What Happened to Serena Williams at the U.S. Open Happens to Black Girls in School Every Day

Sep 12, 2018 12:00:00 AM

by ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson

Serena Williams, decidedly the greatest athlete of our generation, is no stranger to the obstacles of being a strong, Black woman. This past weekend at the U.S. Open in the final match between her and Naomi Osaka, Williams—who was competing for her 24th Grand Slam tournament win—was charged with three penalty code violations, contributing to her ultimate defeat and a victory for Osaka who became the first Japanese player in history to win a Grand Slam.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiBrForlj-k   There has been a lot of controversy over whether the chair umpire’s call was fair or not but there is one thing I know for sure, to navigate this world as a strong, Black woman is to navigate it with a bullseye on your back. And no place is this more clear than in our public schools. What happened to Serena Williams happens to Black girls in schools across this country every day. Black girls are punished, victimized and unsupported more than almost any other demographic in the United States. As a strong Black Woman and mother, I am charged with teaching my daughters about how to survive in America. My husband and I often review the “Black Girl Rules” with our daughters, a list of rules that have been passed down throughout history to Black girls everywhere.

A List of ‘Black Girl Rules’

  1. Smile.
  2. Don’t talk talk too loud.
  3. Don’t smack your lips.
  4. Don’t roll your eyes.
  5. Lose weight.
  6. Don’t wear “the wrong clothes” or its your fault if you get raped/sexually assaulted.
  7. Smile and don’t talk talk too loud.
  8. Don’t smile at grown men or its your fault if you get raped/sexually assaulted.
  9. Try to change your “ghetto” name.
  10. Don’t disagree with your teacher’s assessment of history and world events.
  11. “Talking back” gets your punished/policed or dead in America.
  12. There is no room for sadness or depression. Bury your feelings. No one cares about your trauma, except Jesus. But only tell Jesus in your prayers, on church Sundays, and then get over it.
  13. Everything you do is a reflection on all Black women. Don’t shame us in front of White people.
  14. Smile and don’t talk talk too loud.
  15. Be pretty but not too pretty. Otherwise, you are encouraging sexual abuse and harassment.
Honestly, there are too many “Black girl rules” for me to list. But my hope is as we reflect on what’s happened to Serena, and denounce it, we also look at the treatment of Black girls in schools. I hope that we figure out ways in which our schools can support beautiful sassy, smart, Black girls. In the words of another strong, Black woman, Nina Simone, I want my Black daughters “to know what it feels like to be free.”

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson is the mother of two free-spirited, strong-willed girls and has a husband who should be appointed a saint for co-existing in the madness that is their life. She writes on politics, education, current events and social justice. She is also a taco enthusiast, a proud member of the Bey-hive, and truly believes that she will be receiving her letter from Hogwarts any day now.

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