Why I'm Grateful for Serena Williams...But Even More Grateful For Her Haters


I happen to be a huge tennis fan but even if you aren’t one, chances are you still heard about the Women’s Finals between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka this past weekend. The controversy, the analysis, the sides taken. I am not going to analyze the whole thing here but I do have real gratitude for it. And the clincher is that I have gratitude for both sides of the controversy even though I have a clear opinion on which side of that line I stand.

Incase you didn’t hear about it, the essence of the story is that Serena Williams felt wronged by an accusation that she received coaching during the match and that led her to expressing her emotions around her frustration. This all led to pivotal penalties which we cannot blame the whole loss on but we can definitely blame momentum shifts and lost chances on.

In the end, there was the camp that believed Serena expressed herself rightfully and certainly no less than another man on the tennis court would have. (I am in this camp for sure.) And then there was the camp that questioned her “sportsmanship” and called her “hysterical.”

This post is really about why I think even the ones against Serena are ones I am grateful for but it stands to reason I should spend a moment expressing why I am with her so that you can understand how I use gratitude in my life in these seemingly less critical moments as well. (meaning that this does not really directly affect my life the way a personal drama would)

So let’s start with Serena.

I am grateful for a woman who displays so much athleticism, who models strength of body and character not only for women, but especially for women of color. When I see her on the court, I swell with pride and think about how as a child and a budding tennis player, I did not have those kind of role models. But think about all the young girls of color watching her and others now and how they then don’t have to rule out this grand achievement as a possibility in their own lives. I get tearful thinking about it.

Plus, she’s just a badass on the court, I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise.

So, on Saturday, when she was said to have “lost it” on the court, I did not see that. I saw a strong role model expressing herself. I saw her getting passionate about something she wanted so bad, and yes, even getting angry. (God forbid, a woman get angry!)

But after the match was over, even with my unsettled stomach and nerves on how the whole thing played out for her (and also for Naomi Osaka), that’s when the articles came pouring through.

And then the characterizations…that in my opinion reeked of racism and sexism.

I felt my blood pressure raising as I read and heard more about her “attacking” the umpire, about “how would she possibly explain this to her daughter,” etc. And so I too, felt my anger rising. I felt my own wounds of sexism and racism unfurling with each line. I felt angry for her and for all women of color who experience this treatment, not to mention the unacceptable and abhorrent racialized cartoon. I felt angry that still today, a male umpire could feel so threatened by a black woman speaking out (he has heard much worse from men with no such responses)

And so this is how gratitude comes in.

I was angry, I mean really angry.

And let’s just get the record straight. I am fine with being angry. It is a normal emotion.

But sometimes if the anger sits too long within me, it has the potential to transform into hostility and that could then affect anyone around me. So then, I know it’s time to do some serious work on it.

So, when I want the anger to move to a place where my emotions can sit within me more peacefully, I move to gratitude. Let me explain.

You see, I am still in opposition to that camp, the camp that characterizes Serena in the way that I described.

But I can stay rooted in my values, my beliefs and still, at the same time, move to gratitude.

So here’s how it went:

  1. Deep breaths first of all, deep cleansing breaths. It not only relaxes us, it brings in new life literally. It helps whatever is stuck to flow.

  2. Accept that I am really angry. And feel that anger as I breathe. Feel where it is in my body. Send breath and love to it. Yes, love. Because my job is to love whatever comes up within me.

  3. Once I accept it as a normal part of me, I can help it move and have gratitude that I am able to express my emotions. Gratitude that I have such passion. Grateful that this present situation is touching some wound for me. Because whenever we feel a strong emotion, some part of us, usually a wound, is needing to be tended to.

  4. And then once all that juicy love and gratitude starts flowing in with my breath, starts flowing to my anger, my body softens and I can literally sink in to the gratitude a bit deeper.

  5. So, now I can look for gratitude in the very thing that is causing me the anger. No, not gratitude for racism or sexism. I go deeper than that.

    Gratitude that this opinion about what Serena did evokes such passion for me.

    Gratitude that this opinion reminds me of the difficulty that she and all women of color face.

    Gratitude that she has reminded me the power of speaking up for yourself regardless, because that’s the only way things change.

    Gratitude that I have now tended to a wound that lies within me. I cannot deny it. And wounds only heal with nurturing loving care. If I neglect them, they will fester.

    Gratitude that I have now moved to a place of more peace so that I can actually act on my anger in a constructive way.

In the end, my gratitude not only moves my emotion, it moves me energetically. I have moved to higher ground within myself. I am still angry but my anger does not define me. Rather, it moves me to a deeper understanding of myself.

So thank you to all of you who are upset by Serena’s actions. I will not agree with you. But my anger has given the chance to seek gratitude and that is an act of resilience.

Gratitude is the salve I needed not to put my emotions away, but to tend to my emotions as I would a child who needed care.

And so I move through my day, staying true to how I feel and feeling love and acceptance for all that I am. And most importantly, gratitude that I am a feeling, emotional, passionate, upset, calm, grateful, aware woman of color.

All of this swims within me and I am grateful for every last drop.

Live well,

Tanmeet Sethi6 Comments