Skip to main content

Racist Cartoon of Serena Williams Slammed by Critics

The athlete was drawn like a 19th century stereotype of black women.

There's been a great deal of debate over Serena Williams' loss in the U.S. Open this weekend to Naomi Osaka, with some arguing that the penalties leveled on her by umpire Carlos Ramos were merited, and others arguing they were the result of his racial blindness. While I stand on the latter side, I have read excellent articles arguing for the fairness of those penalties in outlets like Slate and The New Yorker, so this is far from a settled issue. What is not debatable is the appalling racism of Australian Herald Sun Mark Knight's cartoon of the match:

Knight depicts Williams as a crying baby, illustrating her with features that have bedeviled artistic renderings of black women for more than 200 years: big lips, an oversized nose, and frizzy hair. Historically, it combines the stereotypes of Mammy, the Southern matriarchal slave (and namesake for Hattie McDaniel's Oscar-winning role in Gone with the Wind), and Golliwog, a popular black children's doll at the end of the 19th century. Knight also chose to whitewash Williams' Haitian-Japanese opponent, Naomi Osaka, depicting her as a blonde white woman. (Both Williams and Osaka have yet to comment on the cartoon.)

News Corp Australia, which owns the Herald Sun, is infamous for encouraging these kinds of stereotypes in their cartoons. Amidst the 2016 revelations of the Northern Territory's inhumane treatment of imprisoned Aboriginal children, cartoonist Bill Leak published a racially insensitive cartoon depicting the situation. Although he was criticized for it by aboriginal groups, a leaked email from News Corp's Campbell Reid revealed that he thought it was "The best thing I have read this week," accompanied by a quote from George Orwell saying, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." 

This isn't Knight's first time stereotyping African-Americans. Last month, after Victorian Labor MP Jacinta Allan banned Sky News Australia (also owned by News Corp) from airing in their metro trains, he drew her standing on a train platform while anonymous blacks rioted behind her.  

"I will call out all bad behaviour wherever I see it whatever the colour," Knight tweeted at the time. He might as well have said he "didn't see" color. So far, the response to his latest cartoon has been overwhelmingly negative. 

Knight tried responding to one of his critics by posting a cartoon he'd drawn of tennis player Nick Kyrgios, but it proved an unsatisfactory response:

Cartoonists have always fought for freedom of expression, even dying for it, as the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in 2015 did. But while freedom of expression is the hallmark of a functional society, so is the right to tell people when they have overstepped their boundaries. In depicting himself as the put-upon victim of people's sensitivities, Knight is no better than people like Milo Yiannopoulos, who flash their victim cards to deflect the well-deserved criticism that comes their way. And his cartoon proves that stereotypes which should have gone the way of the dinosaurs are still alive and well in some parts of the world.