issues which are essential to me” – I’m tempted to suppose that her biggest legacy would be the one she continues to construct off the courtroom.

There’s no method we will ignore her file: 23 grand slam titles (thus far), 14 grand slam doubles titles and 4 Olympic gold medals to call just some.

However her biggest achievement has nothing to do with Wimbledon, any grand slam or any tennis racket. Moderately it’s the method she continues making an attempt to create a world the place little women who appear to be her and me don’t must undergo the issues she did or really feel excluded from the worlds that we regularly had been. As a sports activities journalist, I perceive the journey of beginning out in a world the place folks don’t anticipate to see you, or don’t at all times welcome you with open arms.

So the best way that Serena and Venus strutted right into a world the place nobody appeared like them and nobody appeared like them, and constantly proved they’d a proper to be there, was not solely a win for them, however a win for each certainly one of us little black women who by no means thought these sorts of goals had been ones we might obtain.

After they advised Serena her vibrant competitors outfits had been the unsuitable color she discovered one which was brighter; once they questioned the fashion or texture of her hair she modified it once more; and once they advised her that her stunning black physique was too masculine, she obtained stronger and gained much more titles.

Serena Williams at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit gala, New York City, May 2019.
Serena Williams on the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork’s Costume Institute profit gala, New York Metropolis, Might 2019. {Photograph}: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

When barbs had been thrown, she saved her satisfaction and her dignity. In 2014 Shamil Tarpischev, the Russian Tennis Federation president, derided Serena and her sister Venus because the “Williams brothers”. She referred to as him out as “extraordinarily sexist” and “racist” and continued making historical past. When simply final yr Ion Țiriac, the previous Olympic tennis participant and director of the Madrid Open, claimed she ought to have the “decency” to step down from the game on account of her “age and the load”, she was as sturdy and unflustered as she has at all times been on courtroom. The denigrators had been at all times there, however they at all times got here off second greatest. Time after time she has confused tennis’s largely middle-class viewers with the best way she stood up for herself. She at all times felt like certainly one of us.

And lots of might not know that her dedication to society and inclusivity spreads previous the courts of Wimbledon. She was one of many first investors in LA women’s football team Angel City, her household are concerned in a number of charities, and he or she teamed up with different organisations to guard kids through the pandemic.

I believe the one one that represents this greater than Serena Williams is her good friend Lewis Hamilton – one other sports activities famous person who continues to interrupt the principles whereas taking each problem in entrance of them.

All of us felt it when Williams said: “It has been mentioned I don’t belong in girls’s sports activities – that I belong in males’s – as a result of I look stronger than many different girls do. No, I simply work arduous and I used to be born with this badass physique and happy with it.”

Right here was somebody within the public eye, who appeared like us, telling us it was OK to be us. Willy T Ribbs, Althea Gibson and Arthur Wharton all walked in order that Lewis Hamilton, Serena Williams and Viv Anderson might run. We’ve already seen others, comparable to Naomi Osaka and Sloane Stephens, comply with Williams’ lead, and there shall be many extra after.

Williams confirmed us to not permit the racism, the body-shaming or the misogynoir to distract us from our targets. And as a black lady of a really comparable age, for me and people round me it was a message felt strongly and deeply – a message that we would have liked to listen to, and a name to motion that we’d been ready for. For us, notably these of us who liked sport, she was the speaker we would have liked. And whereas she could also be retiring, tennis’s loss is society’s acquire as she continues to remind us of how highly effective we’re, how sturdy we’re and the way succesful we’re as gifted black girls.

As one of many greats says goodbye, I for one say thanks.