Serena Williams is considered by many to be the greatest female tennis player of all time. Some might even argue she’s the greatest female athlete this world has ever seen. But despite her undeniable achievements, Williams has had to endure multiple instances of discrimination throughout her career, which often tap into archaic stereotypes about black women.
Most recently, the 23-time Grand Slam winner was subjected to horrific illiberal abuse by Romanian TV host, Radu Bancui, who compared her to an ape on live television.
“Serena Williams looks like those monkeys at the zoo with the red butt,” said Bancui, according to the National Council for Combating Discrimination (CNCD), a Romanian agency responsible for applying anti-discrimination laws. “If you put some pants over that butt, they look exactly as Serena Williams looks on the court.”
Bancui, a late-evening TV show host for B1 TV in Romania, was not fired for his vulgar comments. Instead, he was hit with a (pretty pathetic) €1,700—or $1,875—fine, according to Romanian news outlet Romania Insider.
The CNCD, however, was quick to condemn Bancui’s actions in a strongly worded press release. “Slavery was based, among other things, on comparing black people with monkeys,” read a rough translation of the release. “Consequently, such statements represent a form of extreme discrimination.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Williams has been subjected to this kind of blatant discrimination and se*sm. Just last year, Australia’s Herald Sun created a dero*atory caricature depicting Williams losing the 2018 U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka. The cartoon drew Williams as being large, having thick lips, and wild, upright hair. She’s seen jumping on her smashed racket in a fit of rage for losing the championship.
Next to her lies a discarded pacifier with a white umpire in the background telling Osaka, “Can you just let her win?” Back in 2015, right after Williams won the French Open, she was compared to an animal once again.
Vox reported that someone on Twitter claimed that Williams “looks like a gorilla, and sounds like a gorilla when she grunts while hitting the ball. In conclusion, she is a gorilla.” And another person described her as “so unbelievably dominant … and manly.” (Oh, and who could forget that time when Williams clapped back at those se*st comments from John McEnroe?)
These are just a few examples of the innumerable attacks Williams has endured throughout her career. Sadly, it’s something she’s become accustomed to. In an interview with rapper Common for The Undefeated, the athlete shared how her experience with discrimination began when she was just a little girl.
A particular incident sticks out in her memory, one that forced her to realize that being African American meant many people consider her to be different.
“One time I was playing, and these kids came up behind me while we were practicing and—I was probably, like, seven—they were calling me Blacky,” she said in the interview. “Me and Venus, they were like, ‘Blacky and Blacky.’ I remember thinking, ‘I don’t really care’—and that’s pretty crazy to think that at that age.”
It’s no secret that Williams has had the gauntlet thrown at her and not only survived but thrived. But the fact that she’s still subjected to these kinds of comments and insults on a regular basis in the year 2019 remains truly disheartening.