Thursday, October 8, 2009

stand up and speak out against racism

I'm guessing that most readers of this blog have already heard about Harry Connick, Jr.'s anti-racist activism on some sad-looking TV show down in the big Down Under. Nevertheless, I decided to highlight the clip and his righteous remarks here because it's a chance to do something I rarely do -- give white people credit when they do the right thing.

Thanks to their conditioning in a society that remains fundamentally racist (that is, white supremacist), white people often still do racist things. Sometimes they do that intentionally, though more often they do it, I would bet, without even realizing it (that is, unintentionally -- unconsciously).

But then, at other times, when white people are confronted with blatant racism -- such as, say, other white people shuckin' and jivin' in a ridiculous blackfaced throwback to the Jim Crow era -- sometimes white people stand right up and call that kind of obnoxious crap exactly what it is.

So kudos to Harry Connick, Jr. for doing that, and may other white people follow his lead when confronted with racism (blatant or subtle), be they in the U.S., Australia, or other national contexts.

And speaking of national contexts, did you know that a common designation in Australia for that land's indigenous counterpart to the U.S.'s "Native Americans" is "blacks"? It's true, or so I've heard, and read.

So, does that make a "blackface" performance like this one that HC, Jr. objected to any different there than it would be in the U.S.? It surely doesn't make it any less wrong, and obnoxious; I'm just wondering if it makes it any different.

I'm also wondering -- would an Australian TV audience laugh less readily if a group of white Australians blacked-up like this for a stereotypical, supposedly humorous imitation of indigenous Australians, instead of black Americans?

White Australian TV-show Host (@ 4:40): I noticed, when you were very kindly judging red faces [?], I noticed that when we had the Jackson Jive on, and it didn’t occur to me until afterwards, that I think we may have offended you. I deeply apologize on behalf o all of us, because I know that to your countrymen that's an insult to have a blackface routine. So I do apologize to you.

Harry Connick Jr: Right, thanks Daryl. I just wanted to say on behalf of my country, I know it was done humorously, but you know, we've spent so much time trying to not make Black people look like buffoons that when we see something like that we take it really to heart. And I know it was in good fun, and the last thing I want to do is take this show to really a down level, because I love this show and this country, but I feel like I'm at home here, and if I knew that was gonna be a part of the show, I definitely wouldn’t have done it. So I thank you for the opportunity. I gotta give it up, cause Daryl said at the break, he said, Man, you need to speak as an American. Not as a White American or a Black American, but as an American I need to say that, so thank you for the opportunity.

[My thanks to the many readers who emailed links to this video]


  1. I was so mortified when I saw this. I just cannot comprehend how anyone could possibly think this was okay.

    I realize that I'm not Australian and don't understand all to do with Australian culture, but I think when Harry talked about making people look like buffoons, he got it right on the money. I might be able to understand why someone wouldn't think blackface was racist if they were not American and were doing it in a serious and sincere tribute out of respect, but when you paint yourself a different color to mock someone who looks different from you-- it's mockery. And when the audience laughs, it's mockery. They are laughing at stereotyped and degrading portrayals of other human beings. And not in an ironic sense. When is that ever right?

    And I hate to say it, but my experiences with race discussions and Australians makes me think they would totally laugh at black Aussies in the same way.

  2. OT: I was thinking of you today, realizing another thing white people do -- namely, if a Black person is present, make it known they have lived in a majority Black or mixed neighborhood, or in the 'hood, and that they have personally met members of the Crips and the Bloods.

  3. Thanks profacero, that's interesting -- hadn't heard that. It does, however, sound familiar.

  4. aussies know and some will defend it like they defend the golliwog which these asshats just so happen to look like.

    something i've asked at other blogs, has anybody bothered to ask the aboriginals what they think? especially the activist, the ones that created their own black panther party? or those in redfern?

  5. I guess when we are admonished to take a stand against racism speaking out about the Wichita massacre or the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsome don't count.

  6. Props to HC Jr and to you too md!

    HC jr is doing what he believes in and you courageously do it everyday!

    you get mad love for that.

