Why the Serena Williams Vanity Fair Cover Image Bothers Me

Aside from her bead- clad cornrow days, I have not seen Serena Williams on the court. Instead, I solely saw Williams on award shows where she seemed a caricatured version of a black female, clad in an unflattering, inauthentic hair fit for female impersonators and clothes that drew attention to her muscles, or physical hardness and not her soft feminine features. I now watch Williams play tennis at he lunch venue of which I dine a few times a week. The experience proved quite didactic, not of the game itself, but of Williams and her appeal.

It is over lunch, in thirty minute increments, that I get to gaze upon a woman I have heard so much about. She is statuesque, strong and focused. She is entrancing to look at. In fact, once setting my eyes on her I found myself enthralled by  an indistinguishable beauty and confidence that beams off Ms. Williams in a manner that makes it virtually impossible to look away. Ms. Williams is a powerful image of athleticism but also a powerful figure of Black femininity. Juxtaposed to her often thin blonde white female opponents on and off the court, she composes their binary opposite, ultimately proving superior time and time again. Her African origin as undeniable as her skill, Williams continues to dominate a game designed to exclude women of her hue and aesthetic.

Her victories made her a celebrated champion and hero in the black community. But this queen did not find a king in a man who looks like her father–but in a man who resembles those responsible for displacing her ancestors centuries prior. The news of their engagement and pregnancy bothered me but not as much as the nude portrait of Williams impregnated by the sperm of a racial psychopath featured on the most recent issue of Vanity Fair.

The image has crossed my path countless time since its conception, and each time I have tried my hardest to look away— its contents searing my peripheral vision with the visual stench of a walking death. The photo depicts Williams as alongside her ancestors, barefoot and impregnated by the benefactors to her hard labor. By birthing a white man’s baby, the black female body takes an integral step away from Africa into the quicksand of the western world.

Viewing the image is also much like quicksand, that spirals the conscious gaze into a brief blindness, prompted by an intense collective pain. This image exposes a deep-seeded black female hurt, a void, a gaping black hole, a vicious inner demon seemingly slayed by the phallic sword of a white man. The white man of course created this demon as a means to lure the black collective into the helplessness of inferiority. Therefore, he does not kill the inner-demons of his black female lover, he feeds it.

But perhaps most detrimental, this image proves a pedagogical discourse for determining beauty. To the western gaze, a woman with life is beautiful. The black female, a womanless figure, does not ordinarily earn a badge of beauty for her reproductive feats. Black female reproduction is often regarded similarly to the offspring of animals, uncivil but lucrative. Commonly labeled a welfare mother, or careless breeder of those supported by American taxes, the child bore from a black female womb is commonly regarded as a burden, and is far from beautiful. A black women birthing a biracial child, on the other hand, is not only beautiful but revolutionary in a world that wants its inhabitants to believe that watering down black genetics cures the color conflict birthed by whites to manifest a colonialized destiny.

This picture is beautiful to so many who have reproduced the Vanity Fair cover featuring Williams countless times throughout social media. This image is beautiful to black Women who find equanimity in a black woman ridiculed for her looks marrying a white man. The picture symbolizes a trophy desired by women who need to itemize their aesthetics by obtaining the pseudo appreciation of the white male gaze. To many this picture captures Williams’ greatest achievement and no it’s not Wimbledon.  Williams personifies a real-life version of Olivia Pope, a fictional black female figure celebrated for her relationships with white men. Williams, a non-fictional figure symbolizes the contemporary black female body who has consummated a journey to whiteness without long fine hair, small features, a petite frame or light skin. She functions to illustrate the consummation of an elusive whiteness, or dilution of a black psyche as attainable not only by those with passable features, but to any black female body willing to implement “passable” actions.

In writing this there is a slight reservation in each word that I type.  I know many will read and chastise my words. I know that many that know me personally would advise that I make note of Williams’ actions, and implement her taste into my own life eschewing what some label the “burdens of black love.”  Others will state that I should be happy for Williams, happy that she found someone who can “appreciate her beauty.” I suppose I am dutifully wrong in hoping that this someone would be Williams herself.

The beauty the image affords a black female body pregnant with a biracial child proves counterproductive in exposing its subject’s vulnerability not as an expectant mother, but as a black women struggling with self love. It is through this exposition, that betrays Williams as one of many black female bodies who wish to not pass on their skin to their children. The picture unveils a black female body lynched by a system who told her that despite being a “magical negress” who can win the highest honors in a sport dominated by thin, blonde white women— that she would and could never be beautiful.

But you are beautiful Miss Williams. While the masses celebrate your pregnancy as a pending improvement on a design, the conscious gaze knows that this perfection was initial not acquired.  You, black woman are perfect.

May the young black female gaze who looks at this picture eschew the seduction to acquiesce to the fantasy of a white prince–and join hands, and lives with a king who mirrors their strong nose, full lips, wooly hair, sun- kissed skin, and rich lineage.

Black power.

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