Serena Williams to Black Lives Matter activists: ‘Don’t let those trolls stop you’

WIRED November2015

I was a little bit worried about Serena Williams after she lost at the semifinals at the US Open last month. It was devastating, there was so much hype around her potentially winning all of the major Grand Slams in a calendar season, and I just don’t know what happened. But we shouldn’t worry. Serena is fine. She’s still thriving. She’s still Serena. She’s still amazing. Serena covers the new issue of Wired Magazine, and she guest-edits the issue as well. It’s the Trailblazer issue and it features stories/interviews/essays with or by people like Common, Billie Jean King, Ronda Rousey and more. Serena dictated an essay called “The Ball Is in Your Court.” Here’s the essay (with some edits).

Back in 2008, when I was competing in the US Open, I would keep little “match books,” where I’d write affirmations to myself and read them during matches. It worked pretty well. But before long I found an even better way to inspire myself: I started using affirmations as the passwords to my phone and my computer. (No, I’m not going to tell you what my current affirmation is!) You should try it. You’ll be surprised how many times a day you log in and have an opportunity to trigger that positivity. I love that I can use technology that way.

Here’s one of the affirmations I gave myself when I was younger: “I will work in Africa and help kids and help people.” And I did. I opened a school in Kenya in 2008 and a second in 2010. Now, sometimes in Africa they send only the boys to school. So we had a strict rule that our schools had to be at least 40 percent girls. It was impossible to get 50-50 boys to girls, and we really had to fight for 60-40. But we got it.

Equality is important. In the NFL, they have something called the Rooney rule. It says that teams have to interview minority candidates for senior jobs. It’s a rule that companies in Silicon Valley are starting to follow too, and that’s great. But we need to see more women and people of different colors and nationalities in tech. That’s the reason I wanted to do this issue with WIRED—I’m a black woman, and I am in a sport that wasn’t really meant for black people. And while tennis isn’t really about the future, Silicon Valley sure is. I want young people to look at the trailblazers we’ve assembled below and be inspired. I hope they eventually become trailblazers themselves. Together we can change the future.

So to those of you involved in equality movements like Black Lives Matter, I say this: Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you. We’ve been through so much for so many centuries, and we shall overcome this too (see “Get Up, Stand Up”). To other people, I say: When someone’s harassing someone else, speak up! J. K. Rowling spoke up for me this summer, and it was an amazing feeling—I thought, well, “I can speak up too.”

And when we’re not talking, we can get coding. Adria Richards (see “Take Back the Net”) has suggested solutions to online harassment, including my favorite, Send-a-Puppy, where you’d send a digital doggy to support someone who’s being harassed. And we can champion efforts that get kids interested in computers, efforts like Kimberly Bryant’s Black Girls Code.

Nothing like Black Girls Code existed when I was growing up. (And I know what it’s like to be interested in a field where the other kids don’t look like you.) So I think we’re making progress. But we can keep working even more to increase equality—whether it’s making sure to interview black candidates for tech jobs or standing up to cyberbullying or making sure that our technology is designed by all kinds of people. Eventually we’re going to make the world better. For everyone. And hopefully my next school will be 50-50.

[From Wired]

I like that she name-checks the Rooney Rule. It would be great if every sport followed that, because there is still a noticeable and prominent “whiteness” in the administration of nearly every professional sport. What is always said about Serena – and what she says herself in interviews – is that she should not be held up as the spokesperson for every issue involving women in sports, the plight of African-American women, race in America, race internationally, women’s issues in total, etc. But over the years, Serena has started to “lean in” on her representation of those issues and it’s a powerful thing to see.

Inside Photo

Photos courtesy of Wired.

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45 Responses to “Serena Williams to Black Lives Matter activists: ‘Don’t let those trolls stop you’”

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  1. littlemissnaughty says:

    I admit, tennis bores me to tears so I’ve never watched her play but she’s f*cking amazing off the court too. I like her writing style, she’s eloquent and gets her point across using clear, no-fuss structure and words. That’s a lot more difficult than it might look.

  2. Lindy says:

    Wow. Impressive piece. I’m glad she’s raising her voice and her profile on these issues!