  7. (editing to fix typo)

    A friend sent me the video link this morning, and I could hardly watch it. It was so offensive. And the way the audience was so behind them, ugh it was just awful. I thought Harry Connick Jr. handled it well. I'm glad he spoke up.

    These are my thoughts on the cultural context:

    Well first, a necessary disclaimer. It's impossible for me to look at this objectively, as blackface produces an immediate visceral reaction in me. But I did try to step back and think about this: it's an Australian group, and I don't know if Australia has a history of minstrel shows. So, I decided not to make my conclusions based on the historical significance of the act. So, then I wondered, what is the goal of this group? Was it a tribute? I think not. They were making fun of the Jackson 5 and particularly Michael, and the joke centered largely on their stereotypical portrayal of black people. The fact that they used pitch-black paint, instead of anything resembling the skin color of the people they were portraying takes it way beyond simple impostering.

    I guess I look at it like this: Other countries may not have the same history of black face minstrel shows. But at one point, neither did the U.S. But the very first time a white American put black paint on their face to mock a black American, it was offensive. And the first time it happens in another place, it's offensive too. The intent is the same. The history of the people being mocked is the same (black Americans), even if the performers are from a different nation.


    Thought this might be of interest.


  9. I think Australians have a similar attitude towards their indigenous people as Americans have with black people...possibly even worse. Just google "Stolen Generations". Personally I think this is worse than slavery. At least the US government let black people live (even as chattel) and didnt try to systematically exterminate black dna from the population with government sanctioned programs.

  10. Meg O Licious, I was just going to post something similar. If anyone has a question aboout racism in Australia, learn about the Stolen Generation. Watch the documentary called Rabbit Proof Fence.

    I must admit it was only a few years ago that I learned about this. (Where have I been?) But it was shocking to say the least.

  11. I'm Australian.
    I was embarrassed to be one when I saw this. I was offended. My black friends were also offended. However, my family were not and supported it saying that their 'intentions' were not racist. I said the outcomes were and that white culture finds this funny because racism is part of our blood. Especially in white families like mine.
    My brother thought it was funny. My dad defended it (but then again, he is racist). My mother said it was their 'intentions' that make the justifiable. However me and the younger generation of my family thought it was racist and the ends overruns the means.
    What does this have to say about Australian culture? Well, at least the younger generation have a bit more hope.
    A little insight into Australia, or at least the Australia grew up in - I live in Melbourne who pride themselves on being 'multicultural'. Yet everywhere I go people think immigration should stop because all the Asians can't drive and are taking over our universities etc. Blacks are rare here where I live. But immigrants from places like Sudan are filling up the streets slowly...but what do we do when we see them, or an Indian, or even an Asian...we stare. We point out how nice their skin is, how those braids are awesome, and that traditional dress is so unique! They are something to look at. Or, there are some that don't see the circus act and look at them, turn down the windows and yell 'Get out of our country!'. Of course, not everyone is like this, there are many people who accept other races and cultures...but not enough. The school I go to has about 5 blacks...are rare sight but they are treated well at least (notice how they get extra attention because some people think they need it more *sigh*). But there are 'plenty of Asians' they are becoming part of white culture...if they act white, otherwise people just stare at the Asians who sit together and apparently only talk about anime and dramas.

    The Hey, Hey its Saturday stunt was appalling. It is as bad as the Footy Show with things like a Muslim being on the team the topic of the week because it is so...out of the norm. Oh, and there are no Asians in Aussie Rules Football. Some Aboriginals, a Muslim...even the occasional redheads (or what we call rangas) are a source of laughter.

    It is times like these when I am not proud to be an Australian. Time will tell.

  12. My understanding of Aussie slang is that "abo" is back in vogue. Nothing like a 3 letter word to dehumanize a group of people.

  13. Australian culture, BULLSHIT.
    There is no appropriate cultural context for blackface! Period! Ever since when was it culturally appropriate to degrade an entire group of people? Is there an appropriate cultural context for genocide too?

