• Janice Petersen. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Why were black and brown people the target of endless abuse and ridicule by so many men on that show? In the schoolyard, I had to put up with similar “ooga booga” taunts and sickening wisecracks, writes SBS World News presenter and journalist Janice Petersen.
By
Janice Petersen

30 Mar 2021 - 4:34 PM  UPDATED 30 Mar 2021 - 4:39 PM

OPINION

When I saw the recent clip of lowlights from, Hey Hey It’s Saturday, it unleashed a visceral body memory. 

My heart raced, heat rose through my body and there was an almighty throbbing in my head. 

It’s the exact feeling I felt as a kid watching this rot. If racism had a feeling, this was it. 

I couldn’t bring myself to watch the entire clip. There it was again: blackface skits, a truly horrendous caricature of Kamahl with a bone through his nose being boiled alive in a pot and offensive stereotyping of black people.

I used to wonder as a kid what was so inherently, thigh-slappingly funny about the mere mention or sight of a black or brown person. Why were we the target of endless abuse and ridicule by so many men on that show? 

When Kamahl was asked about his experience on former Channel Nine show Hey Hey It's Saturday, he told The Guardian he felt ‘humiliated’. I believe him. 

I was dismayed to find that John Blackman, one of the show's stars, responded by doubling down and issuing this tweet: "Kamahl joins the ranks of the Cancel Culture Club - strikes retrospectively at HHIS - a bit like shooting Bambi (or fish in a barrel) Good one Kamahl!"

Yeah, I don’t get the reference to shooting orphaned Bambi either.   

Imagine having decades on your side to grow and evolve but choosing instead to paint the target of racist comedy sketches as the one who continues to get it wrong. 

John Blackman’s website says he is, “Recognised for his versatility as the "master of the one-liner and the quick quip". 

But when I responded to his tone-deaf tweet asking him specifically what was so funny about debasing and dehumanising black and brown people, the television veteran and “master of the one-liner” met my query with radio silence. 

What people who roll out the tired excuse of cancel culture so often fail to recognise is that the person on the receiving end of racist, sexist, bullying, homophobic or xenophobic comments gets to determine the extent of hurt and humiliation suffered, NOT the perpetrator.  

I support Kamahl in speaking out. The offensive bile offered up on occasion on Hey Hey It’s Saturday was humiliating not just to the talented entertainer but to many Australians, especially people of colour. I know this because more than a few of them have told me. 

And so, brown and black kids (and no doubt adults) were then subjected to the casual brand of racism and ‘disparagement humour’ that became the signature style of that family show. 

In the schoolyard, I had to put up with similar “ooga booga” taunts, grunting sounds, the discrimination and sickening wisecracks featured on that show. Apparently, it was funny. Apparently, it was people like me lacking a sense of humour. 

I can’t blame a TV show for all of it but I saw it play no small part in fostering that kind of ugly attitude. 

The early evening time slot saw it promoted as ‘family entertainment’. The little ones drawn in by the use of puppets as a foil for the puerile humour; Ozzie Ostrich and Dickie Knee. Never mind that the latter, voiced by Blackman, often delivered interjections peppered with racist overtones in the guise of a naughty school boy: “Excuse me, Mr Somers”. Daryl did far more than excuse it; he would frequently lick his lips and egg it on. 

Seems a few people still pine for the good ol' days where offensive content was passed off as family fun. 

Daryl Somers told News.com.au, “You probably could not get away with half the stuff you could on Hey Hey now because of the political correctness and the cancel culture.

It’s a shame because showbiz does not get much of a chance”.

Poor ol' showbiz, huh?

To borrow from Molly Meldrum, "Do yourself a favour" Daryl. Remember the standards you walk past when you waltz into your next gig hosting a dance show on Australian television. 

The problem with defensive nostalgia about out-of-touch television shows is that when you don’t call out racism or other forms of abusive behaviour, it festers and grows. Believe me. I’ve lived it. 

My family is from South Africa where racism morphed from a pastime of the ruling elite into oppressive and inhumane law. This kind of systemic cruelty has a lasting impact.  

Calling out racism as Kamahl has done is not "cancel culture", it is rightly pointing out and condemning past wrongs. 

Hey Hey It’s Saturday regrettably appeared to inform the humour of many Australians. From my experience, it set the tone of what was acceptable. 

Therein lies the evil of racism. When you debase and degrade people, it’s easy to forget that they are human. It’s easy to treat them like someone lesser than you. It becomes a vicious cycle. 

Thankfully Hey Hey It's Saturday has been relegated to the dustbin of history.  

Defending racism? What a joke.  

I love cricket, but the sting of racism on the pitch still haunts me
I was called a monkey, often. It didn’t help that I was also an early bloomer, fully bearded by the time I was playing in the Under 16s. When I told the other kids that I wasn’t a monkey, they laughed and just said, “Well, you’re hairy like one.”
What I learned from my viral tweets on #RacisminAustralia
The most common attack of all seemed to be “if you don’t like it here, leave”.