Dehumanizing

Cartoon that depicted Serena Williams with ‘sambo-like’ features widely denounced as racist

Serena Williams following her loss in the Women's Singles Finals match at the 2018 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on September 8, 2018. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

The creator of an editorial cartoon lampooning Serena Williams is widely being criticized as racist after the drawing portrayed the all-time tennis great with “sambo-like” features. But the cartoonist behind the images insists that his creation “had nothing to do with gender or race,” an assertion that has been met with derision and disbelief by critics.

Australian cartoonist Mark Knight has said that the drawing, which depicts a grotesque likeness of Williams stomping on her racket while an umpire tells a white woman across the net to just “let her win,” was meant only as a critique of Serena’s “poor behavior” during her U.S. Open final loss to Naomi Osaka on Saturday.

During the final, Williams had drawn controversy after she smashed her racket and accused a chair umpire of sexism after he docked her a game for a third code violation. But Knight’s characterization of Williams — complete with exaggeratedly large lips that were once typical of racist caricatures of black Americans — has prompted accusations from fellow cartoonists such as Ronald Wimberly, who said that the cartoon appeared to be intended “to dehumanize black and brown people by degrading their features into symbols of the subhuman.” Critics further suggested that the bizarre characterization of Osaka, who is dark-skinned, as a blonde white woman, was further evidence that the comic was racially motivated.

“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 U.S. Open, one of the grandest stages of professional sports,” wrote the National Association of Black Journalists in a statement.

The Herald Sun, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Melbourne tabloid in which the cartoon was published, has defended the cartoon and its creator from accusations of racism. But critics say that Murdoch’s News Corporation, the largest media company in Australia, is no stranger to race-baiting — and pointed to past cartoons that have drawn accusations of racism. Some of Knight’s other works published by the tabloid that have been denounced as racist include a drawing that showed African teens brawling and destroying public property in a subway station after a local politician banned Murdoch’s Sky News from train platforms.

Knight, who has since deleted his Twitter, has denied the accusations of racism, and chalked up the criticism of his comic to the world having “just gone crazy.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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