    Sidenote: Traveling the world for whites is easier when the whole world is taught to praise whites and degrade blacks. If Harry Connick Jr. was black, how many whites would have called him overly sensitive?

  14. Both Australia and New Zealand have very racist histories and remain highly racist today.

  15. Oz doesn’t carry the weight of history associated with blackface minstrel shows, so my guess is that its offensiveness computes differently in Oz (not that you can measure such things). It is offensiveness nonetheless, just without the direct weight of history.

    But UGHHHHHH. The article Michael posted shows exactly the kind of attitude that makes me angry about Oz.

    >In his best-selling book Stuff White People Like Canadian Christian Lander skewers middle-class, Caucasian, urban-dwelling folk, who "pretend to be unique, yet somehow they're all exactly the same".

    >And guess what? No one seriously accuses him of being racist.

    WTF? How does white ppl making fun of white ppl compare in any way to having non-Black people making fun of Black people. The author's logic is just SO LOW. How STUPID can you get? And what is seriously sad is that this kind of attitude is mainstream downunder, or so I believe from my experience there. And what’s with the ‘I’m Indian, so I can’t possibly be racist’ crap of a logic?’ Whatever.

    And about the prejudice towards Aboriginal Australians – it’s bad. Simple as that. Real bad. Some idiot of a researcher published an article proving how Aboriginal men have always abused their women even before the white settlers came. But so what??? That isn’t an aboriginal problem. The powerful oppress the less powerful – that happens the world over for goodness sakes. To me it seemed as though the only thing that research accomplished was to increase prejudice towards Aboriginal people.

    Even the most socially aware here have admitted that they have prejudices towards the Aborigines. That’s how deep it runs. And I’ve noticed that migrants pick the same attitude up real fast too. And to be honest, I’ve found myself having to battle the images portrayed in the media of the Aborigines too to avoid letting those prejudices take root in myself. It’s a battle that I have to be more and more conscious of the longer I live in Oz. It is that easy when the only images you EVER see on TV are ‘exotic’ Aborigines in tourist ads, and the only thing you ever read about them in the media are negative, negative, negative. Combine that with the images we’ve been fed with as kids in social science class about ‘primitive’ cultures and the human tendency to be prejudiced, and voila, you get a formula for stupidity. In the not-so-large city that I live in, Aborigines are clearly second class citizens. It’s really sad.

    And yes, they are referred to as ‘black’. I think the nature of prejudice towards Aborigines in Oz can be described as the prejudice towards African Americans plus the prejudice towards native Americans divided by two. It’s a mixture of both types of prejudices, me thinks.

  16. This has been one of the most shameful and privilege-soaked day I have seen in Australia for a long time. Really awful. The reaction to Harry's stance shows how little our population understands racism, and how privileged and racist we really are as a nation.

    Macon, to fill in a couple of gaps - this 'sad-looking tv show' was a very popular variety show in the 80's, and 'red faces' was the talent quest segment - usually performers who were seriously bad (hence the red face when they were told to stop), but occasionally very good.

    It was brought back for 2 reunion specials, this being the second one. Back in the 80's this would have been the height of humour in Australia, and I think people have forgotten what things were like back then.... this sketch was a reprise of one done back in the 80's on this show, and was intended as a bit of nostalgia and a homage to MJ and the Jackson 5. So I think people were genuinely surprised to see Harry speak out against it.

    It's hard to answer your questions. I think "blackface" minstral stuff does have a different connotation here, since we don't have the same baggage as the USA, and we see minstrel stuff as being a US import. These people didn't think about dehumanising or racially stereotyping 'some black people' - that may not go down so well, standard minstrel style, because it would be overt racism (only covert racism is allowed here). It is accepted when people are doing it about actual identifiable black people (acceptable in racist Aussies' mind, not mine!!!) The attitude here is "but it's not racism! It's the Jackson 5!! They're black! How could we do a tribute show without blacking our faces? And MJ became white, and we all laughed at him for it! How can we differentiate him from the other Jacksons unless we paint his face white?" Ugh. Whether it would have the same reaction if it was done with Indigenous Australians - well, can't answer that - it just couldn't be done, as there are no indigenous Australians as famous and 'worth imitating' as the Jackson 5. Aussies would argue that it's apples and oranges - imitating a well known band is different from just painting your face and pretending to be black (a la minstrel show).