    • lucy2 says:

      Me too – she could easily sit back and not worry about anything but her career, but she’s speaking up and advocating for good things.

  3. Mia V. says:

    I like the fact she’s mucular in a sport dominated by the perception of lean, tall, blonge girls in skirts. She is amazing and she knows it and she owns it and knows what is going on in the world. #TakeATipBey

  4. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    I liked this essay. Sometimes I disagree with her but I admire her in general, and can’t imagine the crap she’s had to put up with.

    Black Lives Matter needs to get rid of the people marching to “what do you want? Dead cops” and the pigs in a blanket thing. That’s giving the trolls all they need to discredit the movement. I know it’s a very small minority, and I support the movement, but they need to condemn those kinds of statements or they will just be written off. I agree they should keep going and emphasize their powerful message.

    • Veronica says:

      The kind of American who will define a civil rights movement by a vocal minority (without consideration for what created that environment in the first place) and use it to dismiss any alternative value it has were never going to support it in the first place. Their minds were made up long before protestors even gained a foothold in media. Before we charge African Americans with policing their movement, maybe we should consider the lesson of MLK – approach civil rights peacefully…and get shot in the face anyway.

      • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

        Certainly what you say is valid. And yes, there are many people who are just looking for any excuse to dismiss this movement without any consideration for anything. But there are people on the fence, who will hear the vocal minority and believe it represents the majority, and there are people who were sympathetic but can’t support those statements. Violence against the police is the worst possible stance, for a hundred reasons. That’s only going to make things worse. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do or say. I’m just afraid that what could have been a real instrument of desperately needed change is going to fizzle out or worse, create more violence against our black citizens.

    • Nicolette says:

      “Black Lives Matter needs to get rid of the people marching to “what do you want? Dead cops” and the pigs in a blanket thing”

      Yes they do. Here in NYC a police officer was shot dead last week by a career criminal with 28 arrests since the age of 13 who was to be jailed for a drug bust. A judge decided to send him to rehab instead. The judge has profusely apologized for her poor decision upon hearing about the officer’s death. Days after this murder occurred there was a march against the police. Protesters openly screaming at and giving the finger to police officers that had to stand there and take it. Police officers are the line of defense between law abiding citizens and the criminal element. What would society be like without them? Are there some bad apples? Yes as there are everywhere. That doesn’t mean they should all be condemned. Even our lack luster Mayor has done a sudden flip flop after coming to the realization that “The system is broken and it needs to be fixed fast before more cops gets killed.” Today is the funeral for Officer Randolph Holder and his life mattered to many. R.I.P.

      • umm... says:

        nvm. not even going to get into this.

      • HH says:

        “some bad apples”…….????? Is that what we’re calling a clear pattern of Black people being victims of excessive use of force and police brutality? Wow.

        ETA: I’m willing to bet a career criminal would have his own issues with law enforcement whether or not Black Lives Matter existed.

    • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

      I think what you have to understand with those who chant those sayings and their place in the movement is that ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a whole is only gaining political prominence because different communities are now afraid of their power.

      I hate to say it but it’s true. The system wasn’t made for us and variations of that have been quoted repeatedly. Redistributing voting lines and communities, requiring identification and changing times votes were allowed to be cast regardless of if someone is already in line waiting. These are all practices that have been done repeatedly in an effort to silence the voice of an already struggling minority.

      How much police violence was there against minorities that was being ignored, dismissed, or blamed on us? How many times did someone step up to claim they were raped, assaulted or tortured by police only to have their rights as a human ignored and told regardless of how extreme they deserved it? There is a profound and powerful anger there and it spills out. It spills out in riots and ugly chants and you know what’s sad?

      It works. How much was actually changing in Ferguson before they rioted and protested? Before a police force that statistically had always harmed the African American community had to stand face to face with the fury they’d created? When those whites living in more comfortable sections of town were calling mayor and governor’s offices demanding they find a way to fix this before it made its way to them. Do you know that before the Freddie Grey incident the mayor in Baltimore actually said that body cameras should not be implemented and that she was not in favor of them? What happened after the riots? The first sets of body cameras went into use just yesterday in a trial program to pick which was most effective.

