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raceAhead: Serena Williams’s First Wimbledon as a New Mother

July 9, 2018, 4:24 PM UTC

“She took her first steps…I was training and I missed it. I cried.”

So tweeted the greatest athlete in the world, in any sport, of any gender. Serena Williams has always used her extraordinary platform to advocate for equity, for equal pay for women in tennis and for women of color in any industry. But now, as she’s closing in on her eighth Wimbledon win, she’s also sharing the reality of life as a working parent.

It’s what she does.

Her story, one of two extraordinary tennis athlete-sisters to emerge from the “gritty streets” of Compton, California is a remarkable outlier specifically because society has made sure to ignore potential from certain zip codes. And Williams has never shied away from sharing scenes from her life, particularly when it can illuminate her experience at the intersections of her identity.

Here’s one example. Yetunde Price, the sister of Serena and Venus Williams, was the victim of a drive-by shooting near her home in Compton in 2003. It’s not a story you’d hear often in tennis circles, but the Williams sisters have become advocates for change. Their candor makes the case. “If a car backfired, we knew to hit the ground, because it sounded very similar to a gun…Our dad always had us get back up and practice, though,” Venus Williams said on a panel on community violence moderated by ESPN’s Jemele Hill last December. “I think what people don’t realize is how violence really affects not only your family, but your friends, your neighbors,” said Serena, breaking down in tears.

And like so many black women, Serena Williams nearly didn’t survive childbirth; in fact, she had to advocate to save her own life. True to form, she’s turned that experience into a platform. No stranger to revealing documentaries, her most recent series, HBO’s Being Serena, focuses in large part on her pregnancy, her terrifying birth complications and ultimately her dogged determination to master the extraordinary work/life challenge she has set out for herself.

She’s now equal parts GOAT and girlfriend: Her shout-out to working moms was rewarded with love, empathy, and surprisingly good advice — read the thread. It’s the intersectional dream: People may now be open to understanding the other parts of Serena’s experience because they feel connected to her parenting struggles.

Advantage: Inclusion.

She continues to raise important questions. Like so many black people, she’s a permanent suspect. She was “frustrated” to learn, by way of a Deadspin article, that she was being drug-tested more frequently than other professional tennis athletes. “I actually thought the article was interesting, to be honest, because I never knew that I was tested so much more than everyone else,” Williams told reporters at a pre-Wimbledon news conference.

“Equality, that’s all I’ve been preaching. It’s all about equality,” she said.

Except, maybe, in her work.

On Saturday, she fielded a question from the Telegraph’s Jamie Johnson, who paraphrased player Madison Keys and asked the champion whether it was “difficult” to always be “the one to beat.” Everyone she plays has to stretch to play at her level. Does she ever get sick of that?

She then unapologetically claimed her own ability in a sixty-second master class in owning your own strength.


“Every single match I play, whether I’m coming back from a baby, or surgery, or it doesn’t matter…these young ladies bring a game I’ve never seen before. It’s interesting because I don’t even scout as much. When I watch them play, it’s a totally different game than when they play me. That’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater.”

Now, go grace your Monday.

On Point

Letters from inside an immigration detention facilityThe stories are so bad, it’s hard to believe it’s all really happening. This piece from CNN is a recap of first-hand accounts from people being detained, particularly those separated from their children. “My son, I write these words with an immense pain in my heart for having you separated from me,” begins one. "They treated us so horribly, as though we were animals," said another. Click through for more reporting from ProPublica, including an interactive map of some 79 shelters across the country holding immigrant children.ProPublica