    Awful, ignorant, yuck.

    Plus, there seems to be a very common thing here - that in situations where humour is expected, no one is allowed to get offended. There is an absolute amnesty on racism and sexism during comedy shows, and anyone who objects is howled down as having no sense of humour and being over-sensitive.

    To all those asking if it was a tribute or a mockery - I'm very sorry to say it was probably intended as a tribute. Yes. Seriously. Hence the outrage - there seems to be some idea in Australia that racism isn't racism unless there is *intent*.


  17. cont...

    And yes Macon, our Indigenous population call themselves blackfellas and call us whitefellas - it is the standard. Black and white have very different cultural connotations over here to what you are used to in the USA.

    7th, yes they have asked one or two Indigenous people what they think. Just one or two. But if you could see the extremety of the abuse and vitriol levelled at Harry Connick Jr today, you would understand why the one or two Aboriginal people who have been asked have said things like 'well, everyone does it, so no biggie I guess'. And they are held up as "see, SEE! Even the blackfellas don't think it's racist! Harry was just over-reacting!"

    A youtube video of Harry doing some 'blackface' minstral sketch back in 1996 has been widely circulated to prove he is a hypocrite and what happened wasn't really racism at all. There is no leeway for him to have seen the error of his ways and decide not to condone this racial stereotyping any more - he is simply a hypocrite. Very much school yard 'I know you are but what am I' stuff.

    Kamahl, who used to appear on this show, was quoted in the paper today that he would laugh along when people did blackface about him (as they did often back then), but inside he was deeply humiliated.

    That's what is expected in Australia - to think this shit is funny, and if you don't, to say nothing. At best, you should have a quiet word in the producer's ear after the show - it's simply not on to call someone out on privilege or racism in public, as it might hurt their feelings, make them uncomfortable, or make them look bad. True.

    If you want to know how Australia has treated our blackfellas, take everything the USA did to the Native Americans and add it to everything they did to the African Americans. You'll get close....

    Check out not just the stolen generations, but the white Australia policy, the history wars, and current constitution for a bit more info.

  18. Personally, I don't expect anything different from Australians. Most of the Australians I have ever met and generally White people from that side of the world remind me very much of racist White South Africans.

    I certainly would not want to live there as I don't like their attitude.

    All you have to do is watch the TV programs they have over there and broadcast in the UK etc to see how they generally feel about Black people...They generally have no Black people in their shows...FACT

    As you can see from this show, in order to represent Black folks, they have to paint themselves with tar....What a bunch of buffoons!

    Additionally, these buffooons are so called medical professionals...I have to shake my head at how pathetic they are.

    I am surprised that the Jacksons are not suing the living daylights out of that show....Total disrespect!

  19. Thanks for all that work, Restructure! You certainly are a dedicated reader of "stuff white people do." I was thinking of adding a new tag, "white activism," to such posts, so this will help. (But maybe that tag should be "white anti-racist activism," to distinguish it from the more familiar and malicious forms of white activism?)

    I'm not sure what the exact definition of "rarely" should be in this case, but assuming those really are all posts where I gave white people credit for doing the right thing, 24 posts out of a total of 399 so far -- that is, 6% -- strikes me as pretty "rare."

    What do others reading this thread think -- should I try to do posts that highlight white anti-racist activism more frequently? If this blog is, as some white readers have complained, a "turn-off" because it seems "unrelentingly negative," would that make it better?

  20. @ cinnamon girl

    Hence the outrage - there seems to be some idea in Australia that racism isn't racism unless there is *intent*.

    That is one of the most concise, nicely-worded summaries of white liberal racism that I have ever read. Kudos.

  21. That would be 25 posts, including "stand up and speak out against racism".

  22. I also ignored all those "white quotations of the week", which include giving credit to white people.

  23. Think "Robbie Burns>"

    This is how the rest of the world sees us...

