Hey, Hey it’s offensive in Australia too

Remember when something as outrageously racist as a minstrel show was considered funny? Mainstream funny, not white supremacist funny? No, me neither. That kind of cruelty was a long, long time ago. Or so we thought.

Then this week a 1980s variety television show called Hey Hey It’s Saturday came back on air for a reunion. As part of the Hey Hey reunion they included their traditional amateur talent competition, judged by a couple of celebrity guests, where among other acts they brought back a ‘blackface’ skit, and as Fuck Politeness explains, it was startlingly awful..

Oh, the thigh slapping hilarity of ‘blackface’ humour, of ‘Michael Jackson – is he black or white??’, of ‘Haw haw how silly are those black performers with their comical and unwittingly homoerotic moves’ etc etc.

Or as the AWL puts it..

You know what never gets old for the folks on Prison Island? Blackface! Oh, how they chuckle!

The ‘blackface’ skit is so extraordinarily offensive that you wonder how, as Sophie Black in Crikey does…

.. the Jackson Jive idea managed to get the tick from several producers, a talent scout, the host of the show and the six guys who took the time to sit in front of a mirror and apply boot polish to their visages.”

Well, you just need a sense of humour! But no-one has thinner skin than us trying to justify our racism. We can dish it out alright, but we sure can’t take it in Australia. A shiny new coin observes that..

This is another occasion in which the response to the offensive material is actually as shocking (if not more than) as the material itself. I mean, a blackface skit? In 2009? It almost defies belief, but now we have the well educated people of the popular news sites expressing their outrage that anyone point out their stunning racism to them.

We might tell you we like to laugh at ourselves, but seems we much prefer laughing at others. And looking at the ‘blackface’ skit Crimitism notes..

It’s been defended as a tribute to the Jackson Five. It wasn’t. There is no attempt made to look like the Jackon Five actually looked; these are minstrels with pitch-black skin and funny wigs. When they talk to each other, they sound like Amos & Andy. They go to great lengths to get a laugh out of Michael being (very) white and the others being (very) black. These aren’t people, they’re golliwogs.

An apology followed on the show. But this is only because Harry Connick Jnr, an unfortunate guest on the program, makes his disgust so clear (particularly backstage, apparently) that something has to be done to keep him from leaving. As the NY Magazine explains..

Guest American judge Harry Connick Jr. took issue, thankfully, giving the Jive a “0” and telling the tone-deaf host, “If they turned up like that in the United States, it’d be like Hey Hey There’s No More Show.”

But the apology from host, Daryl Somers is possibly even more dreadful than the ‘blackface’ skit itself. The Guardian is incredulous..

“I noticed that when we had the Jackson Jive on,” he says to Harry, “and it didn’t occur to me till afterwards, I think we may have offended you with that act … I know that to your countrymen, that’s an insult to have a blackface routine like that on the show, so I do apologise.”

Very good of him. In Australia, of course, it is perfectly acceptable, and we thank the nation for yet another important contribution to the annals of human culture.

And Chicago Now

Shame on the host and the other judges for trying to act like this performance was acceptable in any part of the world.

and Gawker, also note how paltry Somers’ apology is.. and how misdirected (nope, no apology to black people for the racism)..

Sure, there are culture differences, but it’s not like they don’t have black folks in Australia who would get pissed off by this.

Because as the A.V Club says…

Harry Connick Jr is being generous when he says, “I know this was done humorously,” because what’s the joke in having six white guys put on blackface to play the Jackson 5?

Ha. Get it? It’s funny cause there’s something inherently ridiculous about being black.

As you may have surmised from this post this incident has gone global, and like DListed, everyone is now wondering..


Let me explain. There is a style of boorish behaviour in Australia that has thrived in insular unaccountability. Too loud and obnoxious to ever hear those around it who were tiring of the ridicule and abuse, it thought itself quite the funniest thing.

But times have really changed, as Crikey observes …

Once upon a time an outrageous piece of live, prime-time television would have had no more publicly conspicuous consequence than an invisible stream of complaint calls to the Channel Nine switchboard.

It’s not so easy to manage complaints in the online world. Hey Hey is now a subject of international discussion and heated rebuke, thanks to the meme spreading rapidity and the all-encompassing involvability of the internet. That’s what has really changed since Big Media first thought it was funny to use the outraging of minority sensibilities or even the broad sweep of taste for their shock value and ratings. You just can’t do that today and hope to get away with it.

Categories: arts & entertainment, media

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76 replies

  1. @Anna:
    Or anywhere. Good gods, full of “Lighten up!” and “How is it racist… unless black people are ASHAMED OF THEIR RACE!”

  2. Here’s the other thing: They WON when they originally appeared. I’m stunned.

  3. Do not look at the comments on YouTube.

  4. how…what…huh??? i’m beyond speech here. i may not love the way the internet makes it possible to investigate the minutest bits of trivia as if they were worthy of a nobel prize, but this is definitely why it’s good overall. fuck that shit! anywhere! it’s completely inexcusable to allow this kind of “humor”, no matter how insulated you are from the rest of the world.

  5. Hi, delurking today just to say when I heard about it yesterday morning, I could have cried with embarrassment, honestly. The “skit” was bad enough, but the reaction to it, the sheer willful inability/refusal to see HOW offensive it was were even worse. To make matters still worse, channel 9 have form with this stuff, letting Sam Newman away with it years ago. There was outrage then, so I know they know the history of this sort of thing, and yet they still asked those “performers” back. The thing is, in the first reunion show, I channel surfed past it and watched about 5 -10 minutes and counted at least 4 racist jokes just in that time. Nothing at this level, of course, but racist nonetheless, full of stereotypical “funny accents” and stupid little screen caps. It’s awful. And Harry Connick Jnr is a damn hero for speaking up!

