Prejudices Resurface in Williams Controversy

Image Credit: [Chris Trotman/Getty Images North]

More controversy over cartoon depicting Williams’ dispute with the Umpire in the US Open Final.

Black History Month is a time of celebration and recognition for important black figures. Yet, even in the 21st Century, people of colour are still being depicted differently to white people in the media. Even elite athletes such as Serena Williams, who has 23 grand slam titles to her name, are still being depicted as barbaric, particularly after her loss in the US Open Final to Japan’s Naomi Osaka.

Fair enough, Williams did behave aggressively. Her $17,000 fine for violating the tournament’s code of conduct, which included shouting at umpire Carlos Ramos, accusing him of being a ‘liar’ and a ‘thief’, was perfectly justified. Yet the aftermath of this incident has been outrageous.

Most significant has been the appalling cartoon depiction of Serena in the Australian publication, the ‘Herald Sun’. It depicts the star as a monstrous figure, seething with anger. Her opponent Osaka is portrayed as white with long blonde hair, despite actually being of mixed Japanese/Haitian heritage. This depiction suggests that there is a binary contrast the civilised, ladylike white women and the bestial black women.

Image Credit: [Chris Trotman/Getty Images North]
After coming under heavy scrutiny, the Australian paper was forced to remove the illustration. Yet, inevitably, the cartoon is circulating around social media sites. Unsurprisingly, this may have a damaging effect upon the star herself, who has previously admitted that she has faced a large amount of racial abuse throughout her career. It has even been suggested that Williams may not play for the rest of the season, which comes as a huge blow to the star who wanted to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

Why are depictions of black people still conforming to racist stereotypes? Serena Williams may have acted unsportingly, but shouldn’t a sportsperson be driven and competitive like Williams?


It’s seen as acceptable for white men such as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to show frustration and anger on the tennis court, yet when a black woman shows signs of anger, she is immediately labelled as vicious and monstrous, evoking stereotypes that should have been put to bed many decades ago. So how can we progress from this? Black History Month should be about celebrating sports stars such as Serena for being one of the most successful tennis players ever seen; celebrating her race and all that she has done for black women in sport.

The media should avoid such insulting depictions and refrain from portraying black people as aggressive in comparison to white people, especially in a multi-cultured environment where the next generation are aspiring to follow the success of Williams, LeBron James and the many other role models within sport. With some people still believing in such outdated values, we could be heading towards a dangerous future in sport, with black individuals no longer being remembered for success on the pitch, but for off-field controversy stoked by nineteenth century attitudes towards black athletes.



By Millie Frain