How Serena Williams Fought Racism and Sexism to Beat the Wage Gap

Serena Williams
Photo: Getty Images

Yesterday, July 31, was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, the date that marks the end of an extra seven months black women need to work in able to make what white men did in 2016. The gender pay gap is alive and kicking, and it hits black women the hardest, forcing them to make 63 cents for every dollar their peers do.

We have a long way to go in addressing this injustice, among hundreds of other inequalities women and people of color face—but one tactic that goes a long way is when celebrities speak out to shine a light on issues like these. Serena Williams did us all a favor yesterday when she penned an essay for about how black women can close the pay gap (not that the onus should fall on them).

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In the piece, Williams invokes her own experiences facing discrimination as she climbed the ranks to become the world’s best female tennis player: “Growing up, I was told I couldn’t accomplish my dreams because I was a woman and, more so, because of the color of my skin. In every stage of my life, I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself and speak out. I have been treated unfairly, I’ve been disrespected by my male colleagues and—in the most painful times—I’ve been the subject of racist remarks on and off the tennis court,” she writes.

She also acknowledges that she’s achieved success in spite of her gender and skin tone, with advantages that many other black women don’t have to help them fight inequality: “I am in the rare position to be financially successful beyond my imagination. I had talent, I worked like crazy and I was lucky enough to break through. But today isn’t about me. It’s about the other 24 million black women in America. If I never picked up a tennis racket, I would be one of them; that is never lost on me.”

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Williams says that in spite of the very real wage gap black women face, some still remain hopeful: More than 43 percent of black millennial women believe men and women have equal opportunities for promotion, according to a poll she and SurveyMonkey partnered up to execute.

And while it’s better to have some optimism than none, Williams emphasizes the importance of facing up to the realities so that we can instigate change and help black women win back the 37 cents they should be making. “Changing the status quo will take dedicated action, legislation, employer recognition, and courage for employees to demand more,” she writes. “In short, it’s going to take all of us. Men, women, of all colors, races and creeds to realize this is an injustice. And an injustice to one is an injustice to all.”