When cartoonist Mark Knight tweeted an image of his cartoon depicting Serena Williams’ disagreement with Umpire Carlos Ramos in the Finals of the U.S. Open, he responded to the public criticisms of racism by asserting that “it had nothing to do with gender or race,” according to Melbourne Australia’s Herald Sun.
“The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behaviour on the day, not about race,” Knight said, adding: “The world has just gone crazy.”
In a brazen display of the theory that white men are uniquely qualified to define racism and misogynoir, people who classify parsley as a seasoning unabashedly began defending the cartoon as not racist or sexist in the least.
This cartoon can serve to teach an important lesson about racism and prejudice.
Oftentimes, people who have seen more than one episode of Friends often think that something they do isn’t racist or sexist because they didn’t intend for it to be that way. In their minds, they equate racism with hate and sexism with an intentional disregard for women. Therefore, if something is done without the explicit aim of marginalization or harm, then, by definition, it isn’t racist or sexist.
This is why people like Donald Trump can unilaterally declare they “don’t have a racist or sexist bone” in their bodies. Apparently, they assume that racism comes from bone marrow and is embedded in their skeletons at birth.
But racism and sexism have nothing to do with intent. It is the result that counts. Allow me to explain it in a totally, 100 percent fictional way that illustrates this point.
Imagine you had a job like ... oh, let’s say ... a police officer. Now let’s say that none of the 206 bones in your body were racist, but you patrolled strictly based on your training, experience and actual data.
Using the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report numbers and data from the U.S. Census, in any given year, 96 percent of black people are not arrested for a crime. But, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, not only are black drivers more likely to be stopped by police officers, but they are three times more likely to be searched than white drivers. White drivers are more likely to be found with illegal weapons or drugs that black drivers, according to a New York Times investigation of police stops in 13 police jurisdictions in four states.
A 2016 study by the Hamilton Project revealed that, on the state level, whites are more likely to use drugs, but blacks are arrested at nearly three times the rate of whites for drug offenses. Judges sentence blacks 20 percent longer prison terms, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commision.
Most police officers will assure you that they are not racist and that they use their training and experience to guide them. But the results of policing black communities are racist. Judges and cops might not have the intent of causing disproportionate harm to black people, but their practices produce racially disparate outcomes and create in prejudiced perceptions.
That, in a nutshell, is institutional racism.
Which brings us back to Serena Williams.
I don’t think that Mark Knight sat down with his 64 Crayola super pack with hatred in his heart for Serena Williams. I honestly believe that, in Knight’s mind’s eye, that is actually how he sees Serena—as a hulking, brutish simian rampaging in front of the world.
Which is racist and sexist.
A man is allowed an infinite number of fuses to blow. The top three tennis players in the world—Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic—have all smashed their tennis racquets in fits of anger. In 2009, Roger Federer, considered to be the greatest men’s tennis player who ever existed, told an umpire: “I don’t give a shit what he [the line judge] says. Don’t fucking tell me the rules.”
It happened in the finals of the U.S. Open.
Federer was not issued a penalty.
But Knight and others deem it newsworthy when a woman shows passion and emotion, unlike men, who are allowed outbursts of anger without it being notable or illustration-worthy. I’ve searched for Mark Knight’s cartoon about that incident, but I am unable to find it. But you know how Google be tripping.
And not only does Knight’s drawing portray Serena with undertones of classic racial stereotypes, including the apelike stance and oversized pink lips reminiscent of the coon caricature and Sambo cartoons, but he included a pacifier in the drawing, presumably to indicate Serena’s childish actions. You’d never know, from this cartoon, that Naomi Osaka is actually two inches taller than Williams.
It is also revealing that Knight chose to illustrate Osaka as a blonde, fair-skinned damn-near white woman whose complexion is the same as the umpire’s. Unintentional or not, the juxtaposition is clear: Naomi is the quiet, questioning protagonist who, along with the genteel official, is opposed by the brooding behemoth, Serena Williams.
Again, this is his interpretation of what he actually saw.
Because Mark Knight’s cartoon is racist.
Maybe Knight genuinely doesn’t know he has a prejudiced and sexist view of the world. Perhaps he hasn’t had his bones tested for bigotry yet. It is believable that Mark and the Herald Sun thought they were providing much-needed, insightful commentary that the world’s greatest athlete couldn’t keep her composure even though she has been castigated and marginalized for her gender, wardrobe, hair, husband, body and even her skin color and continues to kick ass even with a whole human being inside her.
Or maybe Knight is right. Maybe “the world has gone crazy.”
After all, it would be unthinkable that we would publicly criticize someone for doing their job when we have no idea what is inside that person’s heart, mind or inside that individual’s bones.
Only an idiot would do that.