    They recognize that tolerance in the USofA is a thin patina, and that the racism which has motivated every facet of our lives is still the default condition of the country's social contract...

  24. What do others reading this thread think -- should I try to do posts that highlight white anti-racist activism more frequently?

    Hm. I am deeply ambivalent on this.

    When I first read it, my immediate reaction was, to put it somewhat mildly, Heck no, why else would most of us be here if we didn't want to confront problems. I'm very way of patting oneself on the back, I guess you could say, or in social justice terms, baking your own cookies. (That statement refers to the white readers here).

    On the other hand, however, it's nice (and more importantly, helpful) to see real world examples of Stuff White People Can Do, so to speak--not in the sense of "see? we're capable of not being total asses", but in the sense of practical, meatspace things we can do to fight racism. A lot of that does come up in the "regular" threads, of course, but it often seems to be more about *personal* change (both us, and people we are close to) than *systemic* change.
    Hmm...I know the blog is called 'stuff white people do', but maybe you could do an occasional "anti-racism activism" post that, whatever the race(s) of the people involved, *contributes* (meaning, white people don't mis/appropriate what isn't ours) in some way to Stuff White People Can Do?

  25. I'm one of those people that thinks we should definitely highlight the positive aspects of society as well as the negative. While we need to recognize our responsibility to change, learn, and grow, we also need to let ourselves be happy with the small accomplishments we are making in terms of race. And I think many Americans are getting better at looking at racial injustice with a critical eye. It's taking much longer than everyone had hoped, but it is sinking in, slowly but surely. I hope and expect that the next generation will have fewer "hangups" about race than ours.

    I think strictly focusing on the negative tends to make people feel like there is no hope to ever "get it right", leading to a feeling of defensiveness.

    So yeah, I would enjoy seeing a few more positive takes on racial issues. Even if just as examples of how to do it right.

  26. @Macon:
    I wouldn't put any more white-congratulatory posts than you're doing now. Just one every so often. As a white person, and someone a year or so from becoming an English teacher in the public school system, I like to come here and see posts that make me think about how I treat people, if I'm doing all I can to understand as many people as possible, and if I have hang-ups that I'm unaware of. I don't want to fall into complacency or feeling like it's a mission close to accomplishment when it's not. I like that POC come here to address problems and share their personal experiences about those problems. And I like that some WP come here to put themselves in check. Yes, some WP might feel insulted, saying how not all white people are like that, or how they aren't like that - but I think many of them will remember the posts that piss them off the most and they won't realize that they're checking themselves more than they used to because of it.

    Yeah, so my vote is to keep it the same.

  27. @ cinnamon girl

    thanks. i shouldn't be surprised about the tactics of the media especially when confronting issues of race or sex.

    i've seen the posts at places like gawker where someone would say they never had the history similar to the states, of course choosing to ignore the shameful 'south sea labour trade' aka blackbirding in queensland for like 40 years or the stolen wages of the indigenous people which created de-facto slaves and made australia what it is today.

  28. Macon, I agree with Willow and Victoria. I feel like you've done an amazing job and I think that I, at least, come here to read examples that can help me further unpack my privilege and express my questions and thoughts about fighting racism and feel like if I am making a mistake or offending someone, people will call me out on it, but will also do so in a surprisingly non-judgmental manner considering how sick they must be of dealing with some of these things.

    I think the environment you've created here is not perfect, but it is going in the right direction. The only thing that saddens me is the number of white people who seem to try to use this blog to deliberately express their privilege and entitlement in the comments. But it also helps to see those people because it serves as a reminder and reinforcement of the work you are trying to do.

    I think I like the fact that when you post positive examples of anti-racist allies, they are the absolute strongest and most unequivocal examples of that. For me, as a white person who aims to be an anti-racist ally, it gives me something to live up to and not examples that I can rationalize as "oh, I do that!" and give myself a mental cookie, which is a behavior I think a lot of white people need to get away from.

