In the fallout of the marred women's final of the U.S. Open between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, an Australian cartoonist has faced global backlash for a cartoon that has been called racist, sexist and inaccurate. Mark Knight, who draws for Melbourne's Herald Sun newspapers, faced immediate criticism on social media for his drawing of Williams as an angry black woman throwing a tantrum.
The Observer jumped on the story early, talking to Clay Jones and Rob Rogers about how the cartoon trafficked in old racial stereotypes. “We always draw people in a way to ridicule and demean, but this seems to dehumanize her,” Jones told the Observer. “If the ref was a sexist, this cartoonist took it even further.”
Rogers agreed, "[Knight] is using stereotypes from the Jim Crow era that most cartoonists try to steer away from today. Editorial cartoons are meant to push boundaries and be provocative, but that usually refers to the politics and the message. When the reader can’t get past the offensive caricature, the message has been lost and the cartoonist has failed.”
Over at the Washington Post, Michael Cavna went into a more depth on the historical reasons why the depictions of Williams were offensive: "Knight’s cartoon conjures up a range of such caricatures that were branded on memorabilia and popularized on stage and screen of the era, including the minstrel-show character Topsy born out of 'Uncle Tom’s Cabin,' as well as the title character in 1899’s 'Little Black Sambo.'"
Vox wrote about what others had noted, that the cartoonist had "white washed" Osaka, making her appear lighter-skinned and more blonde than she is in real life.
And as always, Mike Peterson's take on the whole sorry affair is worth reading.
Slate noted the controversy over Knight's cartoons was nothing new: looking back at other incidents of racism and sexism in the cartoonist's work, Rachel Withers wrote, " the cartoon is also embarrassingly illustrative of Australia’s backward attitudes toward race more generally, [with] its 'casual' racism."
We'll continue to add links as this conflagration grows in the news. Canadian cartoonist Michael deAdder, whose early take on the championship focused on the double standard applied to Williams by the line judge — and women in general by the sports governing body — was preparing to go on CNN International to discuss tennis and editorial cartooning.
In a viral gone wrong, the controversy over the Mark Knight cartoon turned into a wildfire as people and publications around the world jumped in to the fray.
Two reporters from the New York Times — Damien Cave, NYT Australia bureau chief, and NYT writer Rachel Swarns — held a well-informed and thoughtful livecast over on facebook, doing a good job of covering Australian media, the history of racially offensive tropes in cartoons, and contextualizing why so many people were (and were not) offended by this inflammatory cartoon. Scroll down and watch the exchange here.
As might be expected, Essence didn't hold back on its criticism of the racist and sexist cartoon.
Meanwhile, the Herald-Sun doubled down in backing their cartoonist, republishing the offending cartoon on the front page, and declaring the rest of the world a "Satire Free Zone." (Guess the Aussies never heard that satire was dead after 9/11.)
Finally, the Washington Post's Michael Cavna talked to a number of cartoonists about the pitfalls of racial stereotypes, and how to caricature someone accurately without resorting to lazy tropes. If you read nothing else about this international incident, click here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2018/09/13/a-racist-serena-williams-cartoon-went-viral-heres-how-to-caricature-her-the-right-way/?utm_term=.191080a8cd24