Neymar raises important questions about race in Brazil
Cleuci de Oliveira, a Brazil-based reporter for the New York Times, weighs in on a delicate and still evolving subject: The way Brazilians think, or don’t think about race. She examines the attitude of the clearly brown-skinned Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, the highly compensated Brazilian football forward, who once waved off a question about his experience with racism with this- “It’s not like I’m black, you know?” The question of racial identity and power continue to vex Brazil, whose football team reflects the diversity of the country, while those in positions of power do not. “In Brazil, however, the often admirable blurring of racial boundaries is a modern reality that — rather than stemming from colorblindness — is tainted with the sinister origins of state-sanctioned attempts to dilute, even dissolve, blackness,” she writes.
New York Times

The promised 100 million dollar investment fund is announced at the Essence Festival
Last week SheaMoisture founder Richelieu Dennis announced the eagerly anticipated $100 million fund for women entrepreneurs of color at the 2018 Essence Festival. The fund has already committed some $30 million to black women entrepreneurs. This piece from Black Enterprise confirms the tea leaves raceAhead had been reading: The tide may be turning for talented black women company founders. While still woefully underfunded, a new report from digitalundivided, reported here, found that some 34 black women raised over a million dollars in outside venture funding in 2017. The most successful fundraisers came from HBCUs.
Black Enterprise

Asian Americans on being “likeable” at work
Last month Harvard was forced to release court documents that seemed to show bias against Asian American applicants; specifically, that they consistently scored lower on subjective assessments like likeability and being “widely respected.” These subjective declarations are an ongoing nightmare for non-majority culture people in the workplace, but for Asian Americans, it’s fraught in very specific ways. Pavrithra Mohan and Anisa Purbasari Horton provide some essential context in this important read, then asked 17 Asian-American business leaders, many of whom preferred not to use their real names, how they deal with race at work. “I’ve worked really hard to be likable,” says Jason Shen, CEO of Headlight. “Being an athlete in college, I have found that to be very important.”
Fast Company

The Woke Leader

Memories from the Russian Gulag
Varlam Shalamov, a counter-revolutionary writer, spent fifteen years in the horrific Russian Gulag system, enslaved in one of the coldest, harshest gold mines known to exist. He was released in 1951 and began writing a decade later. This fragmented list of learnings from that experience belie a deep wound that clearly hadn't healed years later; the despair that he endured would be inspirational if it weren’t for the utter depravity of the reason for his imprisonment. Number one on this list: “The extreme fragility of human culture, civilization,” he writes. “A man becomes a beast in three weeks, given heavy labor, cold, hunger, and beatings.”
The Paris Review

A new exhibit of Indigenous women artists is transforming Canada
Think of it as an open-air, distributed installation. This summer, more than 160 billboards bearing images created by some 50 Indigenous women will be dotting the highways of Canada, an art exhibit that also functions as a journey into the indigenous experience. Resilience, the National Billboard Exhibition Project, launched in June, is a project of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. "To be taking space as Indigenous women was important to me," says Caroline Monnet, one of the participating artists, "to use these billboards to take space for Indigenous women and showcase some positivity of what is happening countrywide."

Challenge yourself to be a better ally
Tech policy expert Corey Ponder says that becoming a better ally is like acquiring any new skill – you need to practice it. The goal is not just to check a box with an activity, like passing a driver’s test, but to become better at the bigger goal, in this example, driving. “Becoming a better driver took time, practice, honesty, confidence, and accountability for results,” he says. He recommends a 21-day plan to do just that. “I took an action every day focused on one of three things — watching or reading something new about allyship, privilege, bias, or identity, taking an action that placed me outside my comfort zone, and checking my blindspots,” he writes. Click through for ideas.


America must not be overwhelmed. Every effort to enact immigration legislation must expect to meet a number of hostile forces and, in particular, two hostile forces of considerable strength. One of these is composed of corporation employers who desire to employ physical strength (broad backs) at the lowest possible wage and who prefer a rapidly revolving labor supply at low wages to a regular supply of American wage earners at fair wages.The other is composed of racial groups in the United States who oppose all restrictive legislation because they want the doors left open for an influx of their countrymen regardless of the menace to the people of their adopted country.
Samuel Gompers, Founder AFL, 1924