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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.
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
Why do we object to the Serena Williams cartoon charicature?— Jillian Hurley (@BeautyBind) September 10, 2018
Because dehumanizing African Americans is a time honored tool to hinder equality in America through “humor.”
Thread #TriggerWarning #SerenaWilliams https://t.co/beGSeOnW9b pic.twitter.com/js0HPbECSM
The racist cartoon that @Knightcartoons made of Serena Williams & Naomi Osaka only advances bigotry— Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@MuslimIQ) September 10, 2018
A disgusting perpetuation of the erasure of Black Women as either uncivilized or white (he literally draws Osaka as a blond white woman)@theheraldsun should retract & apologize
So, you’re racist.— The Hoarse Whisperer (@HoarseWisperer) September 10, 2018
Thanks for letting us know.
Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop. https://t.co/YOxVMuTXEC— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 10, 2018
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.
Art can be a vehicle to enlighten and eradicate racism, misogyny, etc. This does the opposite. And we can’t afford that in this current social climate. Please do better, @theheraldsun. https://t.co/WZf8s2yQE4— Be A King (@BerniceKing) September 10, 2018
A cartoon in The Herald Sun (an Australian news paper) depicts Serena Williams as a giant baby with a huge nose and lips, and Naomi Osaka as a blonde white girl. Y'all are really telling on yourselves, huh? pic.twitter.com/hweOX2M9ZP— cardi b's flying shoe (@mannyfidel) September 10, 2018
Whatever you think of the Serena Williams situation, I think we can all agree that this cartoon is disgusting. Erasing Naomi Osaka’s blackness alongside a grossly racialised caricature of Serena, invoking racist stereotypes, is obscene. https://t.co/Z09T7rt5tt— Anna Kessel (@Anna_Kessel) September 10, 2018
Irrespective of whether you think she was in the wrong, this cartoon’s response & it’s embrace of lazy, racist stereotyping (not to mention the whitewashing of Naomi Osaka & the judge) highlights the issues that #SerenaWilliams perennially faces: racism & misogynoir. https://t.co/PjoQK5vHdC— Andy Duncan (@DynamiteDuncan) September 10, 2018
that Herald Sun cartoon of Serena Williams looking like like a checklist of ape/mammy stereotypes (+ Naomi Osaka looking blonde + white???!!! makes me feel sick. one wholehearty fuck you to cartoonist Mark Knight, suck your mum + I hope someone with dysentery shits in your eyes— bridget minamore (@bridgetminamore) September 10, 2018
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.”
Michael"I've said far worse," McEnroe, a seven-times Grand Slam singles winner, said on ESPN. "She's right about the guys being held to a different standard, there's no question." What more proof do you need? https://t.co/TP7vMa4MVf— Michael de Adder (@deAdder) September 10, 2018
Osaka, meanwhile, has tweeted about the finals, writing that there is “a lot going on,” but she was grateful for her opportunity to play.
So there’s been a lot going on but I just want to say, I was grateful to have the opportunity to play on that stage yesterday. Thank you ❤️ pic.twitter.com/utiEKJF8NN— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@Naomi_Osaka_) September 9, 2018
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.