Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight made international headlines this week after his cartoon depicting Serena Williams responding to the umpire was slammed as racist, reinforcing denigrating tropes against African-Americans popularised in the segregationist Jim Crow era.
We asked Australian cartoonists Maddie Hah, Costa A, SBS Sexuality writer and illustrator Sam Leighton-Dore, and Walkley award-winning graphic novelist Safdar Ahmed how they interpreted the match, in light of the political and racial politics of what Williams represents for tennis and broader society.
"I thought the match between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka was a case study in athleticism, strength and the sheer emotion that comes with the myriad pressures of competing on a world stage. Sadly, the fallout since has demonstrated once again the gross double standards that women of colour are held to. I felt it was telling that white men had somehow managed to make such an historic event, shared by two women of colour, about them and their misplaced rage."
"What’s hilarious about the discussion surrounding Mark Knight’s Serena Williams cartoon is how ahistorical he and his supporters seem to be. The cartoon references racist visual tropes (the thick lipped ‘Sambo’ or ‘Coon’) in an uncritical way, which is why so many people are justly offended. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever draw Serena or people of colour without being labelled a racist, when there are plenty of non-racist cartoons and comics depicting black people, from the ‘Judgment Day’ story in EC’s Incredible Science Fiction, to Black Panther, to Real Deal Comix to Fat Albert.
"Cartoons have ALWAYS been vehicles for racist, colonial and nationalist themes."
"What’s strange is the assumption that cartoons are this innocent domain which has been overtaken by politically correct, left-wing types, when in fact cartoons have ALWAYS been vehicles for racist, colonial and nationalist themes. In short: cartoons were vectors of racism! There’s no way around it. That’s the history. That’s also what makes cartooning such an interesting thing to do and look at today. So if you’re a mediocre, middle-class, typically white male cartoonist who wants to pretend there’s no racist genealogy to what you do, well I'm afraid the joke is on you."
"I worry about all the other injustices (regarding race, class, disability, gender, climate and more) that never get this sort of spotlight."
"Injustice anywhere deserves condemnation and attention. Some injustices, however, are more media-friendly than others. They get disproportionate attention because they focus on celebrities, the wealthy and so forth. I feel the match between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams falls into this category. I worry about all the other injustices (regarding race, class, disability, gender, climate and more) that never get this sort of spotlight."
"There’s nothing more threatening to the rich, white, male rulers of society than oppressed people finding the confidence to speak out against unfairness and demanding respect. I think that’s what’s resonates with people so much about Serena’s journey, and explains the hysterical reaction against her. Despite racist and sexist attacks against how she looks, speaks, and acts, she doesn’t hesitate to bring attention to how unfairly she’s treated.
"I think the only solution to that is for ordinary people to fight and retaliate back much louder."
"The attacks on not just Serena, but African youth, refugees and the poor are dominant and well funded. I think the only solution to that is for ordinary people to fight and retaliate back much louder, so they can hear us from the back of their stadiums."