Serena Williams disputing umpire Carlos Ramos' calls at the 2018 U.S. Open.


Racist cartoon of Serena Williams draws internet’s ire

Let us count the ways this is deeply offensive.


Samantha Grasso


Posted on Sep 10, 2018   Updated on May 21, 2021, 6:53 am CDT

On Saturday, a chair umpire’s sexist calls against Serena Williams lost her the U.S. Open final match. Now, her reaction to the unfair penalties is serving as fuel for a racist editorial cartoon for an Australian publication.

At the U.S. Open for women’s singles this weekend, Japan’s Naomi Osaka managed to beat her opponent (and “idol”) Williams after chair umpire Carlos Ramos gave Williams three code violations, one for calling him a “thief.” On the field and after the match at a press conference, Williams said Ramos’ calls were sexist in the context of the much-worse insults male tennis stars hurl at umpires, and in the behaviors male players use to express their “passion.”

As if the sexism she faced was not enough, Williams’ reaction to these unfair calls is now being met with racism, specifically in an editorial cartoon illustrated by Mark Knight for Australia’s Herald Sun. In the cartoon, Williams is stomping on her tennis racket, squatting mid-jump, as someone who appears to be her opponent is asked by the chair umpire to “just let her win.”

Many have called out the cartoon for the way it depicts Williams and Osaka. Not only is Williams depicted as having a full-out toddler tantrum (baby pacifier included)—which she wasn’t, not even in the slightest—but her features are exaggerated in the manner of racist caricatures and Black stereotypes of the Jim Crow era, with Williams’ nose and lips made to look comically large. Her size, too, is exaggerated, making Williams’ appear menacing for taking up space, her hair standing on end in a fluffed ponytail.

Additionally, Osaka seems to have completely been erased and replaced to fit the cartoonists’ narrative. Osaka, who is Japanese and Black (and the first Japanese woman to win the U.S. Open), has a darker hair and skin tone than the cartoonist’s depiction of a thin, blonde, light-skinned (if not white) woman. And the blonde woman is looking up at the chair umpire—not Carlos Ramos, who is Portuguese, but a white man—who is asking her, “Can you just let her win?”

Not only did that not happen, with the chair umpire being the one who was penalizing and interacting with Williams, but Osaka’s race is completely removed from the situation, as is Ramos’, making Williams’ “tantrum” seem like an affront to whiteness and white femininity instead of an overdue challenge to sexist calls and the double standard between men’s and women’s sports. Osaka’s Blackness, let alone her entire race and ethnicity, has been erased in order to depict Williams as the aggressor, to better fit the cartoonists’ narrative of a Black woman’s hysteria challenging the assumed innocence of her white female competitor. In this illustration, both women lose.

A second Australian cartoonist appears to have also attempted to incorrectly politicize Williams’ protest to unfair calls, stating that she played the “sexist, victim card” while a representative for Nike told her it was a “brilliant move” to sacrifice everything. This cartoonists’ introduction of Nike in this illustration solidifies the anti-Black nature of these cartoons, connecting Williams’ protest to the NFL free agent Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests against police brutality. This depiction attempts to argue that both athletes have sacrificed their careers with their responses in order to profit from company sponsorships, as if protesting sexism and racism isn’t justified on its own.

At least one cartoonist, however, has attempted to portray Williams’ point in a more effective light, comparing player John McEnroe’s “outspoken” behavior to Williams’ “hysteria.”

Osaka, meanwhile, has tweeted about the finals, writing that there is “a lot going on,” but she was grateful for her opportunity to play.

Share this article
*First Published: Sep 10, 2018, 12:21 pm CDT