Defending racism in Australian media 101

11 Sep 2018

It’s almost as if Australian audiences wouldn’t be able to identify who they are meant to be for or against if none of them were white

There is a trend within conservative media to be aggressively racist and then pretend they don’t understand why people are calling them racist.

It’s a vicious cycle of faux self-victimisation – being offensive, feigning ignorance while completely ignoring the nature of the criticism given, then doubling down by whinging about being the victims, and complaining about the ‘Left’ and ‘PC gone mad’.

The most recent version of this trend is via the Herald Sun coming to the defence of the racist cartoon by Mark Knight where he drew a stereotypically racist depiction of Serena Williams and whitewashed both her opponent, Naomi Osaka, who is Japanese and Haitian, and the official Carlos Ramos who is Portugese.

It’s almost as if Australian audiences wouldn’t be able to identify who they are meant to be for or against if none of them were white…

The defence of the cartoon is basically that it was about her behaviour and ‘had nothing to do with race or gender’.

Not only did the defence completely ignore the discussions of the double standards placed on women in sport, and specifically on Serena Williams, it also completely side-stepped the commentary from US media that rightly pointed out how the actual cartoon itself used imagery reminiscent of the Jim Crow era.

“In doing so, Knight draws facial features reflecting the dehumanizing Jim Crow caricatures so common in the 19th and 20th centuries. Knight’s cartoon conjures up a range of such caricatures that were branded on memorabilia and popularized on stage and screen of the era, including the minstrel-show character Topsy born out of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” as well as the title character in 1899’s “Little Black Sambo.”” wrote Michael Cavna for the Washington Post.

It’s safe to bet that none of the people defending Mark Knight will address, or even acknowledge, these points either. If anyone does though, I suspect they will try the ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ defence of pretending that Australia does not have a history with any of these issues, as though Australia doesn’t have its own long history with blackface and other racist caricatures, but also as though it had never even heard about America until it was discovered by Crocodile Dundee in 1986.

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Defenders of Hey Hey played that card, rather unsuccessfully, back in 2009 after an angry and bewildered Harry Connick Jr had to call it out as being racist during their short-lived attempt to revitalise the show. Since then it has been a regular mainstay of Australian media every time someone decides to go to a costume party in blackface. This is usually not done to address the issue though, it’s just that Australian media has learnt there are guaranteed clicks in it.

Days since last blackface incident in Australia.

— IndigenousX Pty Ltd (@IndigenousXLtd) October 9, 2017

We saw the tactic above played out then, just like we did when Andrew Bolt pretended he wasn’t allowed to talk about fair-skinned Aboriginal people after he was found in breach of 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for writing a series of articles that published factual inaccuracies about certain Aboriginal people. The articles were found in breach of 18C because they were not written in good faith and contained factual errors. They did not qualify for the far reaching exemptions offered by 18D either. This did not stop Bolt, and countless other pundits, from happily pretending their free speech was being stifled and that they were ‘legally prevented’ from even mentioning issues of identity, while they continued to mention issues of identity.

We also saw this narrative play out during the Bill Leak cartoon about Aboriginal fathers saga. That Bill Leak depicted Aboriginal children as small adults, robbing them of any compassion or humanity, or that he regularly depicted Aboriginal men and women in the most grotesque ways possible was never addressed. Instead he was positioned as a champion of Aboriginal people trying to address the important issue of family dysfunction. Similarly, Bolt was heralded as a champion of ‘real’ Aboriginal people because he was defending them from, as Bruce Ruxton put it a generation earlier, “the part-whites who are making a racket out of being so-called Aborigines at enormous cost to the taxpayers”.

We saw it play it out again when Sunrise was found in breach of the breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice.

“The ACMA investigation also found that the segment provoked serious contempt on the basis of race in breach of the Code as it contained strong negative generalisations about Indigenous people as a group. These included sweeping references to a ‘generation’ of young Indigenous children being abused. While it may not have been Seven’s intention, by implication the segment conveyed that children left in Indigenous families would be abused and neglected, in contrast to non-Indigenous families where they would be protected.”

Instead of acknowledging their gross errors and apologising, they too double downed and pretended that they got in trouble for talking about child abuse in Indigenous communities, rather than the reality that they spread a bunch of racist crap full of inaccuracies so problematic they ‘provoked serious contempt on the basis of race’.

The cries of ‘out of touch leftists’ and ‘PC gone mad’ used to ignore the reality that it is usually People Of Colour, and most notably Women Of Colour, who are actually doing the hard work of calling out these issues in the face of countless abuse from the white left and white right alike, until some middle aged white guy takes their arguments and writes them is a flowery op-ed which he receives countless accolades for. There are countless examples of this throughout history, and currently, but check out @RubyHamad’s feed on Twitter on any given day if you need an example of white men getting acclaim for her work, or for the abuse she suffers as a result of the work she does.

Australia, I am confused. Lots of mixed messages floating around regarding how I, as both a woman and a POC, should behave & engage in public discourse. So please do let me know, do you want me to be civil or do you want me to fight like a girl?

— Ruby Hamad (@rubyhamad) September 7, 2018

This is the power of racism in Australia.

The power to rewrite the narrative. The power to ignore the real victims of racism and pretend the racists are the victims. The power to ignore and demonise the voices of those with lived experience and frame them as not existing or being irrelevant. The power to have panel after panel of white people saying that nothing is about race, not even racism. The power to have our voices stolen by well-meaning white allies who are perceived as genius voices of reason while those who do the actual intellectual labour get abused from both sides for their efforts, but who continue to do it anyway because it is anything but an intellectual exercise or a media ploy, it is a matter of our very survival.

… just another day in the colony.


Nek minnit,

Just as the prophecy prophecised…

— Pearson In The Wind (@LukeLPearson) September 11, 2018

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