Cartoon of Serena Williams spurs up conflict of race, sexism

An Australian newspaper has been denounced as racist both at home and in the US over a cartoon depicting Serena Williams.

In a statement Tuesday, Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston said “the cartoon had nothing to do with gender or race.”

“A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage and the cartoon depicted that,” he said.

He was referring to the piece published by cartoonist Mark Knight Monday after the US Open final in which Williams had a dispute with the umpire over his alleged sexist treatment of her.

The cartoon showed Williams jumping up and down next to a broken racket and pacifier, with large exaggerated lips and nose reminiscent of racist depictions of Black people in the US during the Jim Crow era.

Williams’ opponent is depicted as a skinny blonde woman to whom the umpire is saying:”cant you just let her win?”

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The US based National Association of Black  journalists claimed “the cartoon was repugnant on many levels.”

“It only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams’ depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like,”the group said in a statement.

“The art of editorial cartooning is a visual dialogue on the issues of the day, yet this cartoon grossly inacurately depicts two women of color in the US Open, one of the grandest stages of professional sports.”

Angry Reaction

Knight an award winning cartoonist who has worked in Herald Sun for decades said that the cartoon did not attract significant criticism util it was picked up on Twitter by users in the US.

“Its been picked up by social media in the US and my phone has just melted down,” he said.

Criticism was voiced from within Australia however, where the furore comes after months of hand-wringing and criticism over the country’s attitudes toward race after a neo-Nazi was invited on air by a national broadcaster.

On Twitter, Australian author Benjamin Law compared headlines from American newspapers which “matter of factly” described Knight’s cartoon as racist to coverage within his country.

“Isn’t it a subjective call ,” he said. “Embarrassing to see the Herald Sun doesn’t realize that defending Knight’s cartoon supports the case swathes of Australian media is blind to its own racism.”

This isn’t the first time Knight’s work has been criticized in this manner.

A cartoon from 10th August  was widely denounced after it depicted faceless black figures destroying a Melbourne subway station , echoing a caricature of African gang crime in the city which is not supported by statistics.

Lack of representation

Unlike US, Australia isn’t as diverse. Non white-people make up over 23% of the population, and 11% of Members in the Congress are people of color. The voice of non-white people are also more prominent in the US media than Australia’s.

On Twitter, Australian musician  Eddie Perfect, based in the US, reflected on this difference after he received some criticism for calling out Knight’s cartoon.


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