Racism vs satire; Serena Williams’ cartoon tussle

A cartoon by Mark Knight, published in the Herald Sun tabloid on Tuesday depicted Serena Williams having a tantrum on the court at the 2018 US Open final after she lost to Naomi Osaka on Saturday.

Speaking on ABC, Knight said he had “no knowledge of those cartoons or that period” and he thought the said people were “making stuff up”. “I’m upset that people are offended, but I’m not going to take the cartoon down.”

“I can’t undraw the cartoon. I think people have just misinterpreted. Maybe there’s a different understanding of cartooning in Australia to America … It was a cartoon based on her tantrum on the day and that’s all it was.”

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The cartoon has been condemned by American civil rights activist Rev Jesse Jackson, British author JK Rowling and numerous sports broadcasters, journalists and activists. The depiction of Serena has been compared to the racist illustrations during the US Jim Crow era and Sambo cartoons.

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr, said the tabloid’s stance was unfortunate. It was “without consideration for the painful historical context of such imagery and how it can support biases and racism today”, she added. “Why wouldn’t a human being care about that?”

However, in response to the condemnation, an article was published by the Herald Sun where Knight claims the cartoon is “not about race”.

“The world has gone crazy,” he said. Knight further added the reaction on social media was “unfair”. “I tried to reply to these people but they just don’t listen.”

“On any given day you are a hero and on any given day you are a pariah. And you just have to live with it.”

Editor of the newspaper, Damon Johnston, also defended Knight and said “A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage, and Mark’s cartoon depicted that,” Johnston said. “It had nothing to do with gender or race.”

National Association of Black Journalists said the cartoon was “repugnant”. “The Sept 10 cartoon not only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams’ depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like,” the association said. “The art of editorial cartooning is a visual dialogue on the issues of the day, yet this cartoon grossly inaccurately depicts two women of colour at the US Open, one of the grandest stages of professional sports.”

Williams had a verbal conflict with chair umpire Carlos Ramos during the US Open final where she accused him of being a ‘cheat’ and ‘thief’ for docking her a point after being handed a code violation for coaching – which is not permitted under the rules. She later claimed that such treatment would not have been met out to her male counterparts which has resulted in debates on sexism and racism.

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