  6. To make it so much more special, Today (on channel 9) just brought out a clip of Connick Jnr doing a preacher skit AS IF IT WERE EQUIVALENTLY OFFENSIVE. They actually said “but he’s also made fun of preachers, so can he really say anything?” – so incredibly fucked up. The guy they had on pointed out that it was a stupid comparison but they still seemed to think it was even relevant.

  7. My first reaction was one of disbelief. I wanted to say, “Are you sure that this really happened?” because it is just so, so wrong. Followed by a deep sense of shame that it happened. I’m pretty taken aback by the people who performed in the skit saying that they’re not racist because look, one of them is Indian Australian and the others are from multicultural backgrounds.

  8. Well just like women can never be misogynists, people of colour can never be racist. It all makes sense doesn’t it? *headdesk*
    The absolute ignorance of those defending this skit is just appalling 😦

  9. This morning I was informed by a colleague that blackface isn’t racist when it’s done outside of the USA, especially when done by someone of Indian background because Indians are “black”. Depressing.

  10. Watch the ratings go through the roof.

  11. Hey geek anachronism, I just saw that as well. Arj Barker was like, “Erm – I have not seen that skit before but he is not impersonating a race so, WHAT?”
    How do derail discussions of your own racism #7235: quick quick point the finger at the person that tried to speak up and dig into their past about how they’re a hypocrite OMG!

  12. Great post by the way. Particular fan of, “But no-one has thinner skin than us trying to justify our racism. We can dish it out alright, but we sure can’t take it in Australia.” I want to stamp that on the foreheads of every defensive brat crawling out of the woodwork to scream about how non-racist the skit was and how “it was FUNNY!”
    The explanation of how this “boorish behaviour” has continued to thrive sums up my experience of college pretty well.

  13. A handy and easy to follow flowchart for people without a clue. Media types just substitute your medium for “blog”:
    Should I use Blackface on my Blog

  14. The “skit” was bad enough, but the reaction to it, the sheer willful inability/refusal to see HOW offensive it was were even worse.
    Right on. Had the radio on in the background all day yesterday, and the standard excuses were:
    “It can’t be racist, it was a tribute
    “It can’t be racist, it was well choreographed
    “It can’t be racist, there’s a movie called White Chicks which no one gets upset about”
    “It can’t be racist, it’s just a tv show
    “It can’t be racist, because Americans are imposing their values
    “It’s only racist because of the PC minorities running our country”.
    So apparently things can only be racist if your intentions were pure evil, it’s not entertaining, it’s not in the media, and there’s no racism anywhere else in the world, ever. And you can only be rebuked by your best friend who otherwise acknowledges you’re a wonderful person. Apparently.

  15. Sounds like we need a bingo card…

  16. what are the Aboriginal activist saying or is anybody asking them?
    i’m a little familiar with the older activists like gary foley but only slightly

  17. Sorry to those whose comment have been languishing in auto-mod! Tigtog and I have been coming and going from various holiday travels today. I’m finally back online.

  18. I’m making a bingo card of all the responses and excuses. Any suggestions would be great 🙂

  19. PharaohKatt– in addition to The Amazing Kim’s suggestions, I’d add “It can’t be racist because it’s Aussie humour!”

  20. Thanks Beppie 🙂 I have incorporated some of Amazing Kim’s suggestiions 😀
    Bingo card is nearly done. I will be posting it here when I’ve done. Check out my twitter page to see what I’ve added so far 🙂

  21. Am also delurking to agree with those who so aptly express their dismay over the ‘Hey Hey’ segment……..
    It was a weird experience for us: we had looked in on the show and then switched over to watch the first of a series of docos on SBS about the backgrounds of refugees who have made it to Australia. It was a quite disturbing and illuminating acount of a woman journalist and her family originally from Sierra Leone. Thought provoking, and really we should have left it at that for TV for the night, but someone switched across to Ch 9 and the first image that came up was a lm blackface performance. Unbelievable.
    Good on Harry Connick who seems to have grabbed the chance to make the point quite well. Shame on Australians who just don’t seem to get it. The act was so wrong, claiming it as ‘our’ type of humour just makes you cringe. And I really can’t believe that someone at Ch 9 didn’t question putting this act on.
    The doco was part one of 4 called “Destination Australia”, SBS Wed 8.30pm – well worth watching.
    [ableist language disemvowelled ~Lauredhel]

  22. Why is everyone so shocked? I mean seriously, did anyone really expect that hey,hey its dickheads anonymous would NOT make us look like some anipodean relic from the 19th century? The show was vulgar, crass, sexist and totally obnoxious before which is exactly why ch9 brought it back, there’s no such thing as bad publicity in the minds of ch9 because they all remember the glory days when hey hey was big big.
    Its like bemoaning the page 3 girl on the daily tele. These people don’t give a rat’s for such sensibilities, in fact they deliberately flaunt their low brow anti-intellectualism to appeal to a certain market. Check out Seriously, cant we have a laugh anymore? its all just FUN ppl. FCS.

  23. Thanks PharaoKatt, yes, “bingo card” is what springs to mind!
    I liked Fran Barlow on LP’s definition of this kind of thing: “T]he “meaning” of this skit is a robust statement of plebeian Australian exceptionalism”
    Plebeian Australian exceptionalism. Exactly. Now we’ve got a name for it.
    A man at my workplace said to me the other day, when no-one else was listening: “Crikey, you look around here and you’re lucky if you can see an Australian in the room sometimes.” By Australian, of course, he meant white people.

