What is Black Excellence?

by valerieraiche on September 9, 2015 - 9:44pm

“The Meaning of Serena Williams”, an article written by Claudia Rankine that was published on August 25th 2015 in the New York Times, discusses the biased opinions of the media with regards to the ideal image of a winner. The main arguments supporting this central idea involve Serena Williams’ view on the widespread issue of racism and the medias’ interpretation of excellence.  Although the media has attacked her with regards to her appearance on countless occasions, Williams does not accept “racist projections” about her body. She demonstrates grace as she plays for herself, always being proud of her African-American background.  She has been a victim of questionable calls during tennis matches and has displayed her good side just as much as her bad side. Serena Williams is human; therefore, she does not conform to the unwritten rule that racist assaults should be taken humbly. Despite inspiring several blacks around the world, the media and market insist that “good-looking blonde girls” are the ideal winners. An example proving this theory is that Maria Sharapova is the highest paid athlete, even though Sharapova trails Williams in the standings on the tennis court. Ultimately, the article states that winning cannot cure racism.

I have always thought that people like Serena Williams and Barak Obama were examples of black excellence and that their power and brilliance were steps towards diminishing racism.  After reading Rankine’s article, I have realized that this not actually the case: Racism is an ongoing issue and the reality is that blacks experience much more pressure than whites. A strength that I have recognized while reading “The Meaning of Serena Williams” is that the author gives many examples as to why Williams is subject to judgment on and off the court. I agree with the article’s main idea that there is an ideal image of excellence, and I have learned that humanity’s general ideal is not one of a dark-skinned individual. I respect Williams for having maintained her strength and focus despite being discriminated. I believe that this article does an admirable job of displaying Serena Williams as a winner while accurately describing her struggles with racism.


Rankine, C. (2015). The Meaning of Serena Williams. New York Times, N.A., MM39. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/magazine/the-meaning-of-serena-william....


I chose to respond to this post because the idea that racial discrimination not only affects everyday people but successful athletes such as Serena Williams really made me think twice about the society we live in. In fact, it never really occurred to me that super athletes could ever be targeted even given their grandiose achievements in their career. As learned in class, racism can be defined as an ideology of the inherent superiority of one racial group over another. Thus, it is explicitly stated in the article that the sporting industry promotes ‘’Barbie-like’’ athletes even though their statistics are not even comparable to the Williams sisters. I personally believe that Serena had every right to react both aggressively and passively to the comments regarding her physical appearance because I consider that, at her stage of success, we should be concentrating on her accomplishments rather than focusing on molding her into society’s ‘’ideal’’ figure. The idea that racism does not limit itself and that even the most successful people of our society, such as Serena Williams, can be victims to such inhumanity really makes me question the idea of ‘’Black Excellence’’ all together. It can only make us wonder whether or not ‘’Black Excellence’’ really exists or if it is only a theme created to facade the actual presence of prejudice and discrimination in every aspect of society.

I have to say, it's hard to find excellence of people of color because you are right, it is drowned out in the media. I am commenting on this because I think it's unfair that some people are more relevant because of their skin tones, while some are swept under the rug. It's frustrating that people have to search for excellence of color besides 'white'. For example, Ronald Nelson: an African-American youth in the States who got accepted into every college he applied to - including all eight Ivy Leagues, Stanford, John Hopkins, NYU, Vanderbilt, and Washington University. Nelson has a list of achievements as long as The Bible, and chose community college instead because he wasn't seem as 'worth' full scholarships. He isn't alone though - a group of teenagers from parents of immigrants also recently got accepted into all eight Ivy Leagues, poking fun at stereotypes. Media needs to give attention to this kids, along with Serena and Venus Williams. Talent shouldn't be belittled. Talent should be appreciated because of the people who demonstrate it. Actresses, athletes, scholars, singers, you name it. Everyone should get an equal opportunity for the spotlight, and everyone should get recognized appropriately for their talents and achievements.

I admire how well you described and analyze the problem that Serena Williams faces because of her skin color. I think you are more than right when you say that her example as well as the United-States current president's should diminish racism and prove that black people aren't at all "sub humans". I also think it was a great idea that you compared her with another tennis player and how the media perceived them. While I was reading your article, I was wondering if you thought about including intersectionality in your article. Intersectionality is a study that looks into the interactions between different systems of oppression. Your article is a good example of this concept since Serena Williams isn't only an Afro-American, she is also a woman. As a woman, she faces other challenges since the image of the "ideal" women in the western society is white and blond wallflowers that is only there for the pleasure of men. I think it would be a good addition to your article since it talks about the fact that Williams is the complete opposite of the image of these perfect women that is anchored in the mind of the community. I thought that adding the gender problem that she face in addition to the racial problem that she faces would put more emphasis on how both racism and sexism are still present in our society and how these problems are interconnected. If you want to know more about the concept of intersectionality, I included a link to the Wikipedia page on this subject.


