Why Does Australia Have A Racist Cartoon Problem?

Mark Knight's racist Serena Williams cartoon is a frustratingly familiar story.

Set the 'Days In Australia Without A Racist Cartoon' counter back to zero.

On Monday, a cartoon of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka at the US Open was published in Australia's Herald Sun newspaper, and by Tuesday, it was being internationally condemned as racist.

Cartoonist Mark Knight drew Williams' features in an exaggerated way reminiscent of Jim Crow caricatures, her overly large lips harking back to the historically racist depiction of black women as overly-sexual, angry, ugly and violent. He drew Osaka, a biracial woman of Asian and Haitian heritage, as white.

"The racist cartoon .... is repugnant on many levels," the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in the United States said.

"[It] not only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams' depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like ... this cartoon grossly inaccurately depicts two women of color."

READ MORE: Herald Sun Defends 'Astonishingly Racist' Serena Williams Cartoon

The cartoon made international headlines, with everyone from J.K. Rowling to comedian Kathy Griffin and writer Maxine Beneba Clarke condemning the piece.

The Washington Post ran the story with the headline "An Australia artist's racist Serena Williams cartoon receives swift and international blowback". The New York Times described it as "an outrageous racist caricature".

Australian media, on the other hand, is bending over backwards to defend it.

Within hours, Knight said his cartoon had "nothing to do with race", a sentiment echoed by Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston. Studio 10's Joe Hildebrand said that exaggerated features were standard for any cartoon, and former News Corp Australia chairman Michael Miller said it was yet another example of political correctness gone too far.

The Washington Post
The Herald Sun

It's a story Australia has seen play out before.

Bill Leak's infamous Indigenous Dads cartoon, published in The Australian, received international attention, and was widely condemned as a racist, harmful stereotype of Indigenous people.

Bill Leak's infamous cartoon, published in The Australian in 2016.

It prompted more than 700 complaints to the Australian Press Council, but was ultimately found to not be in breach due to reasons of "free speech". Leak was investigated for a possible breach of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, but the complaint was later dropped.

Leak's cartoon -- and his right to draw it -- was defended by the typical suspects, and when he died in 2016, his funeral was attended by some of the most powerful men and women in Australia.

In delivering a eulogy, then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described Leak as "the best and funniest raconteur", and claimed his Indigenous Dads cartoon "united" all Australians. Not sure what Turnbull thinks "united" means, but perhaps that's why he's no longer prime minister.

So yeah. We're all-too-familiar with how the widely-condemned racist cartoon situation plays out: everyone gets mad, and nothing changes.

That's partly because these two cartoons aren't isolated incidents. Over and over again, racist stereotypes are sent up in our newspapers.

Here's Knight in January 2012, making a punchline out of the colonisation of Australia and the subsequent decades of racism and oppression that still has devastating consequences to this day.

Here's Knight earlier this year, flaming the ongoing 'African gangs' dog whistle.

Here's another Leak, published in 2016, comparing the LGBTIQ community to Nazis.

And of course, who could forget Michael Leunig, Australia's most consistently baffling cartoonist who takes on both the queer community and vaccinations with equal lunacy.

Australia is stuck in a never-ending debate for free speech, somehow played out in the cartoons of our national newspapers.

Already the Herald Sun has published an editorial telling Australia to "take a breath and consider the facts".

Well, here are the facts: Serena's features are exaggerated in the familiar, dehumanising way of racist cartoons of old. Naomi is depicted as white. Racism does not only occur when there is intent to be racist. Even Nicki Minaj has weighed in from L.A.

That last bit isn't as important, but I wanted to get it in there.

The point is: the United States has no problem labeling this as racist. Why can't Australia?