Common and Serena Williams have both been recognized as pillars of excellence in the mainstream and African-American community for almost 20 years. They understand what it means to overcome the odds while being reared in their respective cities of Chicago's Southside area and Compton, California.
Common has made a career addressing interracial and intra-racial issues in his music, including in his critically-acclaimed 11th studio album Black America Again released last month. Williams has faced many instances of covert and blatant racism in her neighborhood and from crowds at grand slam tournaments in the white-dominated sport of tennis.
On Sunday night, the two former lovers had a sitdown for ESPN's The Undefeated In-Depth: Serena with Common to discuss the dynamics of race, gender, fame, and sports. Williams talked about how she came from humble beginnings and was under the tutelage of her father Richard Williams per his effort for her and her sister Venus Williams to avoid the ever-present gang life and rampant street violence of her neighborhood.
Read some highlights of their conversation below.
Serena Williams' Father Helped Her Understand Racism Early On in Her Life and Career.
- When Serena was a child learning how to play tennis, she usually only saw white players on the local tennis courts in her neighborhood. It didn't cause her to feel uncomfortable being one of the few black players on the same courts. One time, a white kid called her "blackie" several times, and she didn't feel any anger. Although, now that she is older, she says that she would be angrier in reaction if she were to hear the same thing today per her education on race matters.
- In 2001, Serena and her sister Venus were set to play at the revered Indian Wells Masters in Indian Wells, California. Serena and Venus made it to the semifinal round, and Venus' opponent Elena Dementieva has jokingly accused the sisters' father and coach, Richard Williams, of dictating and fixing the matches. Just four minutes before the match against Dementieva, Venus backed out of her semifinal match against due to a tendonitis injury. This led to boos from the crowd upon her backing out of the match.
Venus denied in a press conference later that day that her father advised her to back out and he wasn't actually a dictator. But when Serena advanced to the final round against Kim Clijsters, she faced resounding boos as well. In a 2009 interview with ESPN about the boos Serena heard, she stated that she felt "the undercurrent of racism was painful, confusing and unfair," and that she "suddenly felt unwelcome, alone and afraid." She then boycotted the Indian Wells tournament for 14 years.
- Richard Williams once stated to her the importance of knowing her black heritage, "You have to know your history. If you know your past, you'll have a great future."
Serena Would Rather Have Girls Than Boys for Children Due to Police Shooting Innocent Black Males.
- Serena stated that she always wanted boys if she were to ever become pregnant. Although, due to the rise of police murdering innocent black males and several cases of the shooters being acquitted in court, Serena's feelings have now changed to she would rather have girls to mitigate the risk of her children being pulled over while driving or being senselessly murdered by police.
- Serena and Common discussed how things have changed in the past 10 years. She revealed in a Facebook post earlier this year that she has a 18-year-old nephew and fears for his safety in 2016. To her, it's unfortunate that she has to discuss the tactics of how to be cooperative if he ever got pulled over by police, and how that it is a shame she must do this today.
Common and Serena Talk Gender in Sports.
- Common asked Serena if she thinks it's ironic that she is a black person and a female who is now being put in the conversation of the greatest athlete ever. Her response was, "I think if I was a man, I would have been in that conversation a long time ago, like six or seven years ago."
- When asked about her body, Serena addressed being ostracized about her body which is not thin. She even stated she battled self-esteem issues due to her physique of her muscular arms and full backside unlike many of her white female counterparts.
But she said that her body has allowed her to do great things to become the superior athlete she is today. She even stated, "If you don't like it, I don't want you to like it." Her body type is popular in female culture today, but she says "it took a long time to get there."
Serena May Be Superior, But She Doesn't Like to Be Called the Greatest of All Time.
- Serena cites that humility is her biggest asset that drives her to victory. She claimed that she doesn't allow herself to be called "the G.O.A.T." because she doesn't allow herself to be swayed towards complacency in any way. Williams said, "You will never hear me say 'I'm the greatest.'"
She Has Only Two Fears.
- The tennis legend claims to be fearless on the court, but only gets somewhat nervous before matches.
- Despite being head and shoulders above most of her competition, she is fearful of heights and frogs. You won't be seeing her hanging around ponds or in the woods anytime soon.
You can watch the full interview here.