Mark Knight, the Australian cartoonist who came under fire for his depiction of Serena Williams as a racist stereotype, has responded to the outrage. He insists that his cartoon wasn’t about race, but about Williams’ behavior during her confrontation with umpire Carlos Ramos during the U.S. Open final.
‘The world has gone crazy’
Knight did an interview on Monday night and defended his maligned cartoon.
“There’s nothing inaccurate in the cartoon, but I’m sorry it’s being taken by social media and distorted so much,” he said.
“The cartoon is about Serena, it was about her poor behavior. It had nothing to do with race.”
Of course, one might ask if the cartoon had nothing to do with race, why he felt the need to draw Williams in a way that recalls the cartoons of Jack Johnson or cartoons of the Jim Crow south. Knight dismissed the criticism that his cartoon mimicked racist cartoons of the past, and defended his extremely exaggerated depiction of Serena’s features.
“People said I’m a racist because I drew Serena as an African American woman,” Knight explained. “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 blonde hair. Well, she does have her hair dyed blonde.”
Knight told the interviewer that “the world has gone crazy,” and said that his wife and children were threatened on Instagram. He went on to lament that no one is allowed to “punch down” in their criticisms anymore.
“I think these days, I don’t think you can, it’s called punching down,” he said. “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 controversial cartoon
Knight drew the cartoon after watching Williams’ outburst at the U.S. Open finals, and it was published in the Australian newspaper the Herald Sun on Monday. Knight posted the cartoon on his Twitter account.
The backlash was immediate, with people calling out the cartoon for being racist and employing stereotypes to dehumanize Williams.
You couldn’t be more racist if you tried – and you reeeeeaaally tried. Using those classic sambo tropes- enlarged lips, overexaggerated body parts to depict Serena as hyper masculine- next time just use an old ad from the 1800s- no one would notice the difference in your racism
— Skipperdee (@Skipperdee2015) September 10, 2018
About as subtle as Fran Drescher’s voice 🤦🏿♀️ https://t.co/VM23b4XnlI
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 10, 2018
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
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
Knight deleted his Twitter account on Monday.
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