Serena Williams Mark Knight

On Tuesday, these curious times gave us yet another series of words we never thought we’d see in combination, when US comedian Kathy Griffin told Australia’s tallest baby and Adelaide Advertiser columnist Caleb Bond to go fuck himself.

This was in response to a depiction of Serena Williams by Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight which drew on the conventions of the ugly history of minstrelsy in this country and elsewhere and reminded us all that while we are small nation, we sure do punch above our weight in blithe racism.

Let’s look at how the world reacted to Knights “art”.

China

Hong Kong based English-language newspaper The South China Morning Post, ran a piece on the “furore” enveloping Knight — they play it extremely cautious, putting the double qualification of “accusations” of “”‘racism'”. 

India

The Hindustan Times reported the scandal fairly straight, although one perhaps detects their view in their description of what the cartoon contains:

Mark Knight’s caricature, published in Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper on Monday, shows a butch and fat-lipped Williams jumping up and down on her broken racquet at the US Open.

US

The US response was widespread and, as Griffin’s missive indicates, far less equivocal. A host of American celebrities and political figures weighed in including Reverend Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr’s daughter Bernice, Wanda Sykes, and Ron Perlman among others. It was also reported on CBS, CNN, Vox and The New York Times

Notably — and unlike papers in the UK and Australia — The Washington Post felt no need to put any quotation marks around the word racist in their headline:

The Post also published a commentary piece on the history of racist caricatures in response. The National Association of Black Journalists called Knight’s work “repugnant on many levels”.

But Crikey’s favourite response out of the US came from outside the mainstream media. Knight may not have expected to come to the attention of hip hop star Nicki Minaj, but this week he walked away with her prestigious “cocksucker of the week” award

UK

The BBC ran several pieces, including a debate between two cartoonistsThe Independent and The Irish Times also covered it, favoring the the intervention of Harry Potter author JK Rowling as the key hook. 

Well, we’re sure The Herald Sun has listened and learned an important lesson, oh no wait…

This isn’t the first, or even second time Australia has caught the world’s attention for mistaking grotesque racism for wacky hijinks or fair satire. All we can do now is wait for this to pass and brace ourselves for the inevitability that the world will some day discover the truly staggering number who do blackface for fun or profit in this country.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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