I strongly agree with your article on “The Meaning of Serena Williams” because, as you say, excellence should be defined by achievement rather than physical appearance. In fact, as an elite African American female tennis player, she is a victim of intersectionality, not only is she consistently oppressed by her race, but by her gender as well.
As you note in the second paragraph of your article, “the media has attacked her with regards to her appearance on countless occasions,” emphasising her dark skin and ‘manly’ build rather than her actual performance. In fact, according to Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes staff, “Race, corporate bias, likability and beauty are all part of the discussion in why Sharapova earns almost twice as much as Serena from endorsements and appearances, despite only one-quarter the singles Grand Slam wins”. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2015/07/09/serena-williams-v...) Undeniably, Sharapova is privileged as an upper class white woman as she fits the stereotype of traditional beauty and femininity. These aspects are very significant for women, especially in the eyes of the media, who highly tend to celebrate a paler, thinner, blonder form of beauty. Thus, Serena Williams continuously struggles to prove herself as a woman in a male dominated field, as well as a skilled African American athlete.
Furthermore, as black feminist, both she and her sister, Venus, have consistently fought for equal pay rights. They have been able to diminish the gap between the prize money in the Grand Slam for the women’s and men’s categories and continue to hope for change concerning the disparity between the salary of the women of her category.
Serena Williams is an incredible role model as she celebrates her black womanhood by seeking to overcome established standards society sets for women. Her excellence is demonstrated by her dedication, passion and desire for success, as she excels by breaking through the glass ceiling which constantly surrounds her by putting less emphasis on beauty and fighting against racial and gender discrimination.
Also, I think you might find this article quite interesting:

Your post was definitely very enlightening and provided us with an interesting point of view of what the media uses to identify the ideal “winner”. I found the fact that William has higher standings then Sharpova and yet the latter gets paid more a very angering situation. However, it is important to note that race is not the only thing that media uses to classify a “winner”. It is necessary to look into the fact that sexism plays a big part on how a media judges people. Even through the many efforts of feminists worldwide, much of media is still governed by a worldview that objectifies and hyper-sexualizes women. If Sharpova is blonde then she is most likely also white and therefore fits well the “ideal” type of woman that can be sexualized and has the potential to buy more viewers for a media company. I think the main reason why Sharpova may be considered more of a “winner” then Williams by the media despite the reality of the situation is because of the concept of intersectionality. Not only is Williams a woman, making her more susceptible to sexist critique and stereotypyical accusations, but also she is black. The concept of intersectionality explores how when different systems of inequality overlap, they actually end up reinforcing each other. In this case, we can see that Williams is part of a racial minority and is also a women, and it is these two things that are leading the media to pick Sharpova as more of a “winner” then Williams when in reality her skills have placed her above. We can also observe that even though Sharpova is also probably critiqued because of her gender, she is more privileged due to her race.The truth of the matter is that media mostly portrays men as powerful, and stoic hyper-sexually straight predators, while women as passive, beautiful “figures” who are preyed upon by males, and if a women (or a man) decides to stray from this norm (especially if she/he is in the public eye) then they are severely critiqued by the media and the public and sometimes the result can even be violence. It is a sad situation, yet it cannot be denied and I think the first step to fixing it is to admit that the problem does indeed exist.
P.S if you want to read more about sexism in the media, here’s a good article I found about women fighting against sexism in the media: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/nov/27/women-fighting-sexism-media...

Very interesting opinion on the ongoing issue of media slandering and racism, I enjoy using such a widespread example. It's a difficult subject to tackle an issue so controlled and impossible to change being one person out of a nation of over seven billion. Racism has been around for a long time and today is no different how much we want to mask it. I'll be honest, I don't know much about Serena Williams other than what little tennis I've vaguely seen on TV and references in music and other sources of TV I've heard but what I do know is she is a great example of a strong, confident black women that can be an easy target for media because of her widespread exposure to primarily North American audiences and that she is a black women. Women in general have undergone their own form of marginalization from being objectified by men and being less than equal then males but in Serena's case, being a black women has a lot more negative stigma for not only for being discriminated as a women but as well being discriminated for being black, which in the media racism is alive and well so it's a double edged sword for her. The racist undertones of the media does not represent and reflect everyone's view as a whole which can be displayed in the way Serena Williams carries herself as a strong, confident black women despite what labels the media wants to throw at her. The point is you should not let the media tell you how to think and view Serena Williams for the women she actually is.

