Serena Williams: Cartoonist’s Sketch Shows Racism is Still Alive and Well

This past weekend, the U.S. Open and tennis, in general, saw one of its darkest days in what should have been one of its most beautiful. As many inside and outside the sports world know, Naomi Osaka defeated Serena Williams on the women’s side of the U.S. Open tournament. However, marring Osaka’s shining moment was very suspect officiating by umpire Carlos Ramos. Williams and Ramos would get into it more than once as Ramos would cite Williams on multiple penalties, including coaching. Williams also received a penalty for smashing her racquet.

Although you can find fault with how both Williams and Ramos handled themselves, nobody could have predicted what would ensue. The end result was a media firestorm with many different narratives and point of views ranging from sexism in tennis to Serena just being a sore loser.

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On Monday morning, a cartoon sketch began circulating on Twitter. The cartoon sketch was from Australian cartoonist Mark Knight. Knight is the editorial cartoonist for the Herald Sun in Melbourne. The picture depicts Serena Williams as a crybaby jumping up and down on her racquet. In the background is the umpire on his chair talking to her opponent (supposedly Osaka) with the quote “Can you just let her win?” Now just based off of that description the cartoon doesn’t seem so bad. However, if you take a second to look at the picture honestly, then you will get a better understanding of what makes it so problematic.

For starters, Serena is drawn very similarly to racist caricatures of black people from the not so distant Jim Crow Era. The distinct big lips are a huge giveaway. On top of that, it is incredibly disrespectful. She is depicted as an ape or something of a similar physical build. Knight does draw a fair amount of his cartoons in caricature form, this particular one just felt and looked different. Serena Williams has been subjugated to unfair treatment from the media and tennis fans in the past. The seemingly random but often drug tests she has to face and the fact that many make jokes about her being more masculine than feminine.

Another thing of note in the picture was the drawing of Naomi Osaka. Osaka is of Haitian and Japanese descent. She was drawn to be what appears to be a white woman with blonde hair. Comparing a picture of Osaka and the character that is supposedly her in the cartoon, you can see the whitewashing. Take a look at the way Osaka was drawn in comparison to Williams. The character that depicts Osaka looks to be the body type Osaka is in real life. Williams does have a bigger build than Osaka. But it is nowhere near as obscene and drastic as that which is shown in the cartoon sketch.

SERENA WILLIAMS AND THE FALLOUT OF THE SKETCH

Many high-profile figures including Bernice King and J.K. Rowling have spoken out against the sketch. Knight deleted his twitter amid the backlash that his portrayal drew. As an African-American myself it was very disheartening but not surprising that there were a good amount of people in support of the Knight and the cartoon. The fact that people claim it’s satire and isn’t that deep is frustrating. To not be able to see beyond the initial picture and understand why people might be saying the things they are about the cartoon is very puzzling.

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The executive chairman of News Corp Australia, Michael Miller, tweeted about the backlash Knight was receiving. He, like Knight, blame the outrage on “PC culture” going too far. But at what point do people like these realize that everyone else isn’t the problem, it’s them. Yes, freedom of the press is an important thing to have but where do we draw the line?

Sports, although not perfect, have for the better part of the last few decades been a place where people of different races could come together. Now that’s not to say racism is gone in sports. Every once in a while you get stories from players discussing how fans will yell racial slurs from the stands. Or opposing players may say racially charged statements during the game/match. However, in one of the more, refined if you will, sports, a sketch such as this not only makes the already bad situation of Saturday worse, but it also shows how many still view people of color.

How do you feel about the Serena Williams cartoon? Leave a comment below.

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