Serena Williams picks up her broken racket. (Photo by Jaime Lawson/Getty Images for USTA)
Serena Williams picks up her broken racket. (Photo by Jaime Lawson/Getty Images for USTA)

Serena cartoon draws fire in US and Australia

AN American political editor has explained why he believes an Australian cartoonist's depiction of Serena Williams was racist - regardless of intent.

Dr Jason Johnson, who is also a professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University, suggested the Herald Sun's Mark Knight was aware he'd drawn Williams as a "brooding, big-lipped, almost ape-like" figure and that it was unnecessary in his endeavour to highlight her bad behaviour at the US Open.

"If the cartoon was purely about bad behaviour I don't see why she had to be depicted the way she was. You can have her jumping up and down, whining, crying, whatever - that's typical for sport … you can depict people as sore losers," Dr Johnson told Melbourne's 3AW.

But Knight defended his cartoon saying the reaction was a "world gone crazy,"

"It's a cartoon about poor behaviour. It's nothing to do with race. I drew this cartoon on Monday night, I saw the world's greatest tennis player spit the dummy."

But Johnson said Knight's explanation failed to take into account the history of the way black people had been represented in America.

"But to depict her in this large, brooding way - even for a cartoonist - is reminiscent about (how) black women in America and black women's bodies (have been racially portrayed in the past) - especially in comparison to Naomi Osaka who in the back corner is drawn as this lithe, possibly white, looking woman.

"I understand Mark Knight is Australian, consequently his understanding of racial depictions might not be the same as they are in the United States, but I also think as a cartoonist who is writing about an international incident and international figure, I don't buy that he was completely oblivious to how his work would be perceived either.

"There is a long history in the United States and abroad of depicting African-Americans as less than human. Certainly black women as being broodish and certainly not in any shape, way or form feminine." 

The cartoon shows a furious Williams stomping on her racket with a baby's dummy on the court beside her. In the background chair umpire Carlos Ramos is seen asking her opponent Naomi Osaka, "Can you just let her win?".

Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston backed Knight. "A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage, and Mark's cartoon depicted that," he said. "It had nothing to do with gender or race."

Dr Johnson argued it didn't matter what Knight's intention was. If his cartoon was received as racist, it was racist.

"Regardless of what his intention was, the way it was received is legitimate as well," he said. "He can claim until the cows come home that he didn't intend this to be at all racist - maybe that wasn't his intent - it doesn't mean it wasn't.

"I can tell a joke that I think is funny. If the entire audience says I find this joke to be offensive, I can't turn around and say 'well … I don't care how you receive it because that wasn't my attention'. The receipt is almost as important as the intention of art.

"That's not a caricature that was necessary to depict her behaviour was ill-tempered."

Serena Williams slams her racket on the court. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Serena Williams slams her racket on the court. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The picture - which Knight tweeted out on Monday after Williams' meltdown in the US Open final - has sparked an intense reaction.

Everyone from author JK Rowling to rapper Nicki Minaj to Aussie comedian Eddie Perfect was critical, while US sports writer Julie DiCaro wrote, "Where was this cartoon for all the men who have broken their rackets over the years?".

Her reply drew a swift response from Knight.

"Well Julie here's a cartoon I drew a few days before when Australian male tennis player Kyrgios at the US Open was behaving badly," he wrote.

"Don't bring gender into it when it's all about behaviour. I'll accept your apology in writing."

Knight later explained his thinking in a separate interview on 3AW.

"The world's gone crazy," Knight said. "It's a cartoon about poor behaviour. It's nothing to do with race.

"I drew this cartoon on Monday night, I saw the world's greatest tennis player spit the dummy.

"She's great to draw, she's a powerful figure, she's strongly built.

"I'm sorry it's been taken by social media and distorted so much.

"I've tried to reply to these people but they don't listen."



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