A political cartoonist and the newspaper he works for spoke out Monday in defense a drawing of Serena Williams that some people are calling racist and sexist.
The cartoon ran Monday in the Herald Sun, a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid based in Melbourne, Australia. It shows Williams during her now famous meltdown while playing Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open final on Saturday.
Artist Mark Knight purposely portrayed Williams in an unflattering light — stomping on her tennis racket with a baby’s pacifier on the ground nearby, as if it had popped out of her mouth.
“I drew this cartoon Sunday night after seeing the US Open final, and seeing the world’s best tennis player have a tantrum and thought that was interesting,” he said in a Herald Sun article.
But some people did not approve of the way Knight drew Williams — overweight with some other exaggerated features — especially when compared to his depiction of Osaka, whose parents are from Haiti and Japan, as a slender blond in the background.
Did you mean for this to come off as racist as it does? Because it was a punch to the gut. Felt like I was looking at an archived cartoon from the 1930s. Wow.... just, yeah.... wow. Whatever point you were trying to make, you revealed a WHOLE LOT more about you, than Serena— Pam Keith (@PamKeithFL) September 10, 2018
This cartoon is a great example of the modern day Jim Crow mentality that Black American women face in this country. To malign her features like she is a monster and make everyone else human, is in fact dehumanizing. This is appalling and inherently racist.— #MommyFab [project] - Fabulously Imperfect 🇺🇸📚 (@EfabulousHB) September 10, 2018
This is today's cartoon in the Australia's Herald Sun by Mark Knight. This is one of most overtly racist drawing I have seen in my life outside of the Jim Crow art in the U.S. From the jiggaboo caricature of Serena Williams to the white-washed depiction of Naomi Osaka.— Shaina McGahee ✊🏿 (@smac0905) September 10, 2018
Knight defended himself during a radio interview Monday night, saying “It’s a cartoon about poor behavior. It’s nothing to do with race.”
“People said I’m a racist because I drew Serena as an African American woman,” Knight said. “I drew her as this powerful figure, which she is, she’s strongly built. They say I’m racist because I drew Naomi Osaka in the background with blond hair. Well, she does have her hair dyed blond.”
He added: “I think these days, I don’t think you can, it’s called punching down. You can’t punch down these days. And what that means is you can’t criticize minority groups for poor behavior. You just can’t go there. But I’m a cartoonist and I comment on all topics.”
The Herald Sun also had its artist’s back. Editor Damon Johnston was quoted by the paper as saying: “A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage, and Mark’s cartoon depicted that. It had nothing to do with gender or race. This was about a bad sport being mocked.”
The newspaper also ran an editorial that stated: “The world has officially gone mad when a celebrated cartoonist is condemned by the social media hordes for depicting a famous sports star throwing an unedifying tantrum.”
The editorial also stated: “To argue the Williams drawing is racist is an attempt to defeat cartooning — and satire — with a politically-correct barrage.
“There is a valid and urgent need to continue the march toward true and real racial and sexual equality in all walks of life.
“But those who seek to prosecute their antiracial agenda by identifying racism in the Knight cartoon — where it does not exist — completely miss the point of the drawing.”
On Wednesday, the newspaper reprinted Knight’s drawing of Williams on its front page in a collage featuring caricatures of other famous people, with the headline, “Welcome to PC World.”
“If the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed,” the Herald Sun said on the front page.
6:45 a.m. Sept. 12: This article was updated with information about the Wednesday issue of the Herald Sun .
This article was originally published at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 11.