Nathalie Cromb

Natalie Cromb: Sam Thaiday quip no laughing matter, should not be so readily excused

Author: Natalie Cromb

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Sam Thaiday in a spot of bother

“I am not concerned with Sam’s ignorance as an individual. I believe his ancestors will send him a lesson to set him straight.”

Natalie Cromb is a Gamilaraay woman from Burra Bee Dee Aboriginal Reserve outside Coonabarabran in Warrumbungle country. Natalie has strong family influence on her writing and activism with her grandfather teaching her black politics around the dinner table and as a descendent of Mary Jane Cain. Outside-the-box thinking in a structurally oppressive society is part of her make-up.

Unless you have been living under a rock, by now you would of heard that Sam Thaiday attempted to be funny while on the Footy Show on Thursday night. When asked who his first celebrity crush was, Sam said Halle Berry, before adding that Berry was part of his “jungle fever” craze and “liked the dark girls back then” after which he realised “if it ain’t white it ain’t right.”

He has since apologised:

And then thumbed his nose at those offended when he took back the apology with:

His actions evidence his views, from his scripted and professional apology, to his defiant follow up post, demonstrating he is not sorry at all – in fact, it appears he feels slighted by the scrutiny.

If Sam was ever going to learn from this incident, he had that opportunity by listening to the chorus of black women and men who railed against his racialised misogyny, instead he chose to pull the “my friend is Aboriginal and he isn’t offended when I call him [insert racist term here]” card by having his mother post a petulant and defiant message to those critical of her son’s views.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of that card where we are told our feelings and offense are misplaced because a token person (or persons) that the perpetrator knows do not take offense to whatever behaviour has occurred.

Sam and his supporters are defiant against the criticism, staunchly standing up for humour and telling everyone to lighten up (yes really). Mainstream media is reporting on racism like that is the only issue with Sam’s words – the black/white thing. Deadly Choices have punted him as an ambassador (thank you for taking decisive action – solid!) and the NRL have been silent (to be fair they’re in damage-control because of other players going over the line/s, so to speak).

Unsurprisingly, the majority of Sam’s supporters are white Australians, because Australia continues to live in denial of its societal and institutional entrenched racism and misogyny. Obviously, the element of black/white comparison to subordinate the black in this context is clear racism, and in Australia racism takes on very specific meaning given its institutional origins.

Australian racism is rooted in the long relationship between government and church, and the societal behaviour borne of the corrupt relationship between the two. The ethnocentrism of the invading forces laid the platform for the lie of terra nullius and was the commencement of the notion that black – in the Australian context – equalled savagery.

Throughout history, there are countless examples where the white oppressors have used deliberate language to dehumanise the peoples they are oppressing and to distract from the very behaviour they were engaging in. In Australia, the language used always took on animalistic notions of savagery and violence. Interesting then that it was actually the white men who murdered the black men and brutalised the black women, before either murdering or enslaving them, whilst maintaining a gentlemanly façade to attend church with their white wives.

So, when we hear a man (whatever his colour) refer to black women in the same trigger language used throughout history – the trauma is ever present. In fact, that it was a black man in this case magnifies the trauma with a sense of betrayal.

After all of the trauma that black women have experienced at the hands of the white man – we need our black brothers to have our backs in the continuing struggle against oppression, not participate in white laughs at our expense.

Sam Thaiday is a professional athlete with a public profile that he should use for the betterment of his people. He owes it to his ancestors and the many black women’s shoulders he stands atop of. He used the privilege of this platform to perform for his white mates by belittling black women, exacerbating the historical trauma that resides in all of us.

I am not concerned with Sam’s ignorance as an individual. I believe his ancestors will send him a lesson to set him straight.

I am concerned with the outcry of support for Sam from white Australia. This support demonstrates that racialised misogyny is not understood. Far from it. Here it has been excused in the name of humour.

Sam’s supporters are failing to heed the context of trauma when attempting to silence the black women voicing offence. There is simply nothing funny about rape and savagery occasioned upon black women, and to participate in denigration of black women with evocative language just demonstrates ignorance and turpitude.

This incident and the public response to it demonstrates that Australia remains a deeply racist and misogynistic country where we continue to discuss the symptoms of racism and misogyny rather than the institutions in which they are entrenched. We focus on the acts of individuals rather than the larger entrenched issues.

We need to discuss the sporting institutions in Australia and their responsibility to be leaders in change because, after all, sport is a microcosm of society at large. What is happening out in the broader community if we have athletes laughing publicly at the expense of black women?

The NRL has the opportunity to respond swiftly to this by enacting a policy of mandatory education of all staff and players, not only on cultural sensitivity, but intersectional feminism and what misogyny is in practice.

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