  29. Willow, livinonfaith, Victoria, and Pistolina, I just wanted to say thank you for your responses to my question -- very helpful as I keep going with this blog. And inspiring!

  30. Macon, the occasional post is fine - but to me this one wasn't so positive, as it illustrated something white people do - get the shits up and unleash a storm of hatred, racism and nationalism in response to someone publicly standing up against a single act of racism.

    I've been called American, pro American and un-Australian today for saying hey, I agree with Harry. People say 'but he threw rocks at our culture, you're either with us or against us'. to which I try and respond that it wasn't our culture he threw rocks at - but it is. It really is. What Liz Sedai said is totally how it is over here - white.

    And something else white people do - knee-jerkingly blame it on the Americans. I stand by everything I said except that - we have a STRONG tradition of this kind of humour in Aus, unfortunately. When I thought about Kamahl last night, I couldn't picture his face - just a seemingly endless parade of 'blackface' sketches on tv. It was endemic in the 80's and early 90's. We may have got it from the Yanks, but we made it our own.

    I'm writing a list of 'stuff white Aussies do' which I've noticed over the last few days. It's not pretty.

  31. Macon, you do a really great job here. I admire what you are doing because I know it's really hard for me to suck it up and face my privilege or the hurt I've caused other people sometimes and sometimes I want to be a whiny entitled baby and just cry about it, and you make active and constant work out of facing this kind of stuff.

  32. "Harry Connick Jr: Right, thanks Daryl. I just wanted to say on behalf of my country, I know it was done humorously, but you know, we've spent so much time trying to not make Black people look like buffoons that when we see something like that we take it really to heart."

    Does anyone not see anything remotely racist in that statement?
    I'm surprised nobody has even called Harry Connick Jr. out on it.

    At the contrary, this country has spent so much time trying to make black people look like buffoons. I wouldn't call taking stuff like this off the air "trying" at all.

  33. al,

    I think his statement about buffoonery was a bit inarticulate, in that he was thinking on his feet and worded it awkwardly, but people are giving him the benefit of the doubt. I'm happy to do the same, as I think his intent was clear.

  34. I'm Australian. Anyone in Australia that says they don't know anything about racism or the history of African Americans... are lying. Most of the stuff we get on TV are from the States. You must be living in a hole with no TV/movie adverts to not know.

    as for "did you know that a common designation in Australia for that land's indigenous counterpart to the U.S.'s "Native Americans" is "blacks"?"

    it's true, the term black fella is used by the Australian Aborigines themselves and pretty much everyone else...

  35. I too am an Australian and find the sketch shameful. I'm not going to defend it for a second.

    BUT... a few things must be said here to provide context for the US majority reading this thread.

    I must say I do find it a bit amusing to hear people who've never been to Australia give their opinions on how allegedly racist and backward we are and so on. And look, I complain about the racism in Australia as much as anyone - half my blog is devoted to it. But if you're not from here, be mindful that you don't necessarily know the whole story.

    I mean, Beauty and Health Nurse's comment:
    "Personally, I don't expect anything different from Australians. Most of the Australians I have ever met and generally White people from that side of the world remind me very much of racist White South Africans. I certainly would not want to live there as I don't like their attitude."

    Yeah, real smart comment. White people from one side of the world are assholes and white people from your side of the world must be all f***ing saints then. And your expert opinion comes from watching Australian TV shows. Therefore I should assume every American is just like Glenn Beck. Get a frickin' clue.

    @ Macon - you say "did you know that a common designation in Australia for that land's indigenous counterpart to the U.S.'s "Native Americans" is "blacks"?

    Respectfully, you write as if this has never been a common term in the US and UK for people with dark skin. I don't really understand why you would write this.

    I don't mean to sound cranky. But I'm sick of Australian racism on one hand, but equally I'm not pleased with what seem like uneducated generalisations coming from non-Australians.

    I've blogged extensively about this issue, so if you want an Australian perspective on it, read away.

  36. @ Macon - you say "did you know that a common designation in Australia for that land's indigenous counterpart to the U.S.'s "Native Americans" is "blacks"?