  24. I am so ashamed of this carry-on. I am so utterly embarrassed for this and the responses of people around me. It breaks my heart. Australia is terribly, terribly racist. And I don’t know what to do to help change that, other than keep fighting the little battles that come my way. Looking at the huge expanse of the ignorance of this situation – it makes me weep.

  25. I don’t think anyone is “shocked” David, probably far from it actually, but it is really important to challenge this kind of shit whenever it surfaces. If you don’t see a need to challenge it well that’s probably your privilege talking. I wonder when there will be a function to disemvowell unexamined privilege.
    Thanks for the heads-up on that documentary, Ann.

  26. Hey PharaohKatt, if you feel like including the excuses from my blog, go right ahead (although I imagine you’ve got them all by now).
    Also this all seems attached to anti-Americanism too, some kind of notion that since the Americans elected George W they are inherently WRONG. I spent some time explaining how blackface was a racist at work today and immediately afterwards had someone tell me “Americans just don’t know anything”. Er, were you listening to me dude? Also, way to blame someone else for the racism you’re being called on.
    Oh and as an MJ fan I’m finding the they were “impersonating” arguments particularly grating. They looked nothing like the Jackson 5!

  27. @Shiny:
    I’ll definitely be going through your post. Hopefully it will help when I get to the “rebutting these arguments” stage of my post. Thanks 🙂

  28. Linda I agree it needs to be challenged, but I’m disillusioned with the notion that people like the program makers for hey hey are at all responsive (publicly at least) to any form of public criticism. They only understand ratings and as distasteful as it seems, controversy helps publicise the show. Fran’s quote by Helen works for me.

  29. Yes, it’s wrong to use the word “shocked” (or “hysterical” or “noisy”) to describe people from the blogosphere, many of whom are the reverse of shocked – more like weary and “here we go AGAIN”. I’ve had enough conversation with ppl like the coworker quoted above and my ultra RW brother in law and others to not be shocked at all about racist crap. People re not necessarily shocked – they’re speaking up, is all, to say it’s not OK, which wasn’t so easy before the internet. Predictably, just the same as with feminism, there is pushback. In the form of all the rubbish we are going to see on Pharaohkatt’s Bingo card.

  30. Alright, here we go, the bingo card.

    [image link added. PK, can you add a link to a text or HTML version, for accessibility? Cheers. Lauredhel]

  31. Ok, I’m writing up a text version now. I will link to it when I’m done (or just copy-paste here)

  32. Sorry about multiple comments. Feel free to merge them or something.

    Text Version: http://pharaoh-katt.livejournal.com/80434.html#cutid1
    Is that ok? Currently working on a response to each argument.

  33. Again, sorry about multiple comments. If you would like to link people to the Bingo card, please link them here and not to my personal journal. Link includes a take-down of all the arguments excuses.

  34. PK, there could aso be something about how the looney lefties/bleeding hearts are somehow secretly ruling the planet and this is proof of it.
    David, if you agree it needs to be challenged then don’t try to characterise the people who are getting on with the challenging (which incidentally takes a lot more guts than to just sit back and go “Oh well what do you expect?”) as hysterical or naive.
    Resigning yourself to the status quo is not exactly progressive, particularly if it just happens to be structured in your favour.

  35. Possibly the most fucked-up defence of Hey Hey It’s Blackface:

    The thing is though, violating PC taboos is really funny for privileged people. And I’m not sure that it’s always a bad thing, either.

    Guess where? Feministing comments.
    The post itself concludes:

    I think it’s really shitty of people with privilege to appropriate the perceived uniform of a less privileged member of society in jest. It’s hurtful, cruel and offensive.

    I await their posts denouncing crip-drag.

  36. I suspect it was deliberate.
    There have been too many similar examples recently where controversy has resulted in publicity that draws attention to shows.
    Some examples: the infamous Kyle fella [who I note is back on air again], the 9 Footy show, the chef fella insulting the TV star, the modus operandi of Big Brother in general, shock jocks in general. Its a long list.
    I would suspect the producers are quite happy with the resultant publicity from the skit.

  37. “David, if you agree it needs to be challenged then don’t try to characterise the people who are getting on with the challenging (which incidentally takes a lot more guts than to just sit back and go “Oh well what do you expect?”) as hysterical or naive.”
    I don’t believe David suggested, even obliquely, that anyone was being hysterical.
    I also agree with David that no amount of public outcry directed at the show will do anything other than make them feel as though they’re getting a shit-load of free publicity. Ratings and advertising dollars are the only things these people understand. If you want to challenge this sort of behaviour and have your voice heard, you have to challenge it by hitting them in one of those spots.

  38. @David & Rebekka:
    Firstly, I think folks are taking issue with the “why are people shocked/surprised/etc.” impression that came from David, particularly, because it’s actually a pretty tried and true silencing technique used against people calling out offensive behaviour. I know for me, it rather sounds like “well, why should we expect anything more from them?” which sounds like giving folks a pass, to me. idk.
    Secondly, if it were just the Hey Hey folks being so horrifically defensive in their response to the criticisms, I’d be more open to the point about ratings and advertising dollars (though, to be honest, I actually find that argument pretty tiring, generally). But it’s not. We’ve suddenly got our Deputy Prime Minister defending this shit as expressive of the national sense of humour or whatever the fuck. Not long after this whole thing exploded, it became about much more than another line in the long list of stupid shit Channel Nine does.
    And yeah, I think there’s something to be said about why blackface on Hey Hey gets more publicity than blackface/brownface/yellowface elsewhere on Australian television. But it’s ridiculous to think that the presence of a USAian guest who called that shit out wasn’t a big part of the difference.
    And oh lordy, I just made the mistake of reading the article David linked to. Oh, Tracey Spicer. The point is sailing so far over your head i don’t even know. Of course, what’s hilarious is that given my professional experience with the particular law firm she mentions? I really wouldn’t be surprised about that part.
    Incidentally, what with the lead man in the act’s “oh it’s ironic I’m being called racist” or whatever “let’s pretend intra-POC racism doesn’t exist” defensive thing he said, I don’t really care who says they’re not racist. They’re words anyone can say. And I think a safe rule of thumb would be that if you have to say it, you might want to stop and have a bit of a think.

