In an alternate universe, Serena Williams is a superhero who draws her power from bigoted drivel — every racist, sexist insult lobbed at her only amplifies her mighty womanly prowess. Alas, mere mortals are undeserving of this fantasy utopia. In the real world, Williams' strength as an unassailable Black woman has seen her combat years of verbal abuse and discrimination to rise to the very top of her game — a game, in fact, historically reserved for White people.
Few would deny that Williams is one of America's greatest athletes. But her greatness hasn't always been acknowledged. Even today she sometimes has to deal with truly nonsensical affairs, such as a journalist who asked why she wouldn't smile after her win, a tennis tournament CEO who dismissed the sport's female athletes, and being body shamed — constantly.
In an open letter for Porter magazine's Incredible Women of 2016 Issue, Williams wrote about her dream of becoming the best tennis player in the world. Counting her family, courage, and ambition as driving qualities, Williams faced plenty of challenges along the way.
"Too often women are not supported enough or are discouraged from choosing their path," she wrote. "For me, it was a question of resilience. What others marked as flaws or disadvantages about myself — my race, my gender — I embraced as fuel for my success. I never let anything or anyone define me or my potential. I controlled my future."
Williams wrote about how the gender pay gap "frustrates" her, and discussed the label that people stubbornly affixed to her accomplishments — not the greatest athlete, but the greatest "female" athlete.
"One of those barriers is the way we are constantly reminded we are not men, as if it is a flaw. People call me one of the 'world's greatest female athletes.' Do they say LeBron is one of the world's best male athletes? Is Tiger? Federer? Why not? They are certainly not female. We should never let this go unchallenged. We should always be judged by our achievements, not by our gender."
"For everything I've achieved in my life, I am profoundly grateful to have experienced the highs and lows that come with success," Williams wrote, adding that she hopes to inspire other women to push for greatness. "We must continue to dream big, and in doing so, we empower the next generation of women to be just as bold in their pursuits."
Read the full essay at The Guardian.