Why We Need to Talk About the Serena Williams Cartoon

If you pay any attention to the news, you’ve probably seen the now-infamous Serena Williams cartoon drawn by Mark Knight. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this controversy, it all began with the US Open Women’s tennis finals that took place on Sept. 8 between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. Long story short: the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, penalized Williams with three code violations which ultimately cost her the championship title. The violation that Williams was initially charged with was for receiving additional coaching from her coach as he sat on the sidelines.

Williams passionately protested against this accusation and directly confronted Ramos, demanding he apologize for essentially dragging her reputation through the dirt by calling her a cheater. The two argued between games for the remainder of the match, during which Williams received the next two violations which caused her to lose the US Open. Unfortunately, Osaka’s victory was overshadowed by the controversy, and this is where Knight’s cartoon comes into play.

Mark Knight, a cartoonist for an Australian tabloid newspaper called The Herald Sun, depicted Williams throwing a fit on the tennis court. Her competitor is depicted in the background talking to the umpire as he implores, “Can you just let her win?”. So, what’s the issue exactly? What I’ve just described doesn't sound too horrible, right?

Well, this cartoon became a media spectacle due to its blatant racist nature. Williams’ facial features are overly accentuated, her hair is a wild mess, and her body is drawn severely out of proportion to the tennis player’s actual muscular and toned build. However, the woman in the background who is supposed to resemble Naomi Osaka (a Japanese Haitian woman) is depicted as a petite, light skinned, blonde woman calmly talking with the umpire.

This drawing of Serena is eerily similar to the racist cartoons drawn of black people dating back to the Jim Crow era. Knight refuses to apologize for his work because he claims that it has nothing to do with race or gender. He insists that he was purely depicting Williams’ “poor behavior on the court”. Knight reduced one of the most talented athletes in the world to an unbelievably insulting caricature and whether or not the artist can see it, racism is horrifically prominent in the drawing and has been seen by millions of people.

The sheer fact that an entire staff of people at The Herald Sun approved this cartoon for publication is a huge step back for the world in the fight against racism. This image has been seen around the globe and sends a message that it is okay for women of color to be represented in such a demeaning manner.

The “angry black woman” trope comes back in full force with this cartoon, and Osaka is completely white-washed to act as a stark dichotomy between the behavior of black versus white women. This image will live on forever, and will stand as a reminder that bigotry and racism is still well and alive in modern times. People of color have always been the victims of hatred sparked by racism, and they will face the same type of discrimination for the rest of their lives if we don't change.

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