Blackface and Whitewashing

16 May 2016

I sat on this one for a while, not sure whether I could bring myself to write about it one more time, or if there was even anything left to say. It’s racist.

Blackface in Australia again… must’ve been a Friday night. It seems like it’s becoming a weekly thing somewhere, anywhere, in Australia.

I sat on this one for a while, not sure whether I could bring myself to write about it one more time, or if there was even anything left to say.

It’s racist.

It’s always been racist.

It’s always going to be racist.

Just stop it already, for fuck’s sake!

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way though, I want to get to something else that’s been on my mind for a while now. It’s relevant to blackface though, so don’t feel like I’ve totally clickbaited you onto this article.

What I want to talk about is the slow and painful progression of how pseudo news shows (breakfast shows on commercial stations and the like) talk about issues of race and racism.

It has slowly, over decades, progressed from the starting point of almost never acknowledging the existence of racism or even acknowledging the existence of people who aren’t white. From here it moved onto acknowledging racism indirectly, by aggressively denying its existence and inviting various angry white men on to talk about how racism doesn’t exist while simultaneously being super racist. More recently, it has moved to framing the denial of racism as a question, “Is Australia racist?”, and then following this question up by inviting the same angry white guys on to say exactly the same racist things.

Those phases are not entirely gone, as we know all too well, but the transition of these patterns is not cut and dry, it slowly shifts in small doses from one to the other. Just now we are seeing the first signals of the newest phase, where we still have groups of all white people talking about racism, but we get to hear from at least one of them about how it’s weird to have groups of white people talking about racism and that the thing in question (blackface, in this instance) is probably a wee bit racist. This feels like a steady progression of progressiveness; it feels like it must inevitably be the final step before we actually get Aboriginal people on these shows talking about Aboriginal issues, and other affected peoples on air to talk about issues that affect them. This is perhaps true (although I suspect we could stay at this current stage for years, just as we have for the previous stages and it will undoubtedly be decades before the earlier stages disappear altogether) but even this is still not nearly close to good enough.

In the recent case of Alan Jones saying racist crap on a brekkie show he wasn’t even invited on to the show to talk about it, he was invited to be on the show just because he is deemed to be a worthy social commentator, and that’s what they just happened to be talking about. This was used as a justification by many for why it was okay to have him discussing issues of race and racism, but it invariably invites the question, “What day could it have happened on when they would have just coincidentally happened to have an Aboriginal person on the show?”. Has it ever happened that they have had an Aboriginal social commentator on who was not invited explicitly to talk about an Aboriginal issue? Is the best we can hope for that we will, one day in the distant future, have Aboriginal people represented when talking about Aboriginal issues? As though that is the only topic of discussion an Aboriginal person has any business being on television to discuss? As though we don’t have any number of professionals, celebrities or social commentators who could contribute to other conversations? People who could be scheduled to appear without knowing what the issue of the day will be, but who will be able to give a valuable opinion to whatever news, national or international, that may arise?

Of course it would be a huge step forward to have Aboriginal people talking about Aboriginal issues, but it is equally important to have Aboriginal people talking about any issue that any white person talks about. It’s not like Alan Jones has any particular knowledge of anything whatsoever and he seems to get by okay. If the best we can hope for is representation on issues that exclusively, or even predominately, affect us then we fall yet again into another trap of false representation. White people do not just talk about white people issues, so why should we accept such a small box to be included within?

This would not in and of itself achieve ‘equality’, not even close, but at least it would help to demonstrate that we are so much more than what this country sees us as.

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