Serena Jameka Williams, First of Her Name and Queen of the Grass Court announced her pregnancy on Wednesday 12th April and exultations erupted across the Twittersphere. Sports pundits quickly pointed out Williams was with child when she held the winner’s trophy aloft at the Australian Open and very quickly Very Smart Brothas prophesied that in 16 years time Williams’ progeny would also beat Maria Sharapova.
Alas, not all were overjoyed. Quickly trolls emerged from their hovels to unleash their hatred on the mother-to-be. “If you’re attracted to Serena Williams, you’re gay” read the tweet of a particularly ashy individual. “Serena Williams is the first trans woman to get pregnant” declared another member of Misogynoir Twitter. Those committed to the sullying of Williams’ joyous news weren’t exclusive to Twitter’s peanut gallery. Right on time like the firing of Bill O’Reilly, Victoria Richards wrote an article for The Independent proclaiming “Serena Williams is an inspiration for us all- but not every woman can be a hero during pregnancy.” In the article Richards assumes to know the issues Williams faces “So, while we’re (rightly) praising Serena for her fortitude, we shouldn’t forget about those who aren’t experiencing stress-free, unicorns-and-flowers, Instagram-filtered nine months of maternity that many celebrities portray.” It makes my tongue itch; I’m allergic to white women’s hot takes about black women celebrity pregnancies. I’m not sure how “stress-free” it is to win a Tennis open during those tumultuous first weeks of pregnancy or when former No.1 Illie Nastase feels comfortable to question before a news conference about Williams’ unborn baby “Let’s see what colour it has. Chocolate with milk?”
Nastase now faces a ban from tennis but Serena Williams remains at the intersection of racist and sexist attacks. There are YouTube users dedicated to proving she is a man and while it’s easy to ignore them as nuts, they represent the virulent form of anti-black women anger both Serena and Venus Williams have faced for years. “I wish it was ’75; we’d skin you alive” someone in the crowd shouted during the 2001 Indian Wells Masters when Serena was 19 and Venus was 20 leading the sisters to boycott the event for 15 years. Do your googles and you can find evidence of all they’ve endured and I guess I was naïve in hoping that even during pregnancy Williams would be awarded a reprieve from the negativity.
Noliwe Rooks for Time explains historically black women have been viewed “as more threatening, more masculine and less in need of help, protection and support than white women.” Serena Williams wealth and status as a celebrity does not shield her from the dehumanisation of black women, if anything it emboldens people to be even shittier. Because she is muscular, a body honed through years of intense training, people take that as a sign that she is somehow manly and therefore strong beyond measure, able to withstand all kinds of attacks, both implicit as in the case of Richards’ article and explicit taking form in those tweets. The denigration of black women is a symptom of white supremacy, the need to stereotype black women as men seeks to deny us the protection we deserve as women, not because we are weak, but because rampant, unchecked patriarchy puts women in danger and manifests in a duality for black women. The murders of Renisha McBride , and Sarah Reed are stark reminders of the risk of simply existing on earth as a black woman.
Black women have long been ignored and disrespected by society in general but also by black men and women specifically because Get Out wasn’t a work of fiction; the use of black bodies to perpetuate the need of white supremacy to enact violence against black women is a real thing that we see and can quantify in this discourse surrounding Serena Williams, her pregnancy and her engagement to Alexis Ohanian. The vitriol she experiences because she is having a baby with a white man, the idea that she is in some way is disloyal to the black race for being in an interracial relationship reinforces the idea that black women, despite our historic disenfranchisement at every conceivable juncture, should remain “faithful to the race” and wait on the sweet by and by for a black man to deem us fit for marriage when there are nonblack men out there clamouring to love us. And to love us, not based on some perverse fetishisation of black women but because they see us as human beings who they’d be lucky to spend even a fleeting moment with. Britni Danielle’s article “No one cares you date white girls” explains clearly “The problem comes in when a person throws entire swaths of people under the bus to justify their preferences…” Serena Williams is not Gilbert Arenas who recently made known his stay at the Armitage residence. “Not to be funny, but can you name a beautiful black woman on the outside…” his Instagram rant started in which he presented his receipts on why dark skinned black women are not beautiful. Serena Williams, to my knowledge, has not once used her platform to question the beauty of black men. In fact she’s dated an (enviable) array of black men from Common to Amar’e Stoudemire and while she’s always been down for the swirl, to date she has never fixed her twitter fingers to shit on black men or demand proof of their value.
Black women do not exist as receptacles for your hatred. We do not wait idly by until you realise you’re trapped, an incubus for Rose and her family who use black bodies to live out their white, fetishist dreams; waiting for Rod, who long peeped their game to come save you. We are to be respected, loved and protected when pregnant and when without child the same way other women are. All women are subject to the crushing pressures of patriarchy but black, pregnant women, like Serena Williams, are even more vulnerable and we must uplift them, making our voices heard that this is 2017 and we will not allow misogynoir to slip through the cracks. We’ll kill it with fire.
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