The Williams sisters are the embodiment of Black excellence.
Often rated the number one and number two greatest female tennis players in the world, it’s not just Serena and Venus’ talent that impresses me. As businesswomen, they’ve built an empire while being the most unlikely faces of the White-dominated sport of tennis. But when I look at their long list of accomplishments, it’s their bond with and respect for one another that truly impress me.
The relationship between two sisters, who are constantly in competition with one another, is seemingly unbreakable. And it’s exactly what Black women need to see.
Let me preface the description of my admiration by saying this – we live in an era where the relationships between Black women are practically encouraged to be divisive. On social networks, we proclaim how “you can’t sit with us,” or “trust no bitch.” We’re surrounded by images of women on television shows like Love & Hip Hop and Basketball Wives where the best of friends often become mortal enemies, engaging in degrading, physical fights over gossip, men and perceived disrespect. We are desensitized to the sight of teen girls ripping each others’ hair out in viral videos. In music, even our beloved, self-proclaimed feminist stars like Beyoncé boldly tell their female counterparts to “Bow Down Bitches.”
It’s not to say that the division between today’s generation of Black women is all-encompassing. I’m sure many of you reading this have close girlfriends, sisters or cousins with whom you spend a lot of your time. And it’s also not to say that we should be friends with everyone around us. But the point of it all is that most of us are encouraged to hate one another before we’ve even shared a hello.
So in that setting, to see two Black sisters – a pair who has competed against one another more than two dozen times in an arena where winning is their livelihood – enjoying such a close relationship is, to me, the definition of Black Girl Magic.
For these two, their relationship goes beyond blood. So often ridiculed or hated in the press by racist fans and bitter writers, I imagine they’ve had to be each others’ shields of protection from negativity. Their respect and love for one another is always visible, even as beating each other on the court costs the loser her title as the best.
Just this week, Serena beat Venus atWimbledon. Like so many other times where one has prevailed over the other, the two embraced on the court and followed up with loving messages to one another.
And if you think that’s normal of sisters, think again.
In the 1970s, when Grand Slam player Chris Evert faced off against her sister Jeanne, she famously described the encounter as a devastating one.
“It was the worst feeling ever,” she said. “We were both very competitive and Jeanne wanted to kill me. We couldn’t even look at each other. We just played the balls and wanted to win and then get off the court and not deal with it.”
I think of my own relationship growing up with two sisters, who were both beautiful and smart, and I have to admit, I went through phases where my competitive nature caused me to resent them. When they graduated at the top of their class, went on to Ivy League schools, had perfect teenager bodies and handsome boyfriends, I was jealous. And my jealousy manifested in ways like catty comments to my friends, begrudging them compliments when they were better than me, or acting out to put the attention on me.
I haven’t seen that manifest itself publicly among the Williams sisters.
Granted, as an adult, I’ve outgrown the jealousy that my 14-year-old self experienced. And more than likely, Serena and Venus have as well. But even when they were just teens, playing out their awkward stages in front of the world, we never saw them slip.
Despite losing to her older sister often in her youth before taking her place as the G.O.A.T. in tennis, Serena never seems to gloat. Famous for her signature grunts and screams on the court, her matches with Venus are often noted for their quiet nature – as if two greats merge into one amazing powerhouse entity. You never know who to root for, so most just watch in awe of the force that is the Williams sisters.
That greatness is what so many of our young Black girls are in desperate need of: women whose success is based on talent, dedication, discipline and hard work. Serena and Venus are fashionable, hip women, who don’t apologize for their curvy athletic bodies. But they’re not out here on the ‘Gram posting shots of their asses, kissing other girls on the red carpet, or claiming their fame based on men they’re sleeping with. They’re businesswomen, athletes and, to quote my mother, they’re ladies. And the fact that they can embrace and support each other in the process only elevates that character.
On Tuesday, following her win over Venus, Serena gushed over her sister.
“Boy she has a game to just knock anyone’s socks off,” she said. “So you just have to be ready.”