I choose to reply to this post as it covers quite an interesting topic. It makes me truly wonder if Serena, or any other female athlete of sorts, would face such discrimination if she was a male. The sports industry crowns males as the champions, THE true professionals/talented. Over and over again, women sports have been underfunded, under covered, simply not cared for. Already in a difficult situation, Serena endured through even worse conditions, being not of the ‘ideal’ body shape/race. It inspires me to see so, as the lack of attention female sports receive tend to sour women towards to push for an athletic future. The highest paid female Tennis player in 2015 made under half what a top tier male player has. It seems the air of masculine dominance has infiltrated the sports scene as well.
Returning back to my original thesis, would Serena face such trials were she to be a glorified African-American male? Probably not. She’d be praised as to, even with her body structure, she maintains to be above her adversaries, rather than be ridiculed for it. There is definitely some more pondering left to be done here. Women sports shouldn’t be viewed/enjoyed any differently than male sports, yet over and over again, “true” sport fans, regardless of the nature of their love for a sport, view male athletics as the peak of skill/entertainment/athleticism. Oh how forced gendered themes can effect nations’ mind sets…

Linked below are two articles, the first a breakdown/explanation of pay inequalities in athletics. Secondly, a breakdown of the top paid Tennis players of 2015, which will demonstrate a clear gap/favoritism to men.
Pay Inequality in Athletics: http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/home/research/articles-and-reports...

Top Paid Tennis Players, 2015: http://www.sportslook.net/top-10-highest-paid-tennis-players-2015/

It is interesting the way that the media provides a description of what the “ideal winner” of sports, or anything in general, which is as you have stated “young, blonde, good looking girls”, and seeing how your post takes on the problem of racism, the ideal winner would also be white. However this problematic way of viewing women in sports, and even in general, is that they are being sexualized by men and maybe even women, and that if they do not conform to this “ideal winner” mold, they are condemned to be harassed and insulted based on how the woman looks, dresses, if she wears makeup or not, is she is more masculine than feminine; all of which are personal choices of the individual and they should be able to live their lives how they want, whether they are more femme or masculine. The hypersexualization of women not only in sports, but in the media as a whole to even out on the streets, needs to stop. Women are not dolls to be dressed to your liking.
Furthermore, addressing the statement you have made about the wage gap between the two women, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, it is alarming that Williams is a better tennis player, although Sharapova has shown to be inferior to Williams on the court. However I find the wage gap between the highest earning female athlete (Maria Sharapova at 29.2 million) and the highest paid male athlete (Floyd Mayweather at 300 million) is far more alarming and needs to be attended to. Although Sharapova is a tennis player and Mayweather is a boxer, to compare Sharapova to the highest paid male tennis player (Roger Federer at 67 million) is still a huge leap from what Sharapova is making.

Here is a link for you to read to further show you how women are not being recognized by what they do but rather who they do:

I am impressed by your post and your concise writing! I do agree on numerous points that you addressed namely that black people experience more pressure than white people do. The racism is so strong, it’s hard to believe that some white people cannot recognize Serena Williams’s true talent because of the color of her skin. As a tennis fan and ex-player, I have been aware of the wage gap between the “good-looking blonde girls” (often Russian women) vs the William sisters. It’s quite astonishing that Maria Sharapova (who won 5 Grand Slams,) compared to Serena Williams (who won 21 Grand Slams) has a higher net worth. It’s clear that proof of talent by winning isn’t as rewardable to black women as it would be to white women. I believe this issue can be attributed to the unearned privilege of white women. Often more than not, white women are unaware of this privilege and in a recent case, a white women holding an important political position in the U.S.A has a created controversy. If you are interested in reading more about her, and the “privilege” issue, here's the article; http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/06/black-white-privilege-rac....

After reading your article, I think that this issue has to be taking more seriously since racism take a big part of the society. A lot of black artist females have been a part of a racism and sexism issue but in other cases it can happen that black women are being racist toward white women. In an article after the VMA’s, Nicki Minaj which is a black female pop artist, has been throwing shades on white girls because her video wasn't nominated. This is critical since she talk about ''slim bodies'' which we all know most of the white girls have that type of body. Judging somebody's talent by the looks and the race isn't right if someone did deserve to win it’s because of the work they put through and not the physical look they show to everyone or certainly not because their white or black. It’s controversial because Nicki Minaj is known for her body that has been modified due to esthetical surgery and if there wasn’t any modification in her look she wouldn’t have a curvy body like the typical black girls. I personally think that race has nothing to do with talent and that anyone that deserve to win deserve to get the award for it whether your black or white , it’s a matter of equality between genders and races , I mean were all human and we shouldn’t be defined by our natural traits.


My options to this article, I have to say that it’s unfair to think that because their skin color is black that’s does not mean they are good for everything. To be honest most of the athlete’s members in the world are black. Honesty, I don’t know much about Serena Willian, I know is she is the best tennis player I’ve ever seen in TV. Serena is the number-one tennis player in the world and she is a strong women. And I can’t believe that super talented athletes could ever be target in the media racism and a feminist gender as well. Racism is everywhere and we can’t stop it. A lot of black women a being part of racism and sexism. “There is a belief among some African-Americans that to defeat racism, they have to work harder, be smarter, be better” http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/serena-williams-the-great-one-2... . Most of the people may think that because their skin color they can get what they want, but they don’t know they need to earn it by doing their best not because they are black but, because they want it to prove to people they are good not because their color but because their loved what they doing. “black excellence is then supposed to perform with good manners and forgives in the face of any racist slights or attacks”. http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/serena-williams-the-great-one-2...
Cited work: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/serena-williams-the-great-one-2...