Serena Williams Subject of Controversial Cartoon

By: Rachel Hess Wachman (Correspondent)

After Serena Williams, a world famous tennis player, argued with the umpire over a rarely enforced violation at the U.S. Open on Saturday September 8th, an Australian newspaper printed a controversial cartoon of Williams that has been labeled by many as both racist and misogynistic.

The cartoon by Mark Knight, which debuted early last week in the Herald Sun and was later republished on the September 12 cover, features Williams as a furious, overweight black woman in a fit of rage stomping on a tennis racket, her mouth open wide with huge lips and a head of frizzy hair. The depiction bears resemblance to depictions of black people during the Jim Crow era. This portrayal of the black female tennis player, who has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and plays tennis in the name of racial equality, has been condemned by people across the globe.

“I feel it’s grossly disrespectful to both her as a woman, to both her as a champion, and as a human being, specifically as a black woman,” said Mr. Steven Banno, a Sharon High School history teacher. Banno says that there are thousands of ways to draw a cartoon, but the fact that the cartoonist chose to depict Serena Williams as he did is indicative of racist elements.

“I think it could really easily be taken as racist but it probably wasn’t intended to be,” said Lindsay Resca, a junior. Resca said she found the Herald Sun’s choice to republish the cartoon on the front page provocative, especially after the first publication of the cartoon created such controversy.

After numerous people attacked Mark Knight and his cartoon on Twitter, Knight deleted his Twitter account. Serena Williams’ husband, Alexis Ohanian Sr., tweeted that the cartoon is “blatantly racist and misogynistic,” staunchly defending his wife. The Herald Sun has refuted claims of racism and sexism, throwing full support behind Knight’s cartoon.

The cartoon builds the contrast between Serena Williams as a angry large black woman and Naomi Osaka as a skinny blond girl, says Ms. Courtnay Malcolm, another Sharon High School history teacher. In reality, Osaka is biracial: half Haitian, half Japanese. “Who is the perfect woman? Who is emblematic of the good woman, the good girl as opposed to the bad girl?” Malcolm asked. The contrast is historically racist, she says.

Malcolm says as soon as she saw the cartoon she was reminded of Jim Crow drawings. Both Malcolm and Banno are teachers of Advanced Placement United States History, teaching extensively about racism in historical contexts.

Knight’s choice to whitewash Osaka, a minority, reverts back to the white beauty standard, a problem in itself, says Banno.

The cartoon would still have the same impact regardless of race, says junior Eddy Bielawa. The cartoon is “not trying to focus on her race. What’s going on is that the artist is trying to focus on Serena reacting in a not very appropriate way to the given situation.” said Bielawa, referring to Williams breaking her tennis racket after the argument with the umpire. Bielawa says he does not find the cartoon racist.

Serena Williams has faced adversity before. In 2001 during the BNP Paribas Open tournament Williams and her sister, Venus Williams, were subjected to racial slurs by spectators. In 2015 someone tweeted on Twitter that Williams resembled an gorilla. Others have commented on her “manly” appearance.

Banno says there are red flags raised by the cartoon through its stereotypical depictions. “What I think the cartoon ultimately does is cheapen the humanity of both.”

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