Despite that range, it is possible to discuss some common threads, beginning with Africa as a predominantly agricultural continent where between 65 and 80 percent of African women are engaged in cultivating food for their families. The centrality of agriculture influences the control of land and of labor by kin groups and clans, usually represented by male political and religious leadership. Africa had a high incidence of matrilineal descent, a social system that placed a woman and her female relations at the center of kinship and family, though male clan leaders influenced the arrangement of families through marriage.
But just so we're clear, this isn't just about how Williams' muscular physique sets her apart from her white counterparts. It's about the way black women -- world-class athletes or otherwise -- find themselves continuously othered and compared to white women, no matter what they do or how they look.
Williams has been breaking records and barriers in the tennis world since she first entered it as a teen, winning her 21st Grand Slam on Saturday. The crowd and commentators at the match laughed, while outlets like Yahoo!
On the surface, it may look like playful athletic ribbing, but these kind of incidents, coupled with the language so often used to describe Serena as an athlete, speak to a kind of dehumanization specific to black women. This isn't about the fact that Williams isn't tall, slim and a size two.
It's about the fact that she isn't white.
Rather than focusing on the body dysmorphic beauty standards of tennis, and the inherent sexism that drives it -- a piece I'd love to read -- the New York Times instead focused on the otherness of Serena Williams' body. Williams is simultaneously sexualized and caricaturized, othered and exoticized.
Her body is a representation of her athletic skill. But rather than being celebrated, it's been scrutinized mercilessly, turned into a kind of spectacle for white amusement, with painful parallels to Saartjie "Sarah" Baartman.
This goes beyond Williams' body. Not only is her womanhood consistently denied, her character is deemed as dominant, aggressive and arrogant. No matter her success, her intelligence or her graciousness, her humanity is consistently denied.
The racism inherent in the way people talk about Serena Williams' body is an important conversation to be had, but hopefully this will give way to a larger conversation about the broader racism that she faces as a black woman. Williams has beaten Maria Sharapova 17 times in a row, spanning over a decade.
Why aren't we talking about that?
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