Serve it Up Serena: How the Body Heckling of Serena takes us back to Saartjie

As of yesterday, tennis superstar Serena Williams earned her 6th Wimbledon title. In addition to this victory, Serena is a return recipient of the “Serena Slam.” Amidst what is yet another triumph for blacks, black women in particular- the white media once again again attempts to diminish the accomplishments a black woman by making it about themselves.

I am referencing the J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series)  tweet that defends Williams from a cyber insult regarding her appearance. See, what is merely a witty comeback for Rowling, is salt in a timeless wound of under appreciated black aesthetics.


Seen by many as a skinny, white woman’s sport, Serena’s presence and prominence in the tennis world has undoubtedly left many unsettled. Nevertheless, Williams continues to dominate the sport even after entering her 30s. In addition to her success as a tennis player, Williams is a household name who also dabbles in fashion and acting.

Serena Williams of the US celebrates after victory against Russia's Maria Sharapova during the women's singles final on day thirteen of the 2015 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 31, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL CROCK -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USEPAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images
Serena Williams of the US celebrates after victory against Russia’s Maria Sharapova during the women’s singles final on day thirteen of the 2015 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 31, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL CROCK — IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USEPAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images

Despite the diversity of her success, William’s appearance remains a common deflection. Now while the black community generally regards William’s curvy figure as the epitome of desirable, it often generates an opposite reaction from non-blacks. Williams is often describes as “manly,” an insult that draws back to the traditional perception of the black female body.

Not traditionally seen as women, black women were perceived as the physical and social antithesis of white women. While white women were perceived as beautiful, dainty, delicate, pious, and feminine black women were seen as animalistic and often masculinized. These perceptions of course reflected the vastly different lifestyles afforded to women based on race. White women were allotted purity and piety, as their body’s were cherished. Black women were robbed of their sexual purity by the slave masters who viewed them as proper. White supremacy robbed black women of their femininity, their value often rooted in strength, an attribute typically attributed to masculinity.

Ideas of black female inferiority were manifested onto the body of a Khoikhoi woman who came to be known as Saartje Baartman. Up until her untimely death of twenty-five, Baartman’s body was the canvass of which ideas of white superiority were falsely substantiated. She was placed in a traveling exhibition in which her nude body was featured to onlookers. Her protruding derriere was not only a main attraction for European onlookers, but a means for establishing black woman as physically mutated in juxtaposition to the slight “beauty” of white women. Rather than allowing death to grant her the peace her life didn’t, Baartman’s brain and genitals were jarred and explored scientifically as evidence of white superiority long after her death.Sawtche_(dite_Sarah_Saartjie_Baartman),_étudiée_comme_Femme_de_race_Bôchismann,_Histoire_Naturelle_des_Mammifères,_tome_II,_Cuvier,_Werner,_de_Lasteyrie

Much like Baartman, Williams is often exploited and rendered “exotic*” through her appearance. Her presence and ridicule amidst a sport that almost entirely made up of thin, blonde white women- mirrors the mistreatment endured by Baartman. Williams and Baartman shine a flashlight onto issues faced by women of the black diaspora daily. This blog is no exception as many visitors stumble onto my blog after typing in “ black booty” or “big black ass,” undoubtedly attempting to cast their eyes on the same assets of which both Baartmen and Williams were and are mocked. This mockery of course shields the insecurity that both Baartmen and Williams women and men who grudgingly admire and envy their overtly criticized physical attributes. For these attributes do not signify black inferiority, but superiority.

Thus, Williams assets are a distraction from the true conflict- her presence. Williams, as a black woman dares to shine in a world that works tirelessly to thwart her twinkle. So like Baartman and countless other black women scattered across the world, Williams mere existence works to deflate the balloon of white superiority. A balloon filled with the hot air of countless fallacies accumulated, but seldomly contested, over centuries.

So while J.K. is correct in her celebration of Williams for the great she is, I refuse to praise her for saying the truth and what does not need to be said . As descendants of Africa, our stories existed without a pen and paper, aserenawilliamsserves much of our legacy and greatness continues to exist with acknowledgement. Our achievements as a people don’t fail to exist because white media doesn’t feature us as it should, they just simply “are.” Thus, we don’t need anyone to say Serena is one of the greatest, she merely is…
To Wimbledon and beyond, continue to serve it up Serena!

*Although the term “exotic” is frequently regarded as a colloquial compliment, its origins are of a vastly different (insulting) context.