    Respectfully, you write as if this has never been a common term in the US and UK for people with dark skin. I don't really understand why you would write this.

    I do write from a U.S.-centric viewpoint, although I try to account for that. I wrote that part of this post because here in the U.S., the corollary for "Australian Aboriginal" is "Native American"/"indigenous" (and still, in many minds, "Indian"), and the color red is firmly affixed to the indigenous peoples here in the American psyche (for example, and incredibly enough, there's STILL a professional sports team here called the Redskins). So, in my experience, when Americans hear that aboriginal Australians are commonly referred to with the color black instead of red, they're surprised. Also, I thought that was worth pointing out in the context of this post by way of wondering if this other meaning in Australia of "black" contributes to how "blackface" is performed and received any differently in the Australian context.

  37. @ Macon: okay, I get that. My earlier impression was that you were writing it in a "gee, aren't they backward to use that term" kind of way.

    It's hard to say what linkages the average Australian makes between black Americans and black indigenous Australians. But I would wager that whatever associations are made, they are rarely positive.

    I recall in my high school days. My white friends were discussing music, specifically the socially conscious black US rock band Living Colour.
    One asked, "What do they sing about?"
    My other friend replied, "Oh, kind of like Midnight Oil [white Australian socially conscious rock band]. You know, Abos and shit."

    Btw I would not consider the guy who said that to be "a racist" in terms of mistreating anyone - he probably would have accepted anyone of any race as part of our group. But a lot of people here use racist language with little thought to its meaning.

  38. >I would not consider the guy who said that to be "a racist" in terms of mistreating anyone - he probably would have accepted anyone of any race as part of our group.<

    How do you mean? I get that very few people can be considered "a racist," but aren't most of us are racially prejudiced in some way? I'm not quite getting your nuance.

    I've met plenty of Australians who have 'accepted me into their group' (and I love them for that) but still can't 'see' Asians as equals. There's a slight but important difference between treating someone as an equal and actually seeing them as an equal. It's either I have to play along with their stereotyped views of Asians (quite, docile, timid), or learn to act like a white Australian (which is hard to do when you haven't grown up there).

    For example, I know a group of people who would indeed accept Aboriginal people into their group. Yet, one guy had a dream unrelated to any Aboriginal issue, but all the bad/evil guys appeared as Aborigines for no apparent reason. I don't think he saw the significance of that dream. He would consciously choose not to mistreat Aboriginal people, but there still seems to be a deeply ingrained prejudice there.

  39. Was it unfunny? Yes
    Was it racist? Yes.
    Is the average Australian familiar with minstrel shows? No.
    Is there any expectation for them to be? No.

    I had never heard of minstrel shows until I started reading anti-racism blogs. After that show, I asked people close to me if they had ever heard of minstrel shows. Two of them tentatively proposed that it had something to do with lutes, the rest had no clue.

    Minstrel shows are an artifact of American racism against African-American people. Those two groups are pretty low on the radar in Australia. Unless Australians have been exposed to that particular slice of racist history in books or the internet or something, they are just not going to know, just like most Americans aren't going to know artifacts of white Australian raciscm againt indigenous people until they see a movie or something (examples in your comments, and also your 'black' comment, which got a loud "the hell?" from me-- the only time I hear black as referring to indigenous Australians is in mainstream indigenous works like "growing up black" "living black" etc-- to claim it's a slur is strange).

    Just like it would be odd to expect an American to know some obscure trivia of acts against indigenous people, it's odd that Americans expect Australian to know what the hell a minstrel show is. We just have not been exposed to it.

    Of course it was racist. Of course it should not have gone to air. But to assume that Australia is a little America, up-to-date with knowledge of your history, is irritating.

    The part of this whole event which makes me most ashamed of Australia, though, is that this has highlighted that we do not have a way to talk about racism. Australians are pretty sadly uninformed about issues of race, and there's no dialouge happening. This could have been a grat opportunity to learn a little more, to open up and see, but people are shooting it down as just PC overreaction. It's a shame.

