By Denise Clay
“The art of editorial cartooning is a visual dialogue on the issues of the day, yet this cartoon grossly inaccurately depicts two women of colour at the US Open, one of the grandest stages of professional sports.”
This is an excerpt from a statement from the National Association of Black Journalists and the NABJ Sports Task Force regarding the cartoon about the US Open Women’s final from Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight.
By the time that I got off the air from my radio show at 9am Eastern Time here in Philadelphia, that cartoon, a cartoon that depicts Serena Williams having a full-on temper tantrum as umpire Carlos Ramos asks US Open champion Naomi Osaka, “Can’t you just let her win?”, had been shared on my Facebook and Twitter timelines so many times by so many people that I couldn’t avoid it.
One, women aren’t allowed to get mad
When I was watching the match at home on Saturday and saw what happened, I kind of knew how Williams’s anger — and how it manifested itself — was going to be presented in the media, for a few reasons.
One, women aren’t allowed to get mad. And if they get mad, they’re not supposed to yell. And if they do get mad and they do yell, they’d better not yell at a man.
Two, because most of the sports media is made up of men, the incident that made Williams angry was going to get minimised, because it’s easier to paint a woman as a hormonal mess (the next sports reporter that calls what Williams did an “outburst” is getting cussed out) than it is to acknowledge that no tennis referee has ever penalised a man a game for getting angry.
And I know this because I grew up watching John McEnroe and Ilya Nastase. (They didn’t call the dude “Nasty” for nothing.)
Three, if you’re a woman, and you’re mad, and you express that anger, and you just happen to be a black woman who had the nerve to win her last major championship while being three months’ pregnant, you just might as well prepare for the wrath.
Michelle Obama was drawn with a penis
So I saw this cartoon, and the Hottentot Venus vibe, complete with all the “othering” contained within it, coming.
But as it is with most things that have managed to combine a whole lot of -isms into one great big mess of things that make me wanna holla, Knight’s cartoon leaves me a little conflicted as to where to start in terms of an analysis.
So I guess I’ll start at the obvious place: the picture of Serena Williams.
During Barack Obama’s presidency here in America, he was the topic of some of the most heinous cartoons from people who fancied themselves news cartoonists.
The former president, and first lady Michelle Obama too, were drawn in ways that served as racist dog whistles to the current cabal of White Nationalists currently running the US.
Both of them were drawn as monkeys, and the first lady — because she was a big believer in physical fitness and had arms that are still the envy of most of the women I know — would occasionally be drawn with an appendage women don’t have.
(For those of you who need that spelled out a little better, I’m saying that people would draw editorial cartoons that included the first lady with a penis.)
The caricature of Williams, complete with oversized lips and buttocks, and a skirt that might remind some of the banana skirt worn by the late Josephine Baker, made me think of these depictions.
When NABJ called it “sambo-like”, the organisation was being kind.
It was yet another example of how empowered people have come to wear their racism on their sleeves at a time when white nationalism seems to have swept back into vogue, along with the pre-World War II “jungle savage” images that went with it.
Naomi Osaka was basically erased
But while it was easy for most of us to spot the reasons why the depiction of Williams was problematic, it took a little more effort to see why the picture of Naomi Osaka ticked some of us off.
Once you take a good look though, it’s hard to miss.
Or maybe it’s not, and I say this because Naomi Osaka was basically erased in this cartoon.
While Osaka is widely touted as the first Japanese player to win a major, she’s actually a first for two countries: Japan and Haiti. Her mother is Japanese and her father Haitian, something she reminded people of in her post match press conference at the US Open.
But you wouldn’t have gotten that from this cartoon. Here, she’s a petite blonde girl with a light skin tone, erasing both of her nationalities for one with which she doesn’t identify.
When I was asked to write this piece, among the questions I got was whether or not people outside of America understand the pain behind images like the depiction of Williams and the erasure of Osaka like the ones in this cartoon.
I’m not sure if it’s understood or not.
But the next time that you see something like this, ask yourself this question: How would I feel if someone did this to me?
Denise Clay is a member of America’s National Association of Black Journalists and covers politics and social justice issues from Philadelphia. She tweets @denisethewriter