• Abby Alexander

Who is an expert anyway?

A couple of weeks ago, the world was sent into furor when Australian cartoonist, Mark Knight, drew a cartoon depicting Serena Williams spitting the dummy following her loss at the tennis.

The cartoon was quickly condemned around the world as being both racist and sexist. Columnists, commentators, celebrities and J.K Rowling herself all jumped in to call the cartoon out for being unnecessarily demeaning.

Mark Knight and Damon Johnston, who is the editor of the Herald Sun in Melbourne and was responsible for publishing the cartoon, both defended it. Knight said of the outrage; ‘The world has just gone crazy’ while the editor of the paper published a tweet saying; ‘[the]cartoon is not racist or sexist .... it rightly mocks poor behaviour by a tennis legend ... Mark has the full support of everyone @heraldsun.’

Mark Knight is one of Australia’s most well-known cartoonists and has been illustrating the news for many years. He is, by all measures, an expert in cartoons. Similarly, Damon Johnston is a veteran journalist and could be described as an expert in creating the paper.

However, their cavalier responses to the opinions of others, particularly people of different cultural backgrounds when they called ‘racist’ on that cartoon is a timely reminder that there needs to be intersections of expertise if the best result is going to be delivered.

Yes, it was a cartoon, and Mark Knight is an expert at them. And it was published in the paper, and Damon Johnston is the expert at those. But if a person who is black, who lives every day as a racial minority, who puts up with racial slurs and who is judged both consciously and unconsciously on the colour of their skin, says that something is racist and shouldn’t be published in the paper, then it is not the business of the cartoonist and the editor to refute that. Because in this instance, they aren’t the experts.

We need to move away from the idea that the only way you can be an expert at something is to study it at university and then go and make a living out of it. Not only does it not automatically qualify you as an expert if you do both those things, but it also fails to acknowledge that having a lived experience of something trumps a university degree and a pay check.

This time, they needed to combine expertise. They needed an experienced cartoonist, like Mark Knight, to draw the news in a way that was both subversive and informative. They needed Damon Johnston, who knows how to put a paper together that will satisfy his readership. And they needed someone who has a lived experience of being black, who is familiar with the history of the Sambo cartoons and knows what it is like to experience racism on a day-to-day basis to counsel both of them, so they could create a cartoon and a paper that didn’t offend a great deal of the world.

This person could be many things. Ideally, it would be a black woman working in the office with them, helping to put the paper together. We know that diversity in the workplace is incredibly important, not only for the bottom line and for office culture, but also because diversity of opinion and input helps to prevent incidents like this.

This person could also be a teacher, accountant, shop owner, student or counsellor.

Because lived experience makes someone an expert, even if not in the traditional sense of the word.

If you are looking into what people need for cancer treatment, the first person you will speak to is an oncologist. They are doctors who specialise in treating cancer, so they are the experts. But the next person you should speak to is someone who has been, or is being treated for, cancer. Because an oncologist who has never been treated for cancer cannot know the entire answer to the question ‘what does someone need when they are being treated for cancer’ if they haven’t lived it themselves.

If you only asked an oncologist who hadn’t received treatment, and then you didn’t listen to a patient tell you what they needed, then you’re not only being ignorant, you’re also missing half the expertise that could inform your answer.

That’s what happened with this cartoon. Knight and Johnston ignored the expertise of lived experience, and delivered a sub-par cartoon that could have gotten their intended message across if they had only listened to lived experience.


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