  40. @ fromthetropics: yes, most of us are a bit racist or can do racist things. And I guess that's what I was trying to get at. Too often people talk as if there is a dichotomy - someone is either a racist or they are not. That's why I chuckle anytime someone says "I'm not racist." I didn't want readers to infer that my friend, by using the word "Abo", was therefore a card-carrying white supremacist.

    @ Rasp - I agree, most Australians have, at best, only a vague knowledge of minstrel shows and their significance.
    What has saddened me in the last few days is the that now that it has been explained why blackface is not appropriate, the majority can't accept that, and are so reluctant to use it as a learning experience.
    I mean, it's hardly rocket science that representing black people with the "golliwog" look is not really that complimentary.

  41. @Eurasian Sensation I have learnt to ignore whatever @Beauty and Health Editor says - this person believes that POC don't exist in Australia! Guess we must be invisible! Let's go dance naked in the streets, no one will see us ;)

  42. @Eurasian Sensation - Gotcha.

    >Australians are pretty sadly uninformed about issues of race, and there's no dialouge happening.

    Yeah. I think this is the saddest part. I usually feel as though someone has put out a gag order on such talks. The day after it aired on TV, someone complained about the Americans...and then went on to complain about all the immigrants and their violent tendencies and other things he could think of. I was like, huh? It was so off it was funny. (But of course I then had to come here and everywhere else and vent, since he was so clueless I could only go so far in trying to show him how off he was lest he shuts his ears completely.)

  43. hey guys. here's something on the Aboriginal Australian perspective:

  44. @Rasp, While I agree with many of your points, there is one thing that I don't agree with, which is that this skit went to air because Australians are ignorant of American history (paraphrased). It's not as if *no one* in Australia knows the significance and historical context - and it's perfectly reasonable to expect the people who were responsible for airing this to be aware of what they're airing, even if the people watching are uneducated.

    It's not the same as Americans not knowing our politics, because the flow of information is a fairly consistent one way stream across the Pacific. Australians know a huge amount more about American culture than vice-versa, because even if we don't read books or the internet, we have grown up fed on a diet of American TV. I don't think there would be many Australians who haven't seen an old American blackface skit at some point in their lives (or two or ten), in contexts which show that it is offensive and outdated.

    I have carefully followed several internet discussions about this topic in the last few days because I wanted to understand where this was coming from, and two things have emerged. First, that even when told the historical context, some Aussies will still continue to speak as if they don't know it, and Harry's objection was an unfair 'cultural clash'. Second, that these people upon questioning also go on to show show every sign of being racist.

    I really believe now that the people who objected to Harry's objection (a very loud and vocal group) truly are racist and want to be able to laugh at other races in comfort without being 'attacked' for it or challenged on it. You can find these people within the media and watching the media, and the end result is the same - claiming 'ignorance made me do it', but not letting any information change that ignorance.

    There has been ample opportunity in Australia to see the significance of this act; those who don't see it, don't because they are *choosing* not to.
    It will come up again, somehow, somewhere, just like it has come up many times before - and they will claim again that they didn't *intend* to be racist.

    Because that's what they want you to think.

  45. One last thing (I hope):

    It was pointed out on Mediawatch that this blackface skit actually was in breach of the Australian Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, 2004, clause 1.8.

  46. Didn't Australians have a "Whites only" immigration policy? Didn't Whites used to hunt down Aboriginals, to the point of extinction in Tasmania (or another Island)? Didn't they kidnap generations of Aboriginal children so that they could turn these children into servants/maids (can't remember the movie, but believe it was called "Rabbit Proof Fence")?

    Australia has a terrible history with racism and xenophobia. I remember reading an interesting article about White Canadians who emigrated to Australia and felt excluded. I laughed when I read the article, because I wondered if they as Whites were having such a rough time, what would happen to a dark-skinned Jamaican like me.

    Anyways, if Australians didn't know it in the past (which I don't believe for even one minute), Blackface IS NOT COOL!! Intelligent, "civilized" people can certainly get that through their heads. Right?

  47. Black face done by 'whites' is ALWAYS a BAD idea!


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