Racism in the media: “Don’t read the comments” isn’t enough anymore!

31 May 2023

Since Stan Grant announced he is stepping away from the media, we've seen First Nations journalists tell their own stories of racism and discrimination in the workplace and a lack of support when attacked by racist trolls. This is nothing new, Bizzi Lavelle writes. She explores what has been happening in media and social media with First Nations people, some that don't make the news.

Don't read the comments isn't enough anymore!

Wiradjuri author and journalist Stan Grant announced he would be indefinitely stepping down from hosting Q and A and taking a break from the media. His reasoning was that he didn’t feel supported from the ABC after the “grotesque racial abuse” he received after their coverage of the coronation.

All too often a corporation will use a Black person for promotions and clout, but then leave them out to dry when they need their support. Stan has said he wasn’t impacted by the social media comments as he doesn’t look at them, yet he can’t escape it. However, Grant has said his departure was also from a lack of institutional care from the ABC, which echoes what many former ABC journalists have said.

On ABC’s The Drum the day after Grant’s departing episode, they discussed his departure and racism (and only added a Blak person to the conversation at the very last minute). While on The Drum Munanjahli and South Sea Islander academic and author  Dr Chelsea Watego stated that “It would be great if we thought about racism structurally and not just the interpersonal isolated bigoted troll”.

Institutional support is the bare minimum

In his piece for the ABC, Grant stated “Not one ABC executive has publicly refuted the lies written or spoken about me. I don’t hold any individual responsible; this is an institutional failure.”

No one from his workplace had his back or stood up for him, it was a long, harrowing and deafening silence from the workplace and people who are supposed to have a duty of care toward him. There was no act of support when Tony Armstrong copped internet hate for doing an Acknowledgement of Country at the Logies.

This same workplace that when Tony Armstrong won that Logie, ABC producer Lucy Carter tweeted that it wasn’t solely his logie (even though people voted for him), and rather it was the Breakfast team that achieved it. The same breakfast team Lisa Miller was part of and had declared  “There’s no room for racism but I do wonder if it would be good for him” when Kyrigos was receiving racial taunts in the tennis arena. She later apologised, which sparked other reporters to come forward about instances of racism in their workplace. Good on you ABC. 

Grant is far from the only Blak person to have to step away due to the impacts and pervasiveness of racism. In the same week that Grant announced his departure, NITV posted explaining why they weren’t on twitter, and IndigenousX had to cease guests hosting the Twitter account due to racist, transphobic and homophobic comments. Arrente writer Celeste Liddle has also moved off twitter after endless racism on the platform.

Social media is another culprit of inaction

I’ve also received racism and hateful comments on social media. The response I’ve seen when talking about hate I’ve received is ‘report, block and move on.’ But rarely do these social media platforms care about the things being said to us, and since Elon Musk’s takeover, it’s only getting worse.  I receive death threats and hate almost annually on January 26th (and I’m not alone), and anytime my writing is published I get all sorts of vile comments. Reporting does next to nothing when the systems are automated, or run by people who simply don’t care about our wellbeing. 

A prime example of this is in March when numerous Blak tiktok accounts were removed. Darnley, Saibai and Yidinji beauty influencer  Sari Thaiday called the platform out, explaining that the multiple strikes against accounts like hers and musician and comedian Isaac Compton’s were the result of mass-racist reporting. In the cases where something on Sari’s profile did cause a violation, it wasn’t even from her – it was another faceless comment left by a name and number username account and rarely were the violent comments removed when they were reported. 

Tiktok platformed Blak creators for NAIDOC though, the way ABC platformed Stan Grant, the way the NRL and AFL platform Blak players when they have their Indigenous rounds. 

But to platform, highlight and draw attention to the Blak people in your organisation or on your platform without then making sure you’re protecting them is wildly irresponsible and dangerous.. The NRL for example, posts in Indigenous round highlighting different players, their mobs and totems, the jersey designs and sometimes when the clubs really want to pretend they care, they’ll change their twitter handle to the traditional place name. 

“Don’t read the comments”

However all this shit means nothing when you look in the comments and it’s people demanding for ‘captain cook’ round, asking for a white team to be added to All Stars matches, commenting to keep politics out of sport (conveniently not heard when Scomo was a water boy or in ANZAC round). Some comments declaring a player isn’t Blak enough, and calling Latrel Mitchell every slur available. It’s all well and good to have a RAP and to post about how your institution is supporting yes but what are you actually doing? How are you actually ensuring that your Blak staff members are having their wellbeing cared for? 

“Don’t read the comments” is something often said but that isn’t enough, as we’ve seen with Stan Grant. Platforms and organisations that are going to be using Blak bodies to highlight their diversity need to monitor the comments, remove comments, and ban people from their pages.

I could stop reading the comments when people say some racist shit on my articles but that doesn’t stop my family from seeing it or from other Blak people from seeing it. It doesn’t stop that person from saying it again tomorrow or preventing it from happening to another person. In allowing space for this racism, it sets the precedent that it’s not only acceptable, but places the onus and the responsibility back onto us to ‘ignore’ it., As though it was a school yard taunt and not the pervasive racism that impacts lives and mental health, the racism that kills my peoples. Grant said he barely used social media but people would still bring the vitriol said online about him up in conversations face to face. The best example of someone ignoring it as suggested, and yet it was still completely inescapable.

NITV announced they weren’t going to use twitter all together because of it and now the comments in the majority of their instagram posts are turned off (although, probably for a different reason why ABC has had their comments turned off when their Instagram accounts covered the strike). 

It’s particularly wild to me that something like that could happen to a National news source, in a time when access to news 24/7 is so normal for us. What is meant to be a space that covers news relevant to us, victories for us, places for us to discuss and organise on a National level has been effectively silenced. Mainstream media rarely cares for us and the only National news coverage we have is being treated the way ABC or any other mainstream news would never.

We could ignore, report, block and move on but that doesn’t give any form of punishment to the perpetrator., It doesn’t send a message to them and others that their comment is wrong and it doesn’t address, or call out or move to change the racism that is so integral to the very fabric that makes up so-called Australia. 

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