  39. Great post!!!

    @the Amazing Kim. Beautiful analysis. Love it. Kudos.

  40. That’s very sweet of you to want to take care of David, Rebekka but I’m pretty sure he can answer for himself. As for how best to challenge shit like this, I’ll decide for myself how I can best challenge it, athough I think it’s safe to say that the best way to not challenge it is to try to silence people who are attempting to shape public discourse about it. That’s a very conservative approach.

  41. @Linda, “That’s very sweet of you to want to take care of David, Rebekka but I’m pretty sure he can answer for himself.”
    I wasn’t answering for David, as I’m sure you actually realised, and in my opinion it’s a pretty low debating tactic to make a comment like that. If you actually want to have a discussion about a topic you might try not patronising people who disagree with you.
    I think there needs to be a response, but like I said, I don’t believe simply calling it out as racist will have any effect whatsoever.
    @Jennifer, I take your point about it being used as a silencing technique – but so is Linda trying to silence David, who disagreed with her argument, by claiming he said that anyone who doesn’t agree with him is “naive” or “hysterical” (particularly in a feminist forum, given those words are highly weighted and gendered terms) when he did not in fact used those terms, and did not even come close to using the term hysterical, even if you choose to interpret “why was anyone surprised” as implying naivety.
    And so was Linda’s technique of claiming I was “sweet” to “take care of David” instead of engaging with my argument.
    David pointed out what I think is an excellent point, and one that needs to be borne in mind when formulating a response to these sorts of incidents. Yes, we should condemn them, because it is important that it is not seen as acceptable. But unfortunately, the producers/tv station/etc don’t give a rat’s about our condemnation. They are pitching shows like this in a deliberately low-brow way; to appeal to the people who ARE sexist, racist, ableist, etc, and the fact that we all think it stinks probably just confirms to them that they are hitting their target market, and are therefore likely to get even bigger ratings and so even bigger advertising dollars the more stink there is.
    There are people out there – the vast majority Herald Sun readers, according to their reader poll this morning – who think “political correctness has gone too far”, and that the skit wasn’t racist. Those people are more likely to watch the show if it’s on again BECAUSE of this. It’s screwed, and I think we need a different approach.

  42. But I did engage with your “argument” Rebekka. It’s not a debating tactic because you didn’t give me anything TO debate. I referred to the need to reshape discourses, and that’s what the internet allows so many of us who would otherwise not be heard, to do. You’re basically telling everyone who has blogged about this that they’re wasting their time. And if you don’t want to be seen to be answering for people, then don’t answer for them, don’t intercept and presume to clarify their statements for them. And when feminists challenge privileged males who attempt to silence them, don’t then accuse those feminists of trying to silence the privileged males who are attempting to silence them. Don’t immediately attempt to invalidate said feminist’s lived experiences. This is 101 stuff btw.

  43. “But I did engage with your “argument” Rebekka.
    No, you didn’t, you made a snide remark.
    “I referred to the need to reshape discourses, and that’s what the internet allows so many of us who would otherwise not be heard, to do. ”
    I agree, that’s the great thing about the internet.
    “You’re basically telling everyone who has blogged about this that they’re wasting their time. ”
    No, that’s not what I said. Nor did I imply it. You’re putting words in my mouth. I actually think the initial expression of outrage about something like this is very important. I don’t think it will change what they show on Hey, hey it’s Saturday, but that in no way means I think every one who has blogged about it is wasting their time. How are people supposed to realise there is a community that disagrees with this sort of behaviour if no-one writes/talks/blogs about it? I blog about things all the time that I do not believe are going to change a company’s mind about something, but which I do think may let me connect with other people who think the same way, or even educate someone who didn’t previously know about an issue. I don’t think I’m wasting my time.
    “And if you don’t want to be seen to be answering for people, then don’t answer for them, don’t intercept and presume to clarify their statements for them. ”
    I didn’t actually clarify David’s statement, I pointed out that your summary of his statement was incorrect and unjustified.
    “And when feminists challenge privileged males who attempt to silence them, don’t then accuse those feminists of trying to silence the privileged males who are attempting to silence them. ”
    Your feminism doesn’t protect you from being called on dirty tactics in an argument. You used them on me as well. I am not saying it was unjustifed to call David on trying to silence dissent – you will note that I agreed with Jennifer on that. But you were clearly also trying to silence someone with whom you disagreed – first David, then me. Not by arguing against our arguments, but by putting words into David’s mouth that he didn’t say – naive and hysterical, pretty weighted terms – and by trying to frame my agreement with David’s argument as somehow anti-feminist with your framing of it as “sweet” and “trying to protect” him; aligning my agreement with David with traditional models of femininity.
    “Don’t immediately attempt to invalidate said feminist’s lived experiences. This is 101 stuff btw.”
    And again with the patronising. I did *not* attempt to invalidate your “lived experience”, I called you on your tactics. You can not just frame it as anti-feminist every time someone disagrees with you or calls you out, and think that is a sufficient argument against them.

