- Getty Images
- The notorious angry baby cartoon that showed Serena Williams with grossly exaggerated features spitting out a pacifier is not racist, a watchdog says.
- The cartoon was twice published in The Herald Sun last year and attracted global condemnation for seemingly relying on racist tropes.
- Williams’ husband Alexis Ohanian said it was “racist and misogynistic.”
- But the Australian Press Council has ruled it not racist and simply showed the 23-time Grand Slam tennis champion having “a highly animated tantrum.”
A cartoon that depicted Serena Williams as an angry baby with grotesque features including an oversized nose and lips is not racist, according to an Australian media watchdog.
The cartoon was published twice in the Australian newspaper The Herald Sun in September, 2018, shortly after Williams’ infamous meltdown in the US Open final.
Williams was given three code violations during her straight-sets loss to eventual US Open champion Naomi Osaka for coaching, smashing her racket, and calling the umpire Carlos Ramos a “thief.”
Williams was fined $17,000 which was deducted from her prize money of $1.85 million as the tournament’s runner-up. She was then lampooned by The Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight.
— ABC Grandstand (@abcgrandstand) February 24, 2019
Williams is shown with grotesque features including an oversized nose and lips and is pictured jumping up and down with a broken racket and a pacifier nearby, insinuating that Williams acted like a baby having a temper tantrum during the final. The drawing was called “racist and misogynistic” by Williams’ Reddit co-founder husband Alexis Ohanian.
The cartoon featured in the newspaper, attracted global condemnation, and was then subsequently splashed across the front-page in another edition.
The front page is here:
- Herald Sun
But the Australian Press Council has accepted the newspaper’s reasoning for publishing the cartoon, and has declared it not racist.
‘It does not depict Williams as an ape’
The watchdog said the newspaper “said it was depicting the moment when, in a highly animated tantrum, Ms Williams smashed a racket and loudly abused the chair umpire, calling him a thief, a liar, and threatening that he would never umpire her matches again,” a statement in The Guardian read.
“It said it wanted to capture the on-court tantrum of Ms Williams using satire, caricature, exaggeration, and humour, and the cartoon intended to depict her behaviour as childish by showing her spitting a pacifier out while she jumps up and down.”
The watchdog “acknowledged that some readers found the cartoon offensive” but ultimately accepted the newspaper’s “claim that it does not depict Ms Williams as an ape,” according to AP.
It concluded that the cartoon is a “non-racist caricature familiar to most Australian readers.”
This follows Damon Johnston’s response at the time, when the newspaper’s editor said the “cartoon is not racist or sexist” that “it rightly mocks poor behavior by a tennis legend” and that “Mark has the full support of everyone at The Herald Sun.”
— damon johnston (@damonheraldsun) September 11, 2018
‘The world has just gone crazy’
Knight himself said last year that he drew the cartoon after watching the US Open final “and seeing the world’s best tennis player have a tantrum and thought that was interesting.”
Knight added: “It’s been picked up by social media in the US and my phone has just melted down… The world has just gone crazy.”
Knight was reportedly “very happy” with the watchdog’s verdict. “I will not be changing the way I draw cartoons,” he said, according to AP. “I think I’m a very free and fair cartoonist and I accept issues on their merits and draw them as such.”