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Serena Williams: Cartoonist Mark Knight defends depiction of US Open tantrum amid accusations of racism


Serena Williams: Cartoonist Mark Knight defends depiction of US Open tantrum amid accusations of racism

Veteran cartoonist Mark Knight has rejected suggestions his depiction of Serena Williams is “racist”, saying those condemning him are “making stuff up”.

The cartoon, published in the Herald Sun, was Mr Knight’s take on the controversial US Open final, which Williams lost to Japan’s Naomi Osaka after being given three code violations — one for coaching, one for breaking her racquet and another for verbal abuse of the chair umpire.

Mr Knight’s cartoon shows Williams stamping on her racquet with a dummy on the ground and the umpire telling Osaka, “Can you just let her win?”.

Some have defended the cartoon on Twitter, while others say it draws on racist tropes of African-Americans.

A Washington Post article said the cartoon used “dehumanising” facial features, while Brenna Edwards, a black journalist who reports on news and politics for Essence magazine in the US, told ABC News the cartoon “dates back to the Jim Crow era”.

“Honestly, my mouth dropped open, because I do cover a lot of black news and a lot of it is hard to take, but when I saw this — a blatant caricature of one of the most celebrated athletes in the world — it was offensive, shocking and completely uncalled for,” Ms Edwards said.

“Anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows what that was. I’m not even sure how it got cleared for publishing.”

Mr Knight said his cartoon was only about Williams’ behaviour on the court and said those suggesting it was racist or sexist were misinterpreting it.

“I saw the world number one tennis player have a huge hissy fit and spit the dummy. That’s what the cartoon was about, her poor behaviour on the court,” he said.

“I’m not targeting Serena. I mean, Serena is a champion.

“I drew her as an African-American woman. She’s powerfully built. She wears these outrageous costumes when she plays tennis. She’s interesting to draw. I drew her as she is, as an African-American woman.

Mr Knight said he had “absolutely no knowledge” of the Jim Crow-era cartoons of African-Americans and said social media had fuelled the outrage.

“I find on social media that stuff gets shared around, and it’s like a sort of rolling thunder. It’s like a hurricane. It develops intensity way beyond its initial meaning,” he said.

“I think racial tensions in America are, of course, more heightened than here in Australia. And Americans may look at it in a different light.

“No racial historical significance should be read into it.”

Mr Knight has faced a particular backlash on Twitter — including from figures like British author JK Rowling — while others said the reaction was overstated.

Mr Knight has responded to some of the criticism on Twitter, pointing to his take on male tennis players who also stir controversy on the court — notably Nick Kyrgios.

It’s not the first time Mr Knight has come under scrutiny for his cartoons.

Last month he faced similar accusations of racism over his take on Victorian Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan’s call to ban Sky News at Melbourne railway stations, while a secondary debate continued over whether the state had an “African gang” problem.

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