TV

BuzzFeed’s Allan Clarke Perfectly Shut Down Steve Price On ‘The Project’ Over Blackface

"Let the people of colour define what's racist."

After Opals player Liz Cambage called out her teammate for an insensitive costume over the weekend, the country is once again talking about the merits of blackface. And yesterday, a concerning number of white Australians suffered the grave injustice of having their right to rub shoe polish all over their face questioned.

This led to personal attacks on Cambage and a whole lot of public outrage from the usual suspects. However, amidst all the noise, there were a few important voices missing.

As one of the few media outlets to actually include a person of colour in their debate on the topic, The Project last night talked to BuzzFeed’s Indigenous reporter Allan Clarke. In an attempt to set the record straight, the show’s co-host Carrie Bickmore asked him point blank: “Is it always racist to wear blackface”.

“The short answer is yes, Carrie, it’s always racist,” Clarke said. “Knowing the history of why people did blackface, it’s a grotesque caricature of slaves. That’s how it originally started and it’s evolved into a way of demeaning a race of people. In Australia, Aboriginal people feel offended by it.”

Naturally Steve Price disagreed and then, magnificently, Clarke directly channeled the words you always yell at your TV.

“Well Allan, I think you’re overreacting here completely,” the middle-aged white man said. “This girl, Alice, put on a bit of makeup. She may offend a few people but she’s not being racist. She’s not deliberately being racist. She dressed up as Kanye West, and for you to seize on that and say that anyone who portrays themselves as someone they like at a fancy dress party is being racist is just completely over the top, mate. You make a big deal of this, but if you hadn’t mentioned it we wouldn’t be talking about it.”

“Well if her teammate whose father is Nigerian thinks it’s racist, then it is racist,” Clarke replied. “Let the people of colour define what’s racist. Let them define what’s offensive to them. If it offended her, then so be it.”

“So people of not colour can’t have an opinion? I don’t think it’s racist.”

“Of course people of not colour always have an opinion, Steve. You know this.”

As frustrating as it may be, this exchange actually did a great job highlighting a huge comprehension problem at the heart of the issue: it’s not necessarily about being racist, it’s about doing something which is perceived as racist and not having the patience or respect to assess how your actions affect others. As Indigenous screenwriter Nakkiah Lui wrote for us last year, “It’s not racism that Australia needs to get rid of; it’s the privilege of whiteness … You’re not a racist but you’re white and you’re privileged, and you’re not giving that privilege up.”

“There’s a difference between whether that girl was being racist and whether that was a racist act,” Waleed Aly told Price after the segment. “If I was going to a fancy dress party and I was going as someone who’s white, it wouldn’t actually even occur to me to go and get some white shoe polish and ‘white up’. That just wouldn’t be a thing I would do. Not because I’m better than anyone else, just because whiteness isn’t something that’s remarkable enough to do that … The fact that I wouldn’t think of ‘whiting up’, but someone else thinks nothing of ‘blacking up’ indicates that there’s a power disparity there.”

You can read more of Allan Clarke’s work about Indigenous affairs here.