On Serena and the Stoicism of the Black Woman

I largely remained quiet on the topic of Serena Williams and the news surrounding her because of the US Open finals. I shared some articles on Facebook, tweeted a few things, and shared a few things on my Instagram story, but I didn’t really come up with a good way to say how I felt completely. I couldn’t. Even trying to filled me with such a sickening mixture of sadness and anger.

You see, it wasn’t about Serena for me. Seeing the initial response, the incidental backlash, and conversations and imagery that followed this entire week broke my soul. My heart ached for Serena, sure, but my heart aches for so much more than her. It aches for my ancestors who had their bodily autonomy stripped, were gaslight, abused, and then repeatedly told that they should not darereact or have any kind of response to it. Especially not in public. To me, a person who doesn’t know too much about any one sport, it wasn’t a matter of whether or not she broke the rules. It was to see the public desperately, ferociously attacking this human being, this woman they once championed. She was no longer the role model for our daughters or for new moms, she was this grown woman who was having her emotions made light of by way of being called a meltdown, she was this minstrel-esq caricature, jumping up and down like an ape, this bratty, self-absorbed, monster who was suddenly no longer a champion and no longer worthy of being praised. All because she reacted to feeling disrespected. Whether anyone else agrees with her being disrespected or not is irrelevant—those were herfeelings, and so they were valid and true to her. She was denied the space in the world to be a person who has emotions. This expected stoicism transcends Serena and reaches back hundreds of years.

One thing I am reminded of as this week comes to an end is that black women are still not granted the basic right to our feelings, our emotions, our dreams. If we’re in the public eye, we’re automatically held to a standard of whether or not we’re worthy to be called a role model. We are never allowed to decide for ourselves if we want to be slapped with that title—in the same way our ancestors had no right to decide if we wanted to raise other people’s children, we are still being forced to do this in a much more roundabout and less obvious way. If we are not worthy of being called a role model, which is usually the consensus the public comes to when a black woman shows emotions or stands up for herself, we are demonized, pushed aside, and the public begins their venture of stripping our accomplishments away and searching for a younger, lighter, more compliant role model. This is due to no other reason except that for some reason, black women are still expected to be the mothers of society, to inspire all little girls, and so when we “act up,” we must be shoved back into our “place.”

Today, I send my love to all women who have had to hold back their emotions in public spaces. I validate and believe all women who feel they have been disrespected or have had their morality or ethics called into question unjustly. I keep my ancestors close in my heart. I feel their pain, and I vow to be part of a movement that breaks black women from this cage. We have the power to put ourselves on display if we wish to be public figures, but we reserve the right to maintain control of our bodies, our feelings, and our right to live in them. To be a role model is not to be perfect, it is to be human. Black women deserve to be human.

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