Serena Williams feels she’s been “underpaid” and “undervalued” compared to white tennis stars despite establishing herself as one of the greatest players the world has ever seen.
The owner of 23 grand slam singes titles has long been an advocate for women and people of colour, and reflected with British Vogue about overcoming obstacles on her rise to the top of her sport.
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Williams came in second on the Forbes rich list of female athletes for 2020, raking in $49.9 million to sit behind only three-time major winner Naomi Osaka, who pulled in $51.8 million.
While she’s reaping the rewards now, that wasn’t always the case earlier in her career but despite her struggles, Williams wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’ve never been a person that has been like, ‘I want to be a different colour’ or, ‘I want my skin tone to be lighter’,” Williams told Vogue.
“I like who I am, I like how I look, and I love representing the beautiful, dark women out there. For me, it’s perfect. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The Black Lives Matter movement exploded this year after the death of George Floyd in police custody in America, and Williams believes the tide is slowly turning as people gain a greater appreciation of what life is like on the other side.
“Now, we as Black people have a voice,” Williams said. “At the end of May, I had so many people who were white writing to me saying, ‘I’m sorry for everything you’ve had to go through’.
“I think for a minute they started — not to understand, because I don’t think you can understand — but they started to see.
“I was like, ‘Well, you didn’t see any of this before? I’ve been talking about this my whole career. It’s been one thing after another’.”
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Williams is committed to using her profile to inspire women and drive social change, and also spread messages about body positivity — which was a foreign concept to the 39-year-old coming through the ranks because of the lack of visibility of people who looked like her.
The American famously wore her black catsuit at the 2018 French Open, which she said “represents all the women that have been through a lot with their body to come back and have confidence and to believe in themselves”, and she knows she has the power to change people’s lives for the better.
“Someone in my position can show women and people of colour that we have a voice, because Lord knows I use mine,” Williams told Vogue.
“I love sticking up for people and supporting women. Being the voice that millions of people don’t have.”