An Australian newspaper has doubled down on a cartoon of multiple Grand Slam tennis champion Serena Williams widely denounced as racist both at home and in the US.
In a statement Tuesday, Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston said the cartoon “had nothing to do with gender or race.”
“A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage, and (the) cartoon depicted that,” he said, referring to a piece published by cartoonist Mark Knight Monday after the US Open final in which Williams had a dispute with the umpire over his allegedly sexist treatment of her.
The cartoon showed Williams jumping up and down next to a broken racket and pacifier, with large, exaggerated lips and nose reminiscent of racist depictions of black people in the US during the Jim Crow era.
Williams’ opponent, Japan’s Naomi Osaka, is depicted as a skinny blonde woman, to whom the umpire is saying: “Can’t you just let her win?”
The US-based National Association of Black Journalists said the cartoon was “repugnant on many levels.”
“(It) not only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams’ depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like,” the group said in a statement. “The art of editorial cartooning is a visual dialogue on the issues of the day, yet this cartoon grossly inaccurately depicts two women of color at the US Open, one of the grandest stages of professional sports.”
But the Melbourne-based tabloid newspaper stood firm against the backlash, with editor Johnston on Tuesday evening tweeting an image of Wednesday’s upcoming provocative front page.
Its headline, “Welcome to PC World,” was accompanied by a “Satire Free Zone” stamp and surrounded on all sides by previous Knight cartoons of politicians and reasons why they were offensive.
It featured an image of former prime minister Tony Abbott depicted as Hannibal Lecter with the caption “Banned: Big ears, cannibal mask,” and a topless Kim Jong Un with the words “Blocked: Belly fat, Asian stereotype.”
It also repeated the image of Williams with the caption “Vetoed: Large hair and lips, too angry.”
“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,” said the front page.
Knight – an award-winning cartoonist who has worked for the Herald Sun for decades – told his employer he was “amazed” by the reaction to the cartoon, which he said did not attract significant criticism until it was picked up on Twitter by users in the US.
“It’s been picked up by social media in the US and my phone has just melted down,” he said. “The world has just gone crazy.” Later Tuesday, Knight appeared to have deleted his Twitter account.
Criticism was voiced from within Australia, however, where the furore comes after months of hand-wringing and criticism over the country’s attitudes toward race after a neo-Nazi was invited on the air by a national broadcaster.