Australian artist Mark Knight from the Herald Sun drew a heavily racialized political cartoon of Serena Williams after the tennis legend was hit with $17,000 worth of fines when playing Naomi Osaka during the final match at the U.S. Open.
Knight depicted Williams with a pacifier, stomping on her racket with exaggerated lips and arms and wild hair. In the background, a white referee asks a blonde white player if she can let Williams win even though Williams’ opponent Osaka is Haitian and Japanese. Not only is this drawing akin to Jim Crow era cartoons meant to dehumanize black people, but is also inaccurate.
"I don't know how you draw an African-American person by not making them look like an African-American person." The artist behind the Serena Williams cartoon that many are calling racist is not backing down. https://t.co/eOczsXEhur pic.twitter.com/kaMH0DAR5L
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 11, 2018
Knight argued that his caricature had nothing to do with Williams’ race and everything to do with the verbal confrontation she had with the referee. Williams was first fined $4,000 after being accused by the referee of receiving coaching during a professional game. Williams denied these claims because she didn’t see the illegal hand gestures her coach was giving her.
In response to these serious accusations and the accompanying fine, Williams confronted referee Carlos Ramos leading to a $10,000 fine for “verbal abuse” and broke her racket in the heat of the moment, which lead to an additional $3,000 fine. Williams claims her frustration stemmed from the double standard that male white players, who have also broken their rackets and yelled at referees, have never been as severely penalized as she was at the U.S. Open.
“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things,” said Williams, according to The Independent. “He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief.’”
Serena Williams says she is sticking up for women's rights in press conference after Controversial & Heated Ump Exchange in Loss at US Open to Naomi Osaka
"I'm here fighting for women's rights and for women's equality."@6abc#serena #USOpen #serenawilliams pic.twitter.com/Fqz0G4jiQM
— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) September 9, 2018
Many public officials in and out of the world of professional sports denounced Knight’s cartoon, including best-selling author J.K. Rowling and tennis icon and activist Billie Jean King. Others in the journalism community, such as The National Association of Black Journalists, called the cartoon “repugnant,” according to The Guardian.
The most shocking quote came from Knight himself who defended his drawing by saying, “people said I’m a racist because I drew Serena as an African American woman.” Knight continued, “I drew her as this powerful figure, which she is, she’s strongly built. They say I’m racist because I drew Naomi Osaka in the background with blond hair. Well, she does have her hair dyed blond.”
Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop. https://t.co/YOxVMuTXEC
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 10, 2018
In response to the building controversy, The Herald Sun stood by its cartoonist and published all of its controversial political cartoons on their front page with the headline “Welcome to PC World.” This decision sent a message to news outlets everywhere – objective reporting has become too ‘politically correct’ and must be cast aside unapologetically.
That being said, the articles published by The Washington Post, The New York Times, CBS News, Newsweek and many other established outlets show that Jim Crow era cartoons do not fit in with the standards of reputable and responsible journalism.