      As someone who has made incredibly intelligent statements and works hard to understand issues as someone who isn’t a POC I understand how disgusting phrases shouted like “Pigs in a Blanket” sound. But I think it’s important to note that it all comes from a source, the same anger at the same system that has failed so many. I think history has always tried to teach is the beauty in fighting the good fight intelligently, peacefully and with words and yet we so often forget so much positive change in history sadly came from ugliness and fighting.

      Police officers have the unfortunate reality of being in a job that requires them to act as a force. As we have all noted sadly you have people like Bill Bratton who would rather defend his officers against the pettiest of insults and turn his back on the governed than actually express solemn regret at their actions. You have bad apples that are not only ignored but promoted and awarded. (A 30 year veteran in the force was filmed spitting on a handcuffed suspect) The NYC Police Force is accused of improper assaulting and excessive violence so much it simply immediately and quietly goes to settlement rather than fight to defend itself. Until we finally see SOME effort at a police force actually trying to improve it’sIf and oust it’s destructive individuals you’ll see a lot of anger aimed at police officers as a whole.

      • QQ says:

        Drop that mike Boo! you took me to church

        Someone said it’s not even anger it’s HURT and PAIN and Suffering endured for decades just coming to the surface

      • Korra says:

        Yes to everything.

      • mimif says:

        I wish this had been posted the other day on the Tarantino thread, this is excellent (per usual), Eternal Side Eye.

      • Alex says:

        Eternal you just made me fall out with this comment.

        YES just YES.

        Black lives > white feelings. Sorry. Not sorry

      • The Other Katherine says:

        Eternal Side-Eye, thank you for writing this. Well said.

      • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

        Thank you all ladies.

        Just trying to clarify a point and shine a little spotlight on an understandable issue. Sadly it’s going to be a tough transition period with a lot of ugliness but realistically even with that ugliness this is the first time I believe the political, economic, and spiritual needs of the black community are starting to be addressed.

        For better or worse I can point to several significant changes that have taken place in close relation to many riots, protests, or videos being released of police brutality. Suggesting – sadly – that these problems in our society will not be fixed with polite discussion and compassionate understanding. I wish it was different but…squeaky wheel gets the grease.

  5. lower-case deb says:

    i also love that the Serena and Venus are trilingual, it made press rounds and fan interactions interesting to watch. (sometimes i get this odd urge to just go on youtube and search for random interviews–i just type whosever name that came to my head)

  6. Luca76 says:

    Well I applaud her comments here. She’s great on so many issues but I’ll never forget what she said about the Steubenville rape case.

    • I Choose Me says:

      For which she has since apologized. Yes she’s a celebrity and has a platform which made what she said at the time all the more disappointing but are people not allowed to learn from their mistakes? I’d sure hate for something ignorant I said off the cuff to be held against me for all time.

      Not that I’m telling you how to feel. I just think that sometimes we forget that celebs human too and make mistakes. Just that theirs are on the world stage for all to see, judge and dissect.

    • Colette says:

      That’s fine ,as long you hold every other celebrity to the same standard.For that matter ,as long as you hold every other person to the same standard.

  7. Alex says:

    Serena once again proves how much she continually learns and grows as a person not just an athlete. This was so eloquent and powerful.
    I hope she knows by just being a vocal WOC athlete she provides one more person for any future kids of mine to look up too. She did that for me as a child. I had a conversation about how amazing it is that U.S. gymnastics has two prominent WOC top athletes in Worlds this year and in the AA finals. That’s NEVER happened before. Now imagine if that also happens in Rio. This is huge for any young POC child who maybe thought the sport wasn’t for them.
    She’s right we will overcome. We always do. Representation matters.

  8. QQ says:


    Love that she is using her platform to not say stupid sh!t

    Love that she namechecked Black Girls Code and Black Lives Matter (few of her fellow celebs get on with it)

    Love her makeup and body and this photoshoot

    Can’t understand what’s with the brows of late, It’s just strange looking specially in motion

    • mimif says:

      She looks so good here.

    • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

      The shallow part of me is always confused by her brows.

      • mimif says:

        IKR? I don’t want to diminish her in any way with my superficial observations, but they really are perplexing.

      • QQ says:

        The shallow part of me is SO ANGSTY Eternal, lemme tell you i’ve texted Mimif nearly constantly since the french open cause that is how recent this started and keep scouring the net cause I don’t understand, i mean Two years ago things were NICE and powdered and such, now it looks on candid stuff like mimif described to me “felt Appliques” i called them something else really relly reaalllyy bad

      • mimif says:

        I’ve gone full CSI on the subject. There’s some seriously important shit happening on Twitter now and I’m still riveted by the eyebrows AND SHE’S DATING THE REDDIT CO-FOUNDER WHAT?!

      • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

        THANK YOU.

        Because sometimes I go through these phases where I think I’M crazy and I’m going through it with her brows! Like weren’t those brows all sleek, and filled in with a good shape just a year or so ago?

        ‘Felt appliques’ LMAO. But seriously tho *whispers* that’s what’s happening here. Like there’s a bushiness BEHIND the brow hairs?

        Also, yes! Just saw that with the Reddit Co-founder! Clearly she is just determined to win at all levels of life. Get ‘Em girl!

    • Yabby says:

      i want so badly to take a mini eye brow comb and smooth them over. other than that, she looks like a complete knockout in the close ups.

      • mimif says:

        Tell me you saw her IG post of her getting them waxed for the #haters. It’s super cute BUT also even after watching I still don’t understand wtf is going on.

    • Korra says:

      I LOVE that she name checked Black Girls Code. It’s such a great program and lots of fun to boot.

  9. The Eternal Side-Eye says:

    Well I’ve got no words, this was a beautiful interview and each one of her statements was amazing. Yes to the comment especially about how hard to it is to work for something where no one else looks like you. People discount just how tedious it can be to be unable to find anyone to commiserate with or discuss issues with in environments that might feel hostile to you as a minority.

    Happens in the science and technology field a lot.

  10. Rita says:

    So what does “Black Lives Matter” have to say about the narrative considering this country has had a black President, black Attorney General leading the Justice Department, and a black man in charge of homeland security for the last 7 years?

    • lewissrl says:

      None of that has anything to do with the very real issues African-American communities have with the police. Electing a Black president does not and will not cure the racial divide in this country nor will it automatically make certain members of the police department less abusive to those they have sworn to protect.

      • Rita says:

        Thank you for making my point. Electing “this” black President has meant nothing for the African American community. Perhaps Ben Carson will fair better.

    • Alex says:

      Pretty sure having a black president meant he got MORE push back than any other president. You really think that police brutality has increased? No it’s just out there because of social media and because people are waking up.

      Minorities have known this fact since we could walk and talk.

    • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

      LMAO, so 3 black men in a position of power compared to hundreds upon hundreds of thousands is equivalent to you? Or somehow ablicable to the issues of brutality and unfairness the black community overwhelmingly face at the hands of police?

      You’re simple.

      • Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

        That Ben Carson remark was pretty slick. I guess we know what kind of black people are to be tolerated.

      • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

        Exactly. They want them bowed down and forever apologizing for everyone of the faults of black people while never addressing any of the issues that have brought us to this point in our nation’s history.

  11. Nymeria says:

    One of the women behind “Lean In,” a Stanford Business School professor, was banging her boss, who tried to screw over her husband during their divorce proceedings. So: Irony.

    Secondly, ALL LIVES MATTER. FFS. Insisting that only black lives matter is racist. It’s not about race anymore, it’s about income. THAT is where the true disparity lies.

    • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

      Yeah yeah we know.

      All lives matter, even the lives that have been prioritized and protected for hundreds of years. Especially the lives that were never slaves. I mean those lives, wow. The lives that stood around grinning and flashing thumbs up when other lives were hanging from trees? Damn have we got to protect those lives. At the end of the day if we can not equally protect lives that are already disproportionate thus making sure that inequality still stands then we’re simply not moving forward as a country.

      Right on Nymeria!