When Black Celebrities Let Us Down

By Amari Mitchell
Serena WIlliams spoke with Dr. Camille Charles to a packed audience at Irvine Auditorium Wednesday night. I do not follow professional tennis, but I still joined in on the online ticketing frenzy that was to see Williams. Thee, Serena Williams was coming to Penn! I am supporter of black women, and I love to see us shine.


Dr. Charles’ questions ranged from her childhood experiences with her four older sisters to her reaction to the Indian Wells incident in 2001. But perhaps, I was most intrigued by Williams’ answer to her involvement in the #BlackLivesMatter movement on Twitter.  Now I don’t have the official quote, but Williams did mention the rise of violence inflicted on black bodies by the police. However, it ended along the lines of black lives matter and “all lives matter”. Her statement (although I can’t recall verbatim), was a bit of a letdown. I was hoping that Serena talked more in depth about the frequent killings of black men and women at the hands of the police, given her clout and her influence. Sadly, I was disappointed.


I, for one, have reached my limit of debating about why the #BlackLivesMatter is important. Our blood is literally on the streets at the hands of the state. I have yet to hear a plausible response as to why we shouldn’t be actively participating in a movement to stop that from happening. But yet, it seems to be a topic of controversy in a country that has given preference to its white inhabitants since its origins. Let’s not forget that no one was talking about how ‘all lives matter’, until after black women activists: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, founded the #BlackLivesMatter movement it in 2013 following George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin. The phrase is a reaction to millions of people around the world accepting that black people are unapologetically black.
So, why do you think Williams referenced “all lives matter”? Did you, too feel a tinge of disappointment by her remarks? Or, should we stop hoping/ wishing for black celebrities of this magnitude and influence to say more about the impact of #blacklivesmatter, when they offer a humdrum response? Influence like this can spur more in depth conversations in this country about progress and the change of judicial systems. As black celebrities such as Jesse Williams, Jamie Foxx and Selma director Ava Duvernay have come out in active support of #BlackLivesMatter others have either shied away from the conversation or continue to give a lackluster “all lives matter” response. For black people in this country, there needs to be a unified response to inflict real change. And it starts by all acknowledging the blatant disrespect and violent mistreatment of black bodies in this country.

All of this is not to downplay Serena’s impact in the white male-dominated sport of tennis. She has dealt with constant racial stress while on the court and at the hands of the media, but has proved time and time again that her talent is undeniable. There are little black girls that may now be willing to pick up a tennis racket because they are inspired by her greatness. For that, I will probably always respect her success as an athlete. Off the court, however, if one will claim to profess that black lives matter, we should hold them accountable to what that truly means.

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