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Recap: Serena Williams - Rage and Racism

September 12, 2018

You've probably heard about the stuff that went down between Serena Williams and that umpire. And you've probably seen the cartoon by now, too. Together, the two events have created a huge amount of drama that means that, once again, people are making fun of Australia on Twitter (remember what everyone said about our 6th PM in 11 years?)


So how did the match itself actually go down? Why was Serena so mad? And what's the deal with the cartoon?




The Match


The women’s singles final of the US Open was last Sunday (9 September). The match was against American Serena Williams and Japanese Naomi Osaka (fun fact: while Osaka represents Japan when she plays, she is actually half Haitian). We all know the outcome – Osaka won – and we know that there was some beef between Williams and the umpire, Carlos Ramos. But why?


Williams was actually penalised for three code violations during Sunday’s match. (Note: a “code violation” is basically just breaking a rule of International Tennis Federation – ITF).



First Violation
After seeing William’s coach making hand signals, Ramos issued a warning against Williams for receiving coaching from the box. In tennis, the rule is “players shall not receive coaching during a match”, and the actual players are held responsible for anything that anyone in their party (including coaches) do. Her coach later admitted that he had been coaching, but Williams continued to deny it – some think that she didn’t even seen her coach’s signalling. But because of the rules of the game, Williams got the warning for something her coach did.


Second Violation:
Williams then received a point penalty (she lost a point) for “racquet abuse” (she smashed her racquet). Until this point, Ramos was pretty much following the ITF penalty schedule, which says that the first violation is a warning, and the second is a point penalty. But Williams caused some drama when she denied the warning altogether, basically saying that she didn’t deserve a warning when she hadn’t receive coaching in the first place. She demanded an apology from Ramos, but he pretty much didn’t say anything in response.


Ramos, probably


Third violation:
This is when things got the most heated. Williams was eventually given a game penalty (she lost a game) due to “verbal abuse”, because of this exchange between her and Ramos:


Williams: "When are you going to give me my apology? You owe me an apology. Say it, say you're sorry."

Ramos: (silence)

Williams: "Well then don't talk to me. Don't talk to me. You stole a point from me, you're a thief too."


Ramos then decided that the word “thief” was “verbal abuse” and (finally) spoke, announcing Williams’ third code violation.


That’s when Williams erupted, claiming sexism and unfair treatment from Ramos.


If you don’t have the background info on Ramos or tennis history, then Williams’ cry of “sexism” might seem a little far-fetched. But is there validity to her claim?





Williams said that the “verbal abuse” penalty was sexist, because “There's a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things and because they are men, that doesn't happen to them.” Her point was, heaps of male tennis players say worse things to umpires, but don’t get the same harsh penalties.


So, is this true?


According to some people, yep. The famous Billie Jean King even weighed in after the match, saying that Williams was right to speak her mind and call out sexism when she saw it.


In fact, there are several cases where the same umpire, Ramos, has tolerated much more offensive “verbal abuse” from male players.


At the 2017 French Open, Ramos was umpiring Novak Djokovic’s match. He issued a warning to Djokovic for taking too long to serve. At this, Djokovic said to Ramos that he was “losing his mind” (arguably worse than saying someone’s a thief). But Ramos didn’t hand out a point penalty.


In 2016, Ramos was umpiring Nick Kyrgios, and gave him a warning for yelling “towel!” at a ball boy. Kyrgios called this penalty “f***ing bulls***” to Ramos’ face. (Again, much worse than “you’re a thief”). No point penalty.


After seeing these examples, there is some evidence that Ramos shows some double standards against male and female players. However, note that there aren’t a whole heap of examples of Ramos treating other women unfairly, and also that Ramos is quite a highly regarded umpire in the tennis world. So, heaps of people are kind of divided about whether or not to buy Williams' sexism claim. 


And then there’s the cartoon.



Mark Knight is a well-regarded Australian cartoonist who works for the Herald Sun. You’ve probably seen his cartoon of Serena Williams by now, which has gone viral and stirred a lot of controversy over the past day or so. Heaps of people have said that it’s racist. People like J.K. Rowling have called it out. Why?






Some people find Knight’s cartoon problematic because of the exact way that Williams is drawn. It reminds them of the way that African American women have been portrayed in the past – caricaturing their features to make them appear “less than human” and diminish their femininity. There’s also a trope called the “angry black woman” that originates from the 1800s – this stereotype mocked black women as aggressive, violent and threatening.


Understandably, the people who see the parallels between Knight’s cartoon and this history of racist caricature are upset.


But what has Knight, and other cartoonists and journalists, said in his defence?




Knight said this about his cartoon: “I drew her [Serena Williams] as she is, as an African American woman.” Knight said that the claims that he had drawn an intentionally racist cartoon were “made up” and “not there.”


Many other Australian journalists and cartoonists are defending Knight by explaining the nature of drawing caricatures. (Note: a “caricature” is usually a drawing or description of someone that mocks them by exaggerating certain characteristics or features for humorous or grotesque effect.)


Caricature is supposed to be sharp and shocking, but also funny. It plays on stereotypes and objectifies the subject – i.e. it makes them into an object of ridicule; it makes fun of them. Knight says that he was making fun of Williams’ “tantrum” at the US Open, not the fact that she is a woman, or African American.


Some have asked the question – if Knight’s drawing is racist because it mocks the controversial behaviour of someone (who also happens to be African American) in a visual way, then is it no longer acceptable to draw caricatures of any African American person?


It’s also interesting to note that there has been, in many cases, a broad Australians vs Americans/international split on this debate on whether or not Knight’s work was racist. It’s important to acknowledge that Australian people have a less acute understanding of racism against African American people, while America is very sensitive to it. So, while many American journalists and public figures criticised the cartoon, heaps of Australians are defending Knight, and the right of cartoonists to keep doing what they do.


That was Recap: Serena Williams - Rage and Racism! This is, overall, a very controversial issue, with strong opinions on either side. Make of it what you will, and stay tuned for more from Get With It!




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