Australian cartoonist hits back over criticism of 'racist and sexist' Serena Williams sketch




 

An Australian cartoonist has defended a sketch of Serena Williams described as racist and sexist saying "I don't know how you draw an African-American person by not making them look like an African-American person"

Mark Knight faced a fierce online backlash over the cartoon, published in Melbourne's Herald Sun on Monday, showing a butch and fat-lipped Williams throwing a temper tantrum at the US Open.

Critics said the sketch drew on historical racist caricatures of African Americans, but in an interview with CBS News on Tuesday Mr Knight said: "When I drew that cartoon, I wasn't thinking of racial politics in America. I simply saw the world number one player having a dummy spit."

He added: "I'm not going to say I'm not going to draw that because it's a no-go area".

The Herald Sun's editor, Damon Johnston, leaped to his cartoonist defence saying the sketch "rightly mocks poor behaviour by a tennis legend".

Mr Knight closed down his social media accounts on Tuesday after facing withering criticism from more than 20,000 online commentators over the image.

British author JK Rowling added her voice to the chorus, tweeting: "Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop."

The editor of an Australian newspaper has defended publishing a cartoon of Serena Williams after a fierce online backlash condemned the image as racist and sexist.

The cartoon, published in Melbourne's Herald Sun on Monday, showed a butch and fat-lipped Williams throwing a temper tantrum at the US Open which critics said deployed racist stereotypes.

Damon Johnston, the paper's editor, defended cartoonist Mark Knight saying the sketch "rightly mocks poor behaviour by a tennis legend", adding "Mark has the full support of everyone".

Mr Knight has denied the cartoon is racist or sexist but closed down his social media yesterday/TUES after facing withering criticism from more than 20,000 online commentators.

British author JK Rowling added her voice to the chorus, tweeting: "Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop."

Williams sparked controversy over her conduct in Saturday's final against Haitian-Japanese player Naomi Osaka when she smashed her racquet and called the umpire a "thief" and a "liar".

Williams was given three code violations, earning her a point penalty and then a game penalty which gave Osaka a 5-3 second-set lead that effectively gifted her the title.

The penalties stirred a debate in the tennis world over double standards toward men and women in the sport.

In Mr Knight's cartoon, Williams can be seen jumping up and down with a broken racquet next to a baby's dummy as the umpire asks Osaka "can't you just let her win?".

Mr Knight, who has a reputation for controversial cartoons, was pilloried from far and wide for his portrayal - including by a number of US media outlets.

In a searing piece, The Washington Post's cartoonist Michael Cavna said the "racist" sketch was reminiscent of the "vile imagery" popularised during the era of racial segregation in the US.

"Knight draws facial features reflecting the dehumanizing Jim Crow caricatures so common in the 19th and 20th centuries," Mr Cavna wrote.

Others pointed out that Osaka, who is mixed race, was portrayed as a petite and feminine white woman with jet blonde straight hair. In fact, Osaka has dark curly hair and is taller than Williams.

America's National Association of Black Journalists called the cartoon "repugnant on many levels".

"[It] not only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams' depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like," the organisation said in a statement.

The Story of Little Black Sambo was a 19th Century children's book which featured derogatory racial depictions such as characters with thick red lips.

The cartoonist initially responded to the criticism by stating he had "no knowledge of those cartoons or that period", saying on Tuesday that "the world has just gone crazy".

He pointed out that he had drawn an unflattering portrayal of Australian male tennis star Nick Kyrgios "behaving badly".

"Don't bring gender into it when it's all about behaviour," he said, but by noon on Tuesday he had closed down both his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Mr Knight was also accused of racism last month for a cartoon on train station safety which showed faceless black figures fighting in a Melbourne subway.

The publishers of the Melbourne's Herald Sun, Australia's most-read newspaper, also defended the cartoonist saying "the world has gone too PC".

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