Sloane Stephens’ Triumph is For All Black Girls Who Were Told They Couldn’t Do Something
On Saturday, Sloane Stephens, 24-year-old American Tennis Player, won her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open after besetting American Madison Keys.
What makes Stephens’ win so remarkable is up until a few weeks ago, basically no one in the Tennis world or the mainstream media was checking for her. The junior tennis prodigy has been plagued by injuries, inconsistent play, and losing her father in a car crash over the last five years of professional play.
But that clearly didn’t stop Stephens from working hard towards her goals.
After winning the Grand Slam title, Stephens thanked her mother, Sybil Smith, who is recognized as the best swimmer to ever attend Boston University, and the first African American to be recognized as first team Division I All-American. Clearly black girl excellence runs in their family.
During her press interview after winning the U.S. Open, Stephens talks about how when she was 11 years old, a coach told her mother she would be lucky to play D-II Tennis.
Not only is she playing professional tennis, she just won a Grand Slam title, proving she’s basically a boss.
Too often, black women and girls are told they can’t do something. Like author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her famous Ted Talk, We Should All Be Feminists, “We teach girls that they can have ambition, but not too much ... to be successful, but not too successful, or they'll threaten men.”
This is especially true for black women, and black women who work in predominantly white spaces, such as professional tennis.
Pop culture tells girls they can do anything in film, television, and advertising, but the reality too often is that girls, and black girls specifically, really can’t due to patriarchy and systemic racism that exists in the institutions we are trying to break through.
Girls are told everything is equal, but as they grow up they face challenges such as achieving equal pay, attending STEM-focused classes, being pushed towards marriage, and other shifts towards sexist culture.
How sexism and discrimination often plays out is much worse for black women than their white, Asian, and Latin counterparts.
In The Atlantic’s report, black girls are suspended at higher rates than white girls, and are also disciplined more harshly. “When a darker-skinned African-American female acts up, there’s a certain concern about their boyish aggressiveness, that they don’t know their place as a female, as a woman,” Lance Hannon, a Villanova sociology professor who’s conducted research on the issue, told The New York Times in 2014.
This sexism affects everything black girls do and are told, in direct contradiction to the “girl power,” “Alpha female,” and “Girls are equal to boys” dichotomy.
Thus, making Sloane Stephens’ achievements in Tennis, a white dominated sport until the Williams sisters’ triumph, even greater.
Stephens’ success shouldn’t be an anomaly or exist in a vacuum, but until we end sexist culture that makes girls, especially black girls, feel like they can’t achieve their dreams, we need to keep forcing our way into these spaces and make room for other black girls and women to stand with us.