  44. Rebekka: “I blog about things all the time that I do not believe are going to change a company’s mind about something, but which I do think may let me connect with other people who think the same way, or even educate someone who didn’t previously know about an issue. I don’t think I’m wasting my time.”
    This point really resonates with me. It is such a common criticism of progressive speech – “why bother blogging about that”, “you’ll never change any ableist’s/racist’s/etc’s mind with that attitude”, and so on and so forth. You all know the drill.
    But so much of what we do is not aimed specifically at converting or controlling those who can be optimistically characterised as being in “pre-contemplation” stage of change, or, less optimistically, the unconvertible. That is the job of the law, when the transgression is severe enough to warrant intervention by threat of force.
    Much of our discourse is aimed both at people who are in contemplation and active change mode, AND as expressions of friendship and solidarity amongst our own communities, AND as ways of refinining our own arguments and sharing words for feelings and intuitions that may have been previously unverbalised. And a lot of what we try to do here, and at similar blogs, is intersectionality – trying to examine and chip away at ideas about there being only one axis of oppression, or one primary axis of oppression that Matters Most. There is so much more to life and speech than head-on collision between bipoles.

  45. I’m sorry Linda I wasn’t trying to stifle any debate or silence any contrary opinion. My concern is that the controversy over the hey hey skit can easily be exploited to increase the ratings success of the program. The link to Tracy’s article is an example where those who are objecting to the show and the skit can be easily portrayed as some kind of PC killjoys and how that image can then feed into the mindset of the audience that turns to shows like Hey Hey. I don’t agree with Tracy’s line of thought at all, I was using her article to illustrate this point.
    Perhaps my language or approach is not ideal and I guess in retrospect my comments could have been better directed.

  46. But nobody has disagreed with me, Rebekka. Had you not noticed that? Also, I think you need to own your first response to me on this thread. Would you really have bothered if you didn’t already have an issue with me? lol And exactly what are these “dirty tactics” you speak of ? Am I suddenly the enemy? You might want to save your words for those who really deserve it, rather than inflict them on a single lesbian mother trying to get through university.
    You’re becoming quite the concern troll, Rebekka.

  47. My concern is that the controversy over the hey hey skit can easily be exploited to increase the ratings success of the program.

    This is a “concern” that comes up a lot. I think it’s closely related to “Don’t react to the bullies, it only encourages them”. Both ideas might be superficially attractive (and handily slacktivist to boot!), but long hard experience has shown that attempting to ignore bullies doesn’t discourage them in the slightest, and that ignoring racism doesn’t make it go away. Change occurs through pushing and noise and protest, not through euphemism and polite neglect. Will we change a particular TV station at this particular point in time? Maybe not, but that’s not the sole goal.
    Also, please return to playing the ball on this thread, folks – racist speech and the ways in which we might work to combat it.

  48. Change comes in lots of ways. John Howard changed Australia and not for the better. Perhaps my concern is slack and politely neglectful, but I have also written to both ch9 and ACMA voicing my “concern” and my objection to the skit. In this case that’s an appropriate course of action for me, in other situations I blog about stuff.

  49. As I understand the performers in blackface were doctors, how are they plebeian? As far as Australia can be said to have a patrician class, I think doctors and wealthy media types are more correctly seen as part of that class than as plebeians. And as Rebekka has pointed out, they are deliberately and cynically appealing to the very worst instincts of their more plebeian target audience. No doubt there is a huge market for implicit or overt racism, but lets be clear that Nine is trying to remove the stigma from expressing that racism, just as Howard did by fearmongering about refugees.
    I don’t think we should underestimate the lengths to which vested interests will go to protect their brand and their investments – mobilizing people to do their dirty work by shouting down any attempts to transform the vilest most exclusionary parts of our culture, seems to me to be one of the tricks of the trade. In fact that was one of the things that disturbed me about Razer’s piece* about the Sandilands furore. By framing the criticism as part of a moral conservative backlash, she did Austereo a huge favour. There was a big difference between the Chaser skit and the Sandilands episode in that a real child’s rights were violated. Interesting then that Sandilands is back on the radio while an ABC staffer lost her job and the Chaser ended in ignominy. Both responses seem to me to be completely wrong. If something is a matter of questionable taste or comedic value the very last thing you should do is end someone’s career over it and take the show off air, even for one week. Violating the rights of a minor is an entirely different matter, as is trading in explicitly racist tropes for cheap laughs and financial gain for a privileged few.
    *I don’t think I really understood her point, so if anyone can explain it to me I would be grateful.

  50. @David
    In retrospect, my response to the Tracey piece could be read as responding to you as though you linked approvingly. I didn’t think that; it was a response to the article on its own, and I apologise for not being clear that I didn’t think you approved of her piece. Honestly, I think the irony of her piece is that she makes the very point – that this sort of stuff targeted at groups that have a history of systemic oppression is not okay, and targeting privilege is a different kettle of fish and actually a much better illustration of humour-as-coping-mechanism (which is part of her argument) – as though it’s the problem.
    @Rebekkah & David
    The reason I find all the concern about the condemnations and objections being used to support the very continuation of the problem (ie, what you both mention about the objections being twisted and/or used to support the PtB’s notions that they’re hitting their target) problematic is because, I dunno, perhaps it’s not what either of you mean to imply, but for me it carries the implication that there’s an ‘appropriate’ level of objection/condemnation that isn’t going to trigger that reaction when, in most folk I know’s experience of this sort of thing, the very act of objecting is enough of a trigger for the ‘PC killjoy’ type response.
    “I don’t believe simply calling it out as racist will have any effect whatsoever. ”
    Okay, from your other comments you may mean that you don’t think it will have any effect on the producers and related people associated with HeyHey, so perhaps it’s just poor phrasing, but ‘any effect whatsoever period’? That’s a pretty big call, and a pretty problematic one.

