Every time Serena Williams takes home another victory, she's celebrated by many people as the greatest woman tennis player alive. But she also faces a wave of racist and sexist attacks.
In an interview with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts, Williams shed light on how she views those attacks. "It's so important to look at the positives," she said. "And if I get caught up looking at all the negatives, it can really bring you down. I just don't have time to be brought down. I have too many things to do. I have Grand Slams to win. I have people to inspire."
She added, "I love that I am a full woman and I'm strong and I'm powerful and I'm beautiful at the same time. And there's nothing wrong with that."
Every Serena Williams win comes with a side of racism and sexism
Williams was responding to a long history of attacks that have been leveled against her and her body throughout her career. As Jenée Desmond-Harris previously explained for Vox, people have made remarks comparing Williams to animals, calling her a man, and labeling her as frightening, overly strong, and unattractive.
These vulgar comments don't come just from the general public. In 2009, for example, an ESPN column described Williams's strokes as "savage." And in 2001, sportscaster Sid Rosenberg called Williams's older sister Venus an "animal" and said both women were better suited to posing for National Geographic magazine than for Playboy. He later told the Daily News that his comments weren't racist, "just zoological."
Desmond-Harris explained that these comments are rooted in a history of racism and sexism:
Ms. Magazine's Anita Little, writing in 2012, linked the sexualization of Williams's physique to the legacy of the "Hottentot Venus," an African woman whose real name was Saartjie Baartman, who was displayed before European audiences as a freak show attraction in the 1800s. "No matter how insanely successful black women like Serena become, the legacy of the Hottentot Venus will always be ready to rear its ugly head at an opportune moment," she wrote.
Reading some of the remarks made about Williams's curves, it would be easy to think you were privy to the observations of circus attendees gawking at an unfamiliar body, as opposed to journalists and sports commentators.
Thankfully, Williams seems to take the haters in stride — as she put it, she has too many matches to win to pay attention to them. But the insults are a grim reminder of the racism and sexism that still exist — even after you become one of the best and most successful athletes in the world.