Another day, another idiot dressed up in a blackface costume - this time carrying a petrol can. It's pretty unmistakably racist.
As far as racist blackface costumes in Australia go, that one's about as bad as it gets. It even came complete with a really bad and ignorant apology, somehow managing to go on the attack over the accurate assumption that many people would think his apology sucked. And of course, victimise himself when appalled commentators included the phrase “white privilege”. It had all the makings of a ‘name and shame’ article except for two things: who the hell is this guy and why does the media care about what he did?
I know why most of us care about what he did – such an overt act of racism makes you cringe, makes you angry, makes you furious, makes you shake your head in disbelief, makes you sad, makes you a million and one things in an instant. That’s why social media ‘outrage' (as it is often referred) is usually little more than one offensive gesture that is so readily identifiable that it evokes an instant emotional response, and it generates enough energy for us to give a reaction. A like or a dislike on Facebook, a retweet on Twitter, sharing it with others who we know would be equally pissed off - it's an instant of our time, multiplied by thousands. For the individual it is usually a fairly mild response, for the recipient it can seem like an endless torrent of criticism and abuse.
That’s one reason why many media people often hesitate before writing about stories like this, they ask themselves if the shitstorm this person is about to experience is entirely warranted given their actions? It’s a fair question to ask, but it’s usually not my main concern when I think about whether I’m going to comment on something like this or not. I don’t really feel bad for the people who are ‘named and shamed’ for being racists. I don’t know, or try to determine, just how much they ‘deserve’ online abuse from strangers, potential positive or negative impacts on their job opportunities, repercussions within their personal lives and relationships… because many Aboriginal people I know deal with harsher realities every time they walk outside. Every time they log onto Facebook, every time they apply for a job, every time they go out for a night on the town. So forgive me if I’m not too sympathetic about the dramas experienced by those who choose to be racist idiots when it’s racist idiots like that who contribute to the day-to-day racism experienced by many Aboriginal people just for existing in the first place.
“If you can’t accept my apology it shows your character and by commenting all the ‘white privilege stuff’ it makes you just as low as the photo I posted.” I also didn’t feel too sorry for him after I read his ‘apology’ either.
Having a basic awareness of white privilege is "just as low" as posting what is quite probably the single most racist and disrespectful iteration of blackface that is possible to enact in Australia? What is going on in Australia where the basic understanding of racism is so low that there can be any comparison whatsoever made there? And what use is the media if we can write about stories like this without even pausing on that line to say, 'Hold on… wtf did he just say there?' and then summarily tear it to pieces.
White privilege is one of the key ways that racism normalises, justifies, glorifies and perpetuates itself. Talking about it is important if we want to ever eliminate racism.
White privilege is one of the key ways that racism normalises, justifies, glorifies and perpetuates itself. Talking about it is important if we want to ever eliminate racism. To argue that it is also racism, is simply off the scale. It reminded me somewhat of that Sydney councillor who recently argued that giving an Acknowledgement of Country was racist and ‘divisive’ because it singled out a single cultural group. “We don't tolerate divisions on race, religion or gender … We're a very intelligent council. Three of the councillors have doctorates, most have a graduate or post-graduate degree - we're all very intelligent people, at least on the Liberal side," he said. If such is the case, wonder if they similarly oppose gendered toilets at The Shire Council? Given that they don’t tolerate divisions based on gender. I wonder how many of the evidentially 'intelligent' degrees are in any subjects that deal in depth with what is or isn’t racism?
Racism is the combination of power and prejudice. Acknowledging that Aboriginal people exist, and have lived here long before anyone else is not racist.
What good is covering these stories if no one stops to point out just how ludicrous that suggestion is. Racism is the combination of power and prejudice. Acknowledging that Aboriginal people exist, and have lived here long before anyone else is not racist. And having any random degree or doctorate doesn’t make you an instant expert on racism. It sounds pretty simple but apparently even ‘very intelligent’ people, like the Councillor, still don’t seem to get it.
I’m not saying that the media shouldn’t strive to maintain some sense of journalistic objectivity, but surely we can do more to give people a basic understanding of such basic concepts? I’m not confident that the media at large realise the impact we already have on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people, or on the overwhelming ignorance of non-Indigenous people. We need to consider this when we do stories that we know will add to that anger, that sadness, that sense of hopelessness that comes from staring into a seemingly endless sea of racism while doing nothing to address the ignorance and animosity that surrounds it.
We need to unpack these ideas, not just report on incidents without giving context or understanding. We must look for stories that extend beyond the existing stereotypes and have a positive impact on the world around us, even if just by shedding some light on it.
As acclaimed writer Bruce Pascoe wrote almost a decade ago, ‘White people’s ignorance of Aboriginal people is so pervasive, so profound, that it exhausts the Indigenous who are forced to argue every point: well, yes we did live here before you came, no, we didn’t eat our children, yes, my grandfather was murdered by your grandfather, yes, my father went to both world wars alongside yours, no he didn’t get a soldier settlers’ farm like yours, no, we didn’t invent the wheel…or the jail, or the rack, boiling oil, or instruments to pluck out fingernails, white collar crime; there were a lot of things we didn’t invent.’
Yes, blackface is racist, no, doing an acknowledgement of country is not racist, no, acknowledging white privilege isn’t racist either, yes, media affects racism, no, it’s not our job to politely argue the point with every racist who comes along, no, being called racist isn’t a form of racism ...
I spent my time arguing those points when I was younger and I don’t want the next generation who come after me to have to keep arguing these points just like the ones who came before me did. If media are going to report on these issues, then they should acknowledge the role they play and make a conscientious decision about which side they want to bat for.