  51. @Linda, I’m sorry you think I have an issue with you; I don’t. Disagreeing with someone doesn’t mean you have an issue with them.

  52. @Jennifer
    I’m sorry if you didn’t get this from the context, but to clarify, by
    “I don’t believe simply calling it out as racist will have any effect whatsoever. ”
    I meant I don’t believe simply calling it out as racist will have any effect whatsoever on the producers/tv station, not on the world in general.
    Nor do I think we should all keep it down to a dull roar – just that we need to take some other action as well as condeming if we want to be effective.
    By the way, there is no h on the end of my name.

  53. “As I understand the performers in blackface were doctors, how are they plebeian? ”
    Good call, su. Attempting to fool ourselves that the upper-middle and upper classes are somehow “above” racism, using terms like “plebeian”, is a mug’s game. If what we mean is “racist”, “problematic”, “insensitive”, or “assholish”, let’s say it straight out, and not deflect the blame onto people with any particular economic group.
    “Plebeian” may have started to come to mean, in some circles, “bigoted”, but that meaning change is happening because of classism, just as words for disabilities are used as generalised pejoratives in the mouths and minds of people uninterested in challenging their own ableism.

  54. @Rebbeka – My apologies for the misspelling. Don’t know what made me think there was an ‘h’.

  55. Also, thanks for the clarification, there.
    I think there’s something kind of condescending and problematic about the idea that you’re in the comments *here* telling folks that “we need to do something else as well as just condemning”, not least of which because doing something as well as still doesn’t address this concern you seem to have about the impact of the condemnation on the production/network/etc. (ie, the twisting, making them think they’ve hit target, etc. I mentioned above), but I’ve not processed all my thoughts about it yet, so I may come back to that point later.

  56. Well the first way we might work to combat it would be to not privilege white male voices. Cos really, what do they know about discrimination?

  57. Actually, I think doing something else *does* address the concern I otherwise have that just condemning can have the effect of making them think they’ve hit the target, because it makes the objections concrete and tangible for the producers/tv channel and is a whole different kettle of fish from just condemning.
    I also think that I will be writing to Julia Gillard to express my disappointment about her comments – something that if enough people did it could have a very tangible effect.

  58. “@Linda, I’m sorry you think I have an issue with you; I don’t. Disagreeing with someone doesn’t mean you have an issue with them.”
    No, but forming a habit of hostility toward someone usually does mean you have an issue with them.
    I don’t buy the idea that people blogging about a racist skit, or talking about it to their neighbours or colleagues or whatever, is simply “condemning”. It’s more than that, it’s adding alternative voices to the discourse, and reshaping discourses about social issues is important. It creates incremental changes in human thought. When citizens start thinking differently about things then they will demand that their socal institutions do as well. This is the great thing about blogging, people with power are paying attention to it these days.
    So if writing a letter to the deputy PM is more your thing, ok, it can’t hurt. My personal experience is that JG doesn’t answer letters and you have no way of knowing if she’s even read them. Writing to ACMA would in this case probably be a good thing because there shoud be no doubt that the code was breached, unlike with the Sandilands thing where for the average person, the offense was harder to see.
    But at the same time, don’t dismiss challenges to discursive power, just because they’re less tangible. They matter.

  59. @Linda, it’s not “more my thing” to write a letter to JG – I did point out that I blog, frequently, about issues that I don’t think my blogging will directly affect. What I’ve been trying to get across is that condemnation and concrete action need to be two sides of a coin.
    I’m sorry that you’ve got the impression I’m being hostile – I honestly can’t see how, because I don’t see disagreement and hostility as being the same thing, and because I can’t see why you would think I have some sort of personal issue with you – I don’t know you. But I’m still sorry that you’ve felt I’ve been hostile.

  60. I am of multi-racial and multi-religious background. I’m writing to object to the term ‘ POC’. It took me a full 5 minutes to figure out what that meant and I THINK it’s an acronym for Person Of Colour. And there I was all my life thinking that I was a PERSON. I do understand that no offense is intended by those of you who use that term, but you don’t seem to understand that all this ‘political correctness’ actually ENHANCES the false impression of differences between people.
    I think it was Melissa who posted a shot of the Hey Hey audience and asserted that there was not a ‘POC’ in sight. What on earth makes you think you can tell? I know families where some siblings are blonde with blue eyes and fair skin and others are dark of hair and skin and eyes. If we’re talking genetics here I think they’re all technically ‘persons of colour’.
    Australia is one of the most successful multi-cultural societies in the world and, thankfully, in recent years bloodlines have become so intermingled that it’s become more and more difficult to ‘label’ anyone. I’m not saying there are not still improvements to be made, but by and large we are doing pretty well. Any of you who are old enough to remember back 40 years will know that we’re on the right track.
    Finally, I’d like to suggest that it’s all very well to chat on the internet about all types of issues, but if you all actually want to do some good in the world, how about harnessing all that energy you have used to argue your points here and ‘put your money where your mouths are’. There has been alot in the media lately about animosity towards our Indian students. Both of my boys work part-time with Indian students and have witnessed many rude and unjustified comments. If you all feel so strongly about racial prejudice in this country how about lending your physical support to them? It would be lovely to see some white faces at the next PEACEFUL demonstration.
    Peace and Love, Julia

  61. Julia, good point about spelling out abbreviations. POC is one that takes a little extra google-fu to figure out, thought it’s very standard in the antiracist blogosphere. When a term doesn’t pop up on a google for “What does x mean?” without us adding a term or two to refine (in this case, “racism”), it’s worth a reminder to spell it out for those who are new to this kind of blogging.
    Your last paragraph, however, I disagree with. What makes you think it’s an either/or? You have no idea from this page what others here do in terms of antiracism. I can’t attend public rallies because of my disability, but cheers for telling me that I therefore am be a lazy slacktivist. I always find that to be a happyfuntimes experience. I try to put my money where my mouth is in other ways.
    Whoever talked about the Hey Hey audience can respond to your comments there. I absolutely agree that you can’t tell the race of an individual person just by looking at them. In a sea of faces, a general impression might be made, but not a determination that there was not a single person there who wasn’t white.

