In case you don’t have access to Facebook or any way to view the news, Serena Williams gave birth to a baby girl, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, in early September 2017.
It’s her first child with fiancé Alexis Ohanian. Serena recently wrote an open letter to her own mother, Oracene Price, in which she thanks her and marvels at how her mom dealt with all the ignorant (read: racist and sexist) bullshit Serena faced when she was a young tennis player. Serena also affirms and celebrates black womanhood and beauty and lets readers know in no uncertain terms that she loves her own body. Her open letter is a tribute to motherhood, black women, body positivity, and female strength.
Serena and her sister, Venus Williams, started playing tennis at the age of 3. By entering and then dominating the world of tennis, the sisters disrupted a traditionally “white space,” and fans, announcers, parents, and players weren’t happy about it. They faced racism and extreme degradation throughout their careers; they were made acutely aware, from the beginning, that black bodies had no place on a tennis court.
Over the years, the media has brought attention to Serena’s body, critiquing her muscles, complaining that she “doesn’t look like a woman,” and generally shaming her because of her strong build. She’s a high-performing athlete and the best tennis player in the world. Do people not expect her to have the body of such?
More recently, John McEnroe stated that while Serena Williams may be the best female player, she would be ranked significantly lower if she played against men. Serena shut his ass down and then went back to focusing on her pregnancy.
These are the reasons why her letter to her mother is so poignant.
She starts out the letter by reveling in the fact that her newborn daughter has the “same strong, muscular, powerful, sensational arms and body” as she does. After almost 3 decades of hearing misogynistic insults and accusations of being too muscular, she hasn’t wavered in her love and acceptance of her own body. She celebrates it in its entirety.
She goes on to wonder how her mom didn’t “go off” on every bigoted asshole who disrespected and dismissed Serena and didn’t understand “the power of a black woman.”
Powerful black women in America have always been feared, hated, and degraded. They have to work 4 times as hard as white women and still get ridiculed. John McEnroe’s disgusting comment solidifies this reality. It doesn’t matter that Serena is the most decorated tennis player of her time and probably even in the history of tennis. She’s black and she’s female, so she still isn’t good enough.
She goes on to thank her mom for being such a great role model and expresses that she hopes she can have the same fortitude as her. Throughout the letter, but at this point in particular, she reveals the strength in mother-daughter relationships. Serena clearly admires Oracene for her unwavering support and guidance, and it’s obvious that her mother has served as a major support system for Serena throughout her life.
Alexis Olympia comes from a long line of strong, talented, no bullshit-taking women. Much like Oracene’s positive influence on Serena, I’m sure Serena will inspire, guide, and teach Alexis. I don’t think Alexis could ask for a more grounded mother.