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JK Rowling shuts down cartoonist over racist Serena Williams sketch

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Kayleigh Dray
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The man behind the controversial cartoon has since responded, insisting his work has been “misinterpreted”.

On Saturday (8 September), Serena Williams faced three code violations during the final of the women’s US Open – code violations which she and many others have argued would not have been applied to a male player.

During her match with Naomi Osaka, Williams broke a racket and clashed with umpire Carlos Ramos, who accused her of receiving instruction from her coach in the stand, in violation of the rules.

The 23-time Grand Slam winner was fined $4,000 for the coach instructions, $3,000 for smashing her racquet, and $10,000 for “verbal abuse” at Ramos. And, to add further insult to injury, the GOAT has become the subject of a widely condemned cartoon, too.

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Appearing in Monday’s edition of Australian tabloid The Herald Sun, Mark Knight’s cartoon sees Williams jumping up and down on her broken racquet, a discarded dummy lying on the floor beside her.

In the background, Ramos can be seen asking Osaka: “Can you just let her win?”

However, Knight’s illustration has sparked outage online, with many pointing out its strong similarities to the infamous Sambo cartoons and other racist images and characters of the Jim Crow period in the U.S.

Among those who have criticised the cartoon is JK Rowling, who chose to address Knight directly on social media.

“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,” she wrote.

Knight, though, has refused to apologise for his controversial cartoon.

“I’m upset that people are offended, but I’m not going to take the cartoon down,” Knight said, according to the Guardian. “I can’t undraw the cartoon. I think people have just misinterpreted. Maybe there’s a different understanding of cartooning in Australia to America…

“It was a cartoon based on her tantrum on the day and that’s all it was.”

In a separate interview with 3AW radio’s Neil Mitchell, Knight claimed that he had been “trolled” by Rowling.

“This is how crazy it gets. It’s picked up by social media and it is like a rolling thunder,” he said, adding that he had been forced to turn his phone off due to the deluge of notifications.

“It turns into a tornado of false accusations and crazy things that aren’t even there.”

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Elsewhere, the Herald Sun’s editor Damon Johnston has defended Knight, insisting the cartoon is “not racist or sexist” but “rightly mocks poor behaviour by a tennis legend.”

Johnston’s comments have not been well received online, however, with Martin Luther King’s daughter, Bernice King, damning his response via her own Twitter feed.

“It is so unfortunate that this is your response; and without consideration for the painful historical context of such imagery and how it can support biases and racism today,” she said.

“Why wouldn’t a human being care about that?”

Image: Getty

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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