  62. On a bit of a tangent, blackface was historically in use in Australian theatres during the various gold rush eras (NSW, Victoria, Western Australia) by black USAlien performers as a way of distancing themselves from the Indigenous Australian peoples – thus making it firstly, racist in use in any other Australian context; secondly, another example of racism used as a way of defining relative privilege among various “out” groups (as well as being a way of defining who the “in” group is); and thirdly, in bad taste no matter who damn well uses it.

  63. Lauredhel,
    I did NOT call you a “lazy slacktivist”. I was trying to make the point that all the sheer ENERGY being used here to argue/debate/discuss this issue could be put to more constructive use. The fact that you have taken offense when there was certainly none intended and that I have taken offense at the term ‘POC’ has just illustrated to me that this blogging business is not a good idea for me. I’ve not been on a page like this before and, frankly, I’ve found the whole experience exhausting. Some of you may find it empowering and if you do that’s great. I shall seek elsewhere. Perhaps I’ll see some of you in the soup sometime.
    Peace, Julia

  64. I … Okay, after the last spat around here about the use of the term PoC, I’m really not going to get into it too much here, because I still maintain that discussions about its utility in an Australian context need to happen in a different kind of space. I will ask (note, ask) upfront that whitefolks don’t ask me to explain stuff to them, because I don’t have the energy or the inclination.
    However, Julia, your objections to PoC (and no, you’re not the only multi-racial person here, just so you know) seem to be the same old tired “but noticing race is the REAL RACISM” or whatever, which is often indicative of some pretty obvious internalised racism. What you seem to be missing is that PoC is not a genetic term; it’s a term used to broadly describe folks who have a history of past and ongoing racial injustice/oppression. It’s not a perfect term (eg., I understand many folks in the UK tend to use non-white, whereas folks in the US tend to see non-white as a term that still centers whiteness), but I tire really quickly of this “but if we delineate ourselves from those with white privilege we further racism”, as though the delineation is what’s furthering racism, rather than a myriad of social systems based on delineations we as PoC don’t control.
    Also, Julia, you obviously have a set idea about what’s ‘constructive’, and the notion that online discussion isn’t part of it, and attending rallies/etc. is. Lauredhel has mentioned why she doesn’t attend rallies, and more to the point, you don’t know what other people here DO, and it’s pretty presumptuous to tell folks what they “should” be doing as though your standards are The Way To Address Racism. Also, you don’t know how much energy people are using. People have different energy requirements; commenting on a blog may require a lot of energy for some, not a lot for others. You don’t know how much energy I’m using; your assumptions about how much energy it is for everyone here suggests that it takes more energy for you, but I could be wrong.

  65. Jennifer,
    Note my use of the word “suggest”. It was a suggestion not a “should”. And you APPEAR to have just told me that if i see all people as being equal rather than as divided into different races and colours and treat them accordingly that is “indicative of some pretty obvious internalised racism”. PLEASE tell me that i misunderstood you.

  66. Your use of “suggest” is somewhat outweighed by your use of phrases like “if you all actually want to do some good in the world” and “If you all feel so strongly about racial prejudice in this country”, which carries the implication that if we don’t follow your “suggestions”, our desire to do some good and our strong feelings about racial prejudice are false. If that doesn’t sit more on the side of “should” than “suggest”, I don’t know what does.
    I’m really not up for a 101-level discussion of why “I don’t see race/colour” is problematic and yes, supports racist systems in ways that are often (note, often) indicative of internalised racism. You may want to look at this collection of links, many of which go into why “I don’t see race/colour” is a problem. And in particular this post from a woman of colour talking about why it doesn’t actually work on an individual level. ***
    Basically, you seem to be missing that “equal” =/= “same” and thus there are ways that you may interact with someone of (X) race/ethnicity/background that won’t work for someone of a different background. If you can’t understand that, then I don’t even know what to say to you.
    ***Note for everyone, potentially problematic use of ‘colo(u)rblindness’ as the shortening of this phenomenon used in the links above.

  67. Jennifer,
    Our last round of communication only went further to confirm to me that blogging is not for me. Misunderstandings all round – again. Thank you for your links. I WILL read them all later in the day when I have more time. Although it would be wonderful if I could, I don’t think I have enough time in this life-time to make an in depth study of every culture in the world, so I’ll have to rely on those of other cultures that I meet in person FEELING my goodwill towards them to understand that I mean no offense.
    I’ d like to try to get a better handle on your views in your own words, and to that end, I’ll ask you this : If I had the power to change the world to one that you saw as perfect how would it look? What would your perfect world be like? What would you like to see happen?

  68. I don’t think I have enough time in this life-time to make an in depth study of every culture in the world, so I’ll have to rely on those of other cultures that I meet in person FEELING my goodwill towards them to understand that I mean no offense.
    Wow. So you’re not prepared to make the effort yourself, but you’re still going to demand that other people just somehow believe that you are a person of good will i.e. they’re the ones who have to make the effort, not you.
    I’ll ask you this : If I had the power to change the world to one that you saw as perfect how would it look? What would your perfect world be like? What would you like to see happen?
    And hey! I’m going to come here and criticise people and tell them what they should do, and then when they raise some issue with what I say, I’m going to throw it all back at them, and tell them that it’s their job to educate me, even though I can’t be bothered making an effort in this forum myself.
    Julia, it’s fantastic that you are doing your activism in a way that works for you. But you have been damnably rude and patronising in this forum.

