In the wake of her US Open loss to Naomi Osaka, Furaha Asani writes an open letter to tennis star Serena Williams
The events of the past weekend, both the 2018 US Opens final and the aftermath, have left me and many others disappointed but not shocked. No Serena, this weighty feeling of disappointment has nothing to do with you, your words or your reactions but rather the reactions of those who have insisted on policing and criticizing your every move for two decades.
The world knows that you are tennis’ Greatest of all Time. You are loved and highly esteemed not only by tennis fans. I wonder if you or I really know how far-reaching your influence is, so cherished are you.
And yet so many people: tennis players whose heyday was years before you would come to international recognition, to peers who could only in their wildest dreams achieve one-third of what you have, to journalists, sports scientists, and tennis fans who should know better, have time and again spewed such ugliness towards you. They are unhappy when you are confident and fully embody your position as the GOAT (which they seem to think is egotistical), and still unhappy when you carry out that most basic of human functions- showing emotions. They have often heinously indulged in totally depersonalising you: your body, your womanhood, your motherhood, your life choices, your words, your presentation, the photos you take, your fashion choices- just everything and anything. They have made it clear they want to take you down a peg. They have accused you of talking bigger than the/your game (whatever that means, because to so many people you are the game!)
First of all, I want you to know that all of your fans bear this pain with you. We are with you not just because you mean a lot to us, but also because we know the root cause of this unjust hatred is deeply ingrained misogynoir: that interplay between racism and sexism.
You have faced this negative pressure your whole life and thrived in spite of it. Something that so many black people, and other marginalised groups, have been forced to do. Something that should never have been the case in the past, and even less now in 2018. And yet if we look around we see that racism and sexism are not always so glaring and loud: they are often subtle and coded. Perhaps even more insidious, they are so often accompanied by adjacent complicity by many who don’t see that they uphold injustice merely even by trying to explain away our concerns of the misogynoir you face.
Serena, my earliest memories of you are filled with awe: two black girls on a ‘got milk’ advert with white beads in their hair! The fashion on the courts. The wins. The unabashed celebrations and support of a father who my own black father loved and respected so much. Serena, you and Venus truly were, are, the epitome of excellence. And yet it is these same feelings I have about you that have led me to self-reflection followed by a strong need to apologise, especially after the weekend’s events.
It isn’t just negative pressure you have faced all these years. I have placed pressure on you too.
While my words and actions have come from a place of love and admiration, I fear I have often been guilty of objectifying you, and for that I am sorry. My exuberant adoration led me to the point where I epitomised you as a 24 hours-365 days emblem of black excellence. But even though you play on a global stage you should be free to have days that aren’t excellent. I labelled you a goddess. But you are a woman – a highly-skilled, talented, successful, beautiful woman, who has reached heights purely based on effort. Deifying you downplays this. I used you as a representation of some form of vicarious vindication on behalf of all those who love you who have been victims of the same wicked system that seeks to keep hurling abuse your way. It is wonderful to see you in this position you have worked for and earned (every bit of), and it is unfair to put such pressure on your shoulders. I can only imagine that having to be on constant ‘role-model’ mode cannot be easy.
Serena, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to witness how you are navigating life and career and now motherhood. Yes, I will always want you to win. I will always root for you and always love you. But in no way do you owe me 24 grand slams. I’m so sorry that in my mind I let my own desire for 24 become so deeply entrenched. I want to thank you for the joy that 23 has already given so many of us. Thank you for the charity work. Thank you for the fashion inspiration. Thank you for the humour. Thank you for the audacity of hope.
Dear Serena, please live in your destiny and keep playing as long as you want to, just as you’ve always done. I will be in the sidelines supporting you, content in the fact that I have already had the privilege of living in the same time as the GOAT.
Your Stan for life,
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Furaha Asani is an Immunology researcher and freelance writer who has written for Times Higher Education, Stylish Academic, Pens and Needles, and Black Ballad amongst other platforms. I have also written several pieces on my medium blog highlighting my mental health struggles/advocacy and the phenomenon of racism in science directed at Serena Williams.
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