Culture

Here Are All The High-Profile Australians Who’ve Defended Blackface Lately

HOW IS THIS STILL A THING?

It’s been 24 hours since Opals star Liz Cambage publicly called out her teammate Alice Kunek for dressing in blackface and the results have been less than ideal. Though Kunek’s taken down the photo and said sorry for causing offence, her apology suggested she still considered blackface to be a legitimate “support of Kanye”. Worse still: the act of speaking out has landed Cambage with an inbox full of abuse.

A number of (predominantly white male) Australians have suggested she brought up the issue to get attention or service an arbitrary “politically correct” agenda. One particularly scathing direct message labelled her “a disgrace to Australia”. “Hopefully you never wear the Australian colours,” it read.

This backlash is disheartening for a number of reasons. For one, it severely misunderstands the reasons people of colour (or women or any other group which suffers discrimination) stand up against insensitive behaviour — no one wants the kind of “attention” this statement brings, they do it because it’s the only way to bring about change.

Secondly, it shows the shocking extent of Australia’s ignorance around issues of race. Though some good has come of this — Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane has publicly called on Basketball Australia to renew its anti-racism campaign — it’s increasingly looking like a missed opportunity for education. Those screaming at Cambage aren’t drawing breath long enough to hear what she’s actually saying.

To counter all this, many in the media are providing information about the issue at large and statements of solidarity with Cambage. BuzzFeed have reposted a timeline from Indigenous reporter Allan Clarke showing the history of Australian blackface as a method of mockery and subjugation. The Herald Sun — a paper with a less than stellar track record on issues regarding people of colour — have published an opinion piece from Wendy Tuohy outright stating the act is “never okay”. “Though Kunek’s plea of ignorance appears to be authentic and her apology sincere, it’s worrying that any 25 year-old Australian doesn’t understand the derogatory implications of donning blackface,” she wrote.

However, that’s nothing compared to the many privileged, high-profile Australians (this selection is aged 27-72), who still have absolutely no idea:

Stephanie Rice, Olympic Swimmer

Rice, no stranger to insensitive remarks on social media, imparted her wisdom to the debate via a public comments section on Instagram yesterday afternoon. Indigenous rapper Briggs caught her out on this and posted it to his followers.

Having made no further comment on the matter, it’s unclear if she still thinks ‘but everyone’s doing it’ is a valid excuse.

Derryn Hinch, Professional Yeller

It makes less sense the more you try to understand it:

To his credit, he also retweeted a reply to this saying “Yes and it’s REALLY NOT THAT COMPLICATED”, so maybe he’s joking. But the fact that we can’t know for sure says an awful lot for his character.

David Leyonhjelm, Real-Life Elected Senator

As a fierce member of the Liberal Democratic Party and believer in doing pretty much whatever the fuck you want at anyone’s expense, this one shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

For the record, it’s not actually “whiteface”. Kunek’s friend was dressed in a costume referencing Mexico’s Day of the Dead which yeah, some people actually do take separate issue with.

Pauline Hanson, Your Drunk Aunt

Discussing the controversy in their morning news roundup, Sunrise called on the news director of the Australian Radio Network Deborah Clay, the show’s correspondent Edwina Bartholomew, and author/broadcaster Richard Glover to offer their points of view with Kochie.

Clay remained reserved about the whole thing while pointing out the obvious problems. “I don’t think [Kunek] was being malicious, in fact she was being quite ignorant,” she said. Bartholomew pointed out the redundancy of the panel: “It’s all very well for us; four white people discussing whether we’re offended or not”.

sunrise

THIS IS TRUE.

Then Glover shrugged a lot of it off: “There’s a long history in America, not here,” he said. “I’m sympathetic to [Kunek]. We’ve changed policy. I’m old enough that I watched black and white minstrel shows on television. This is an American thing, that’s why it’s so offensive, that’s why Harry Connick Jr got so upset on Hey Hey It’s Saturday a few years ago. There’s a big culture of regarding it as a tool of oppression against black people. We’ve never really had that here.”

While that would, on any other day, seem like a less than ideal response, it was then magnificently eclipsed by the show’s favourite guest.

Though the clip wasn’t uploaded to social media or uploaded to Channel Seven’s catchup site, one quote was posted in the comments section of a news post. It’s fairly standard: “It’s ridiculous. There is no harm in it whatsoever. We are all made differently. It all comes down to what comes from the heart.”

Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O, Two Toddlers In A Trenchcoat

After an angry and dismissive caller brought up the issue on today’s morning show, both KIIS FM hosts held nothing back in having their views known. “This is what happens; people don’t realise that the media jump on things — the talkback radio, they’ll be all over it today because they love causing shit out of nothing,” Kyle said with an alarming lack of self-awareness.

“They’re trying to fill content each day: the papers, the radio, the online…” Jackie added, emphatically agreeing throughout.

“People who took offence to blackface were back in the old days in America; they would paint them black to entertain people because they didn’t want to pay black people to entertain people,” Kyle went on. “Yes, there’s trouble there. African American people don’t like it, they have memories of it, or they’ve heard stories through their family. Here in Australia, I don’t think it matters that much to be honest. I don’t think anyone’s saying they’re ridiculing or being racist or trying to throw dispersions upon people of colour. It’s just a couple of young girls dressing up at a dress-up party. It’s no big deal.

“You don’t see me running back to England and complaining ‘where’s my land’, ‘where’s my payout because you dared send my ancestors over here as convicts’. Get over it! Live a little! Every country has these problems.”

Here Are Some Much Better Things To Read/Watch:

  • Last year we published the transcript of a powerful speech written by Indigenous screenwriter Nakkiah Lui titled “It’s not racism that Australia needs to get rid of; it’s the privilege of whiteness”. You can read that here.
  • Last month journalist Stan Grant spoke at length about the nature of Australian racism and the serious problems the nation’s indigenous population continue to face to this day. You can watch that here.
  • In 2013, Liz Cambage starred in a campaign ad against racism in the Australian sports industry titled “Racism. It stops with me.”

She stayed true to her word. It’s about time we did the same.