  69. Deborah,
    Wow! I don’t remember when, if ever, I’ve been misunderstood by so many.
    It was actually an honest question. I’m honestly trying to figure out what it is that Jennifer would like to see happen and I thought the fastest way to find that out would be to ask her. It seems that whatever i write I’m offending someone.
    It’s really interesting that in this forum I appear to you to be someone who ‘ can’t be bothered making an effort’. The truth is that I have been off work sick for the past 3 years because I have made what I have been told was TOO MUCH of an effort on behalf of others to the detriment of my own health and well being. Someone commented to me the other day that the majority of people don’t believe that altruism exists so they will usually interpret the actions of an altruistic person to suit their view of their world. I wonder what you think about that statement?
    What I meant about FEELING is that electronic communication is all very well, but by using it we don’t get to use all the communication tools we have at our disposal. It’s missing body language, tone of voice and the general feeling you get from a person when you’re standing face to face. In the real world I’ve been involved with people of various cultures and socio-economic groups all my life and we have all generally gotten on very well. In the cyber world I can’t seem to put a foot right. Interesting. I’m sure I’ve just offended someone else, however unintentionally, so I think I’d better leave it here. I obviously don’t know how to communicate in this way so I think I’d better stick with what I’m better at in that regard. And before someone misinterprets me again I’M NOT TRYING TO HAVE A GO AT ANYBODY.
    I’m hoping to study next year if I’m well enough. Maybe this experience will form the basis of a paper I’ll be asked to write – who knows. I’m sure there’s a reason for everything, and I don’t think the reason for this was to make me feel like shit. I haven’t intended to be rude or patronising of tell anyone how to live their lives. I’m sorry that so many of you have perceived me that way. My father said to me a very long time ago that it doesn’t matter how things really are – it’s how people PERCEIVE them to be that counts. Perhaps if we met in real life you would perceive me differently.
    You’ve certainly cured me of blogging anyway, which is probably just as well. It’s bad for my health to sit at the computer for long. I really do wish you all well. I’m not out to get anybody and I’m sorry that you don’t seem to believe that. Julia

  70. Julia – I am sorry you are feeling so misunderstood, especially if you’re not used to commenting on Internet discussions. You’re right that a lot of nuances get lost in written communication and misunderstandings happen fairly regularly.
    I hear that you don’t like the term ‘POC’ and that while many people like the non-judgemental acknowledgement in that term that maybe you find it stigmatizing/’other’ing? Being white myself I probably am not entirely getting what you’re describing but I can certainly understand that being labelled can be kind of ‘othering’ and that white people like myself rarely need to label ourselves in order to be recognised because we get to be the status quo – which I would put down to it being a very racist world.
    I think I am also hearing from you that you find Internet discussion and debate limiting, from the perspective of not getting the face-to-face contact with people that you like and also from the point of view that you believe it to be a less effective form of activism. There are some disadvantages to Internet discussion/activism but people here also feel that there are a great number of advantages: the Internet provides a degree of accessibility that might not always be achieved in off-line activities – egs. people with a disability who are excluded from some physical locations are able to participate in discussions, people with children and caring responsibilities that prohibits them from taking part in lots of activities, some incredible community organisation (eg. feminist parents) can happen relatively cheaply and easily across huge geographical distances on the Internet, you can gain access to a wide range of experts for questions/clarification who would otherwise be out of your loop etc.
    I know long on-line debates can seem frivilous at times, however a lot of the people (probably the majority) who regularly comment here are involved in lots of off-line activism too, including myself and we regularly refer to it in our discussions. Also, sometimes the first step in off-line activism happens when you feel the sense of empowerment that comes from seeing lots of very clever, strong people with views just like your own being articulated so beautifully on-line.
    I hope I have heard you right, that you feel less misunderstood, and that you have a better idea of where some of us are coming from.

  71. Bluemilk,
    THANK YOU!!! I actually prayed that someone out there would HEAR me – and here you are. I’m literally crying with relief right now. I’ve spent a very long time working on feeling safe in the world and trying to sort out alot of my own issues that I knew were limiting me and stopping me from being the best person I can be. At the same time I’ve been trying to raise my children to be confident happy broadminded people who will do their part to help bring about a more peaceful world. Being sick enough to be on a disability payment this last couple of years was at first TERRIFYING, but has actually turned out to be the best thing that could have happened for myself AND my children for lots and LOTS of reasons I won’t go into here.
    When I first logged onto this page (my first time) I did it because I wanted to know what was being said about this particular incident. I THOUGHT I was going to find alot of people like you. Instead I was just blown away by the sheer ANGER coming off the page and my first thought was that the energy contained in that anger could be put to better use. What I didn’t realise at the time, but I do now, was that I got caught up in that anger too and was very clumsy and insensitive in my original comments. After that, I felt that anger being directed straight at me and it scared me in a way I haven’t been frightened for quite some time. I have learned that when any strong emotion comes up it means I have something to learn and I have been concentrating on figuring out what that is – it’s turned out to be lots of things, and I’m sure there’s more I haven’t thought of yet. But that feeling of fear was still lingering. Your message today, your understanding and your explanations are exactly the soothing balm I need to help me make this first blogging experience a positive rather negative thing for my longterm growth.
    I still think this form of communication is not for me for the time being, but I understand that for others it can be great – horses for courses! Thank you again.
    You did a good thing today – but then I’m sure you do lots of good things EVERY day. Bless you, Julia

  72. Well done, Bluemilk.


  1. links for 2009-10-10 « Embololalia
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