You will have no doubt heard about the Mark Knight cartoon in the Herald-Sun regarding Serena Williams.
If you haven't seen it, here it is:
I don't know what Mark Knight's intent was when he drew this, but there's no doubt the effect is a grotesque caricature of Serena Williams as being 'samboed' up in the style of Jim Crow racism.
It's clearly offensive to African Americans.
A simple apology from the cartoonist citing ignorance of the history and that there was no intent to offend should have seen an end to the matter.
Instead, News Ltd's Herald-Sun has chosen to remain ignorant of the history and insensitive to the hurt and rather than apologise has decided to go on the attack, engaging in another salvo in the tiresome culture wars and the battle against 'political correctness' and the illusion of limiting free expression.
Misunderstanding and a lack of knowledge of another culture's sensitivities is not an indictment. It is part of being human in a diverse world.
Yet, when we offend, however inadvertently the offence is caused, it is an indictment on the perpetrator to refuse to acknowledge the hurt...especially when it is racially charged.
On that point, I'd like to remind everyone of an incident that occurred live on air nearly 40 years ago at TV's Logies Awards in 1979.
Host, Bert Newton, was interviewing the guest, Muhammad Ali.
The conversation ensued as follows:
Ali was speaking about who might win the Gold Logie and said, "When you all out there find out who wins this, it'll be a shock!"
Bert Newton, with impeccable timing as always, waited for the laughter to die down, lent into the microphone and with every sign of affection said: "I like the boy!"
As offensive a term as one could say to an African American man. A condescending term that goes back to slavery days and the believed superiority of whites over blacks.
There was an immediate gasp from the American guests in the audience.
Bert later said that for a few seconds there was fire in the eyes of the heavyweight champ. Something like this, I suspect.
Ali then asked, "Did you say Roy or boy?"
Bert replied, wary and confused, "I like the boy!"
Starting to be quite concerned Bert then looked down at the audience, quite likely not wanting to make eye contact with the 6' 3" 220 pound world champion and asked the front table of American guests "Is there something wrong with saying that?"
Sitting at the front table was Lauren Tewes, the star of the TV series The Love Boat, who was screaming out "No! No! You said Roy! You said Roy!"
Bert then understood something was terribly wrong and backed away from Ali, placed his hands in the air and, trying to return levity to the situation, said, "Hey, hang on! Hang on! I'll change religion, I'll do anything for you. I don't care."
Ali realised Bert was completely unaware of the meaning of the deeply racial slur that he had uttered and started to smile.
Bert, still totally confused, asked the front row guests again, "What's wrong with that? I like the boy? I mean, I like the man. I'll face in the right direction, I don't care."
And then after all of that, Bert said, "I'm sorry, Muhammad" and returned to the microphone with hands shaking violently, showing his fear in a humorous manner.
You can watch an excerpt of that segment here:
Bert later explained that he had starred in a TV advertisement for KFC several years before and as Colonel Sanders he used that phrase in the ad "I like the boy!" and that's where it came from.
This was clearly a situation of cultural and historical difference.
It was only for a few seconds that Ali took offence and became incensed but when he realised that there was no intent from Bert, only ignorance, he returned to his jovial self.
Bert, once he realised what he had done, immediately apologised. He said "sorry".
A simple apology. It's not that hard.
I was taught as a child that it takes a big man to admit he was wrong and apologise.
The Herald-Sun's refusal to do so in this instance speaks volumes.