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Twitter users slam 'repugnant, racist' cartoon of Serena Williams

Cartoon in an Australian newspaper is called 'racist' for the way it depicted Serena Williams during US Open final.

Serena Williams

A cartoon depicting Serena Williams has triggered uproar after it was compared with racist illustrations of the Jim Crow character and images of black people in the Sambo books from the early 20th century.

Published in Rupert Murdoch's Herald Sun tabloid newspaper, the cartoon cartoon's exaggerated depiction showed the tennis star as overweight, big-lipped and bushy-haired, stomping on her tennis racket at the US Open final against Naomi Osaka on Saturday.

During the game, Williams received a warning from the umpire for violating a rarely enforced rule against receiving coaching from the sidelines.

An indignant Williams emphatically defended herself, denying she had cheated. A short time later, she smashed her racket in frustration and was docked a point. Williams protested that and demanded an apology from the umpire, who penalised her a game.

Williams went on to lose the championship match against Osaka.

In Mark Knight's cartoon, the umpire is shown telling a blonde, slender woman - meant to be Osaka, who is actually Japanese and Haitian - "Can you just let her win?"

Speaking to ABC, Knight refused to apologise, saying: "I'm upset that people are offended, but I'm not going to take the cartoon down.

"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."

The National Association of Black Journalists called the cartoon "repugnant", adding, "not only does it exude racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams' depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like.

"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".

The Washington Post ran a searing post about the cartoon, calling it "racist" and reminiscent of the era of racial segregation in the US.

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

While some people defended the cartoon, Knight faced a backlash on Twitter from figures including British author J.K. Rowling and filmmaker Tariq Nasheed, who said it draws on racist tropes of African-Americans.

"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," said J.K. Rowling.

"This is a completely gross depiction of @serenawilliams. This classic Jim Crow era sexist/racist image does nothing but display the complete disrespect of the superstar and perpetuate the stereotype of an 'angry black woman' I am appalled," wrote Jevin Hodge, the vice-chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.

Tariq Nasheed, an African American author and filmmaker, said: "This is how @Knightcartoons and @theheraldsun in #Australia portrayed #SerenaWilliams in their publication today. And notice how they made #Osaka look like a white woman.

"This isn't about 'gender'. This is simply global anti-Black white supremacy."

TMZ reporter Van Lathan wrote: "Look how big her lips and nose are. We see how y'all see us. You guys ain't slick."

"Same stuff. Different day," wrote Twitter user Hannah Drake.

Knight's depiction of Williams was not his first cartoon to come under scrutiny.

Last month he faced similar accusations of racism over his take on Victoria Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan's call to ban Sky News at Melbourne railway stations, while a secondary debate continued over whether the state had an "African gang" problem.

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