In an interview with the rapper Common, tennis sensation Serena Williams spoke about the impact gender and race had on people’s perceptions of her as an athlete, arguing, “if I were a man, I would have 100 percent been considered the greatest ever a long time ago.”
Williams said she avoided a lot of scrutiny by ignoring stories about herself in the press. “I feel like I definitely was scrutinized because I was confident,” Williams told her former boyfriend. “I was black and I was confident. And I am black and I am confident. But I would say, ‘I feel like I can be No. 1.’ Well, why shouldn’t I say that? If I don’t think I’m going to be the best, why do I play?”
“I think if I were a man, I would have been in that conversation a long time ago,” she said. “I think being a woman is just a whole new set of problems from society that you have to deal with, as well as being black, so it’s a lot to deal with — and especially lately. I’ve been able to speak up for women’s rights because I think that gets lost in color, or gets lost in cultures. Women make up so much of this world, and, yeah, if I were a man, I would have 100 percent been considered the greatest ever a long time ago.”
Williams said it’s difficult to stay surfing in the face of criticism, but noted it’s important to avoid reacting and giving critics “the satisfaction” they crave.
“It’s very challenging because sometimes when things are blatantly wrong and blatantly unfair and blatantly racist or sexist, I just have to go and put on a brave smile and not let anyone know how I feel on the inside so they don’t get that satisfaction even though on the inside I would be dying,” Williams said.
Watch the entire interview below, via the Undefeated: