Australian newspaper reprints ‘racist and sexist’ Serena Williams cartoon on front page

An Australian newspaper responded to allegations of racism on Wednesday by reprinting on its front page a controversial cartoon depicting Serena Williams having a temper tantrum at the US Open.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun, owned by News Corp, first published the caricature of Williams with exaggerated lips and a butch physique on Monday, triggering outrage around the world.

Mark Knight, who drew the picture, was forced to deny his image was racist and shut down his Twitter account amid the growing clamour.

Despite the outrage, the paper reprinted the cartoon alongside unflattering caricatures of US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attempting to portray the controversy as an effort to curtail free speech.

"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 paper wrote in an editorial on its front page.

Critics said the sketch drew on historical racist caricatures of African Americans, but in an interview with CBS News on Tuesday Mr Knight said:  "When I drew that cartoon, I wasn’t thinking of racial politics in America. I simply saw the world number one player having a dummy spit."

He added: "I’m not going to say I’m not going to draw that because it’s a no-go area". 

Mr Knight closed down his social media accounts on Tuesday after facing withering criticism from more than 20,000 online commentators over the image.

British author JK Rowling added her voice to the chorus, tweeting: "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."

Williams sparked controversy over her conduct in Saturday’s final against Haitian-Japanese player Naomi Osaka when she smashed her racquet and called the umpire a "thief" and a "liar".

Williams was given three code violations, earning her a point penalty and then a game penalty which gave Osaka a 5-3 second-set lead that effectively gifted her the title. 

The penalties stirred a debate in the tennis world over double standards toward men and women in the sport.

In Mr Knight’s cartoon, Williams can be seen jumping up and down with a broken racquet next to a baby’s dummy as the umpire asks Osaka "can’t you just let her win?".

Mr Knight, who has a reputation for controversial cartoons, was pilloried from far and wide for his portrayal – including by a number of US media outlets. 

In a searing piece, The Washington Post’s cartoonist Michael Cavna said the "racist" sketch was reminiscent of the "vile imagery" popularised during the era of racial segregation in the US.

"Knight draws facial features reflecting the dehumanizing Jim Crow caricatures so common in the 19th and 20th centuries," Mr Cavna wrote.

The publishers of the Melbourne’s Herald Sun,  Australia’s most-read newspaper, also defended the cartoonist saying "the world has gone too PC".


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