For the second time in a month, Australian cartoonist Mark Knight of Melbourne's Herald Sun is coming under fire for how he renders black people.
Over the weekend, Knight published his reaction to Saturday’s U.S. Open women’s final — and in doing so, summoned the vile imagery that was largely popularized during the Jim Crow era.
In the new cartoon, which mocks the heated exchanges between runner-up Serena Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos, Knight depicts the 23-time Grand Slam champion as a child throwing a tantrum as the umpire says to eventual champion Naomi Osaka, “Can you just let her win?”
In doing so, Knight draws facial features reflecting the dehumanizing Jim Crow caricatures so common in the 19th and 20th centuries. Knight's cartoon conjures up a range of such caricatures that were branded on memorabilia and popularized on stage and screen of the era, including the minstrel-show character Topsy born out of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," as well as the title character in 1899's "Little Black Sambo."
Such caricatures were parodied in the ’60s by underground comix creator R. Crumb through his character Angelfood McSpade. Spike Lee — who, while attending an earlier U.S. Open round, hailed Williams' greatness as on par with Muhammad Ali’s — created a powerful montage of such racist pop-culture caricatures in his 2000 film “Bamboozled.”
In Saturday’s women’s final, Ramos charged Williams with three violations, including a game violation, as Osaka — the 20-year-old rising star who is of Japanese and Haitian descent — went on to defeat Williams in straight sets.
Knight’s sendup of that match is being criticized for how he caricatured both finalists. His Osaka figure — given her light skin, thin frame and entirely blond hair — looks like a small white woman, some critics say.
Author J.K. Rowling wrote on Twitter: "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."
And British journalist Charles Thomson tweeted: "In 100 years' time, this cartoon will be viewed no differently than old images of Jim Crow, or the newspaper cartoons drawn of Jack Johnson. Mark Knight has just drawn his way into the history books."
Thomson’s words note how Williams’s athletic forebears — such great black champions of the early 20th century as boxers Jack Johnson and Joe Louis — were often depicted in cartoons of the era via Sambo caricatures.
Knight responded on Twitter to a user who accused him of not treating male players the same way: "Don't bring gender into it when it's all about behavior."
In early August, for a cartoon about train-station safety in the Australian state of Victoria, Knight also faced ire for how he drew faceless black figures fighting in the background. Backlash against the image included disgust from Melbourne politician Rohan Leppert, who wrote: "The racist vilification of Melburnians from the Herald Sun continues apace. Utterly shameful."
Knight has not responded to The Washington Post’s request for comment.