Serena Williams was confronted with (and responded to) racism through social media. You can read all about it here.
The subtlety of racism
Racism is often subtle. And as such it comes out of people’s mouths in ways that we often don’t catch:
“You’re not really Black.”
“I hope the baby doesn’t get any darker.”
“You’re not like other Black people.”
and this one, to Serena Williams about her unborn child: “Let’s see what colour it has? Chocolate with milk?”
If you’re not a person of colour, you may consider these comments to be compliments, or cute. If you are a person of colour, you know that they are not.
How racism works
They are based in racism – a belief (that is systemic, global, and often unconscious) that results in the devaluing of people based on the amount of melanin in our skin: the darker, the less value. We learn this starting as very young children in covert and overt ways through comments like this, media representation, school curriculum, and many other ways including individual acts and words and by society’s systems and structures.
Racism is part of the fabric of societies worldwide, thanks to slavery and colonization. Being aware of what comments like this are actually saying is the first step in eradicating racism. In order to fight something, you have to be aware of what it looks and sounds like. Then we have to speak out against these comments, so we can shine a light on the fact that they are rooted in racism, and their impact. And the impact of any ism is real – whether it was intended or not.
The importance of allies
White allies are important in this work to end racism, because they are heard differently (this is the case for any ally of any group). Sadly, when someone of colour protests against racism, it is often met with silence or countered by “you’re too sensitive” or “you’re taking it too personally”. Not to suggest we shouldn’t always speak up, but doing so and pointing out racism as an ally is powerful and necessary.
What to do? Pay attention to the subtle ways people of colour are discounted – in media, in conversation, in images, promotion, and in comments (as some examples). And then gather your courage (like the words of Maya Angelou that Serena Williams chose) to help people rise.