This week a cartoonist depicted Serena Williams in a noxious illustration that we won't link to or mention names here. There's far too much speculation among (mostly) white folks about whether said image was offensive or just an artist's interpretation of a current event. This discussion isn't too far off from conversations we (unfortunately) have about crossing the line from cultural appreciation to cultural appropriation in art, music or fashion. Or the conversations we have about appropriate costumes for both kids and adults. On occasion, these lines are blurry and it can be more difficult to gauge whether boundaries have been breached. This one was not one of those.
When I saw the image of Serena I gasped. It was so grossly racist and sexist, the thought that any reasonable person would see it and think otherwise was truly astonishing. I thought it would be helpful to create a guide to share with those reasonable folks who need further explanation.
Is there animal imagery used to depict people of color?
This a common trope has been used to dehumanize people of color, particularly Black folks, for centuries. Dehumanization is a justification for oppression and violence against people of color, for example rampant police brutality in communities of color throughout the US. RACIST.
Are 'bad' people shown as darker than 'good' people?
Is anyone white-washed to imply innocence? As we saw with the Serena cartoon, both the umpire and her competitor Naomi Osaka were illustrated White juxtaposing Black Serena. RACIST.
Do you recognize any familiar stereotypes about an entire group of people?
Are any characters eating stereotypical food or wearing clothes associated with a particular ethnic group? Have facial features been over-caricaturized? Some indications that what you're seeing is RACIST.
If it's a woman, does it hyper-masculinize or infantilize her?
Is an assertive, ambitious or demanding woman portrayed with masculine features essentially stripping? Is a 'good' woman childlike, demure or obedient? Either one is SEXIST.
If the answer to any of these questions is yes or even maybe, then the image is probably racist or sexist and you, too, should be offended.