Australian political cartoon of Serena Williams is racist, sexist

World famous tennis player Serena Williams (pictured above) was the subject of a controversial political cartoon following an altercation with Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos at the 2018 U.S. Open Final. The cartoon by Mark Knight reflects poorly on both cartoonists and female athletes (si.robi/creative commons).

Renowned tennis player Serena Williams recently faced off with Naomi Osaka in the 2018 U.S. Open Final. Williams was hoping to receive her 24th Grand Slam tournament win, while Osaka hoped to become the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam. 

In the end, things did not end well for either, resulting in a public backlash and a newspaper cartoon that poorly represents both players.

During the match, Chair Umpire Carlos Ramos penalized Williams three times: once for coaching, a second time for racket abuse and a third time for abuse of an official. The latter penalties resulted in Williams losing a point and, in the end, the game. 

Williams’s first violation acted as a catalyst for the other two because she felt Ramos was being unfair in his calls. In response to the umpire, Williams exchanged several words with him including, “I have never cheated in my life,” “You owe me an apology” and “you stole a point from me,” according to Vox

Williams’s comments and behavior during the game caused much public controversy. In particular, Australian cartoonist Mark Knight published an extremely racist comic of Williams in the Herald Sun

The cartoon depicts Williams as a grotesque figure with enlarged facial features such as her nose and lips. In addition, it shows Williams having a temper tantrum by jumping on her tennis racket and spitting out a pacifier. Not only is the depiction of Williams inaccurate, but the illustration of her opponent Naomi Osaka and umpire Carlos Ramos is as well. 

Naomi Osaka is half-Japanese and half-Haitian while Carlos Ramos is Portuguese; Knight white washes both of them, according to The Washington Post. For example, he gives Osaka blonde hair, lighter skin and makes both figures very thin in comparison to Williams.

Additionally, the caricature of Williams is racist through its connection to minstrel show characters during the Jim Crow period such as Topsy from Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the main character of Little Black Sambo. 

Furthermore, the cartoon of Serena Williams is similar to other racial cartoons of African American athletes, such as boxing champions Joe Louis and Jack Johnson who were depicted as being extremely dark with stereotypical features.

The cartoon never should have been approved, especially considering all the recent attention to the treatment of famous women.

Beyond the racist aspect of the caricature, Knight’s depiction was also sexist. Many other male athletes have behaved similar to, if not worse than, Williams on and off the field. Yet when male athletes show poor sportsmanship or curse out referees, they are rarely depicted in the media as tantrum-throwing-babies.

This is not the first time that Knight has been criticized for his poor illustrations of African Americans, according to The Washington Post. In an article published about train safety, Knight portrays several faceless black figures acting chaotic in the background.

In response to the backlash the Herald Sun faced for publicizing this cartoon, they published another article defending Knight entitled “WELCOME TO PC WORLD.” 

“If the self-appointed censors of Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed,” the article stated. 

Instead of apologizing, Knight claims that the world has gone “crazy,” as reported by The Washington Post.

Although it is a caricature, which often depicts people as having disproportionate features and other satirical imagery, many other cartoonists and comic strip artists have discussed the various ways in which Williams could have been depicted. 

For example, Knight could have focused on Williams’s other key features such as her cheekbones, eyebrows and overall facial structure to avoid creating a stereotypical image.

Comic strip caricatures are creative ways to emphasize satirical points. To avoid unintentional misconceptions, however, cartoonists should take into consideration other factors when drawing non-white characters.