Sorry, folks - it was definitely racist.
Back in 2013 when The Daily Show’s then reporter John Oliver came to Australia he remarked it was a “comfortably racist” place. No one seemed to disagree with his assessment. It seems we are comfortable with our casual racism. So much so that some of the biggest names in our media are happy to prove the point. This time it was Karl Stefanovic who when speaking to some Indian cricket fans on Channel 9’s The Today Show asked, “who's going to be manning 7-Elevens today?”
We could, of course, choose to laugh off Karl’s comments. After all he’s known for his on-air gaffes, and this was just another example of one of his misjudged comments. Earlier on in the show for example Karl called Kiwi cricket fans the “dole bludger army” – leaving many New Zealanders unamused.
However, laughing off this comment is not going to change a thing. By laughing off the comment we are saying that we are OK with this sort of casual racism. That we are not only accepting of the “othering” of people from different cultures and different races, but that we are completely OK with celebrities openly verbalising such a view on our mainstream media.
We shouldn’t be OK with it, of course. The damage that racism causes to community relations and mental health is well known. Beyondblue’s recent anti-discrimination ad campaign did much to highlight the negative impact of casual racism. To be honest, no one needs to be told that racism of any kind – be it casual or not - is wrong. Even the most prejudiced must know deep down that it’s wrong.
It’s quite likely that Karl Stefanovic is regretting what he must’ve said in haste – not that he’s going to admit he made a mistake.
As far as he and other cricket fans are concerned his comment was just a bit of harmless sledging.
Sledging is much a part of cricket as bowling and batting itself. But at what point does sledging fall into racism? In January this year Aussie cricketer David Warner was fined 50% of his match fee for taunting Indian cricket player Rohit Sharma to “speak English”. This is as a result of the ICC taking a tougher stance against sledging.
If the ICC is taking a tough stance on the field then surely we can do the same off the field. Former Wallaby Tim Horan’s tweet in advance of the India vs Australia semi-final World Cup game may be claimed as sledging but falls firmly into casual racism territory.
At the end of the day, there are still some who are going to claim Karl’s comments weren’t racist - can’t we all just have a laugh? But if the laugh is at the expense of a minority group, and was intended to remind Indian Australians that their place is behind the till of a shop, then no, it’s not something that justifies a laugh - a cheap laugh at that.
And yes, it was most definitely racist.
We need to change the view that Australians are ‘comfortable racists’ and call out this sort of ‘sledging’ for what it is – plain old racism. Until we can do this both on the field and off, then we are going to be stuck with a label that portrays we are anything but a forward thinking, open-minded society.
Saman Shad is a storyteller and playwright.