A cartoon depicting Serena Williams has sparked outrage on Twitter after it was compared with racist illustrations of the Jim Crow character and images of black people in the Sambo books from the early 20th century, Aljazeera reports.
Published in Herald Sun newspaper, the cartoon’s depiction showed the tennis star as overweight, big-lipped and bushy-haired, stomping on her tennis racquet at the US Open final against Naomi Osaka on Saturday.
During the game, Williams received a warning from the umpire for violating a rarely enforced rule against receiving coaching from the sidelines.
An indignant Williams emphatically defended herself, denying she had cheated. A short time later, she smashed her racquet in frustration and was docked a point. Williams protested that and demanded an apology from the umpire, who penalised her a game.
Williams went on to lose the championship match against Osaka.
In Mark Knight’s cartoon, the umpire is shown telling a blonde, slender woman – meant to be Osaka, who is actually Japanese and Haitian – “Can you just let her win?”
Speaking to ABC, Knight refused to apologise, saying, “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.”
The National Association of Black Journalists called the cartoon “repugnant”, adding, “not only does it exude racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams’ depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like.
“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”.
The Washington Post ran a searing post about the cartoon, calling it “racist” and reminiscent of the era of racial segregation in the US.
“Knight draws facial features reflecting the dehumanising Jim Crow caricatures so common in the 19th and 20th centuries,” Michael Cavna wrote.
While some people defended the cartoon, Knight faced a backlash on Twitter from figures including British author J.K. Rowling and filmmaker Tariq Nasheed, who said it draws on racist tropes of African-Americans.
“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,” said J.K. Rowling.
“This is a completely gross depiction of @serenawilliams. This classic Jim Crow era sexist/racist image does nothing but display the complete disrespect of the superstar and perpetuate the stereotype of an ‘angry black woman’ I am appalled,” wrote Jevin Hodge, the vice-chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.
Nasheed, an African American, said, “This is how @Knightcartoons and @theheraldsun in #Australia portrayed #SerenaWilliams in their publication today. And notice how they made #Osaka look like a white woman.
“This isn’t about ‘gender’. This is simply global anti-Black white supremacy.”
American civil rights activist Rev Jesse Jackson Sr wrote, “This despicable cartoon tried and failed to diminish the greatness and grace of @serenawilliams. Racism in any form is unacceptable. Push On @serenawilliams! #KeepHopeAlive!”
However, the executive chairman of News Corp Australia Michael Miller defended Knight, saying the criticism of his cartoon ‘shows the world has gone too PC’.