Culture

Opals Star Liz Cambage Is Copping Backlash For Calling Out Her Teammate’s Blackface

This is Australia, 2016.

Inconceivably marking Australia’s third or fourth controversy over blackface this year, Opals forward Alice Kunek is being slammed on social media over a picture posted to her Instagram yesterday afternoon. The basketball player appeared dressed as Kanye West for a ‘Silly Sunday’ costume party with a friend, and was swiftly called out on Twitter by her teammate Liz Cambage.

Cambage, who has spoken out against racism in the past with a campaign starring fellow high-profile sportspeople like Adam Goodes, went on to explain the offence she took from the photo. “Blackface is disgusting, I honestly have no words,” she said, addressing the many Australians who apparently haven’t been paying attention over the past 100 or so years. “People wonder why I have issues with some @BasketballAus teammates, I’ve been dealing with these behaviour since we were kids.”

After hundreds of people including writer Clementine Ford, screenwriter Nakkiah Lui, and former triple j presenter Lindsay McDougall rallied behind Cambage, Kunek set her Instagram account to private and publicly apologised. Though not addressing Cambage directly, she stated her “support of Kanye” was not intended as racist and said sorry if people felt it had been offensive.

Then something stranger happened: people started abusing Liz Cambage for calling her out in the first place.

In the exact same way people abused Indigenous rapper Briggs when he called out white Australians for dressing in blackface around Survival Day, Cambage received angry comments saying she had misread the situation and made a big deal out of nothing. Though she reposted them in a light-hearted way effectively rising above the situation, the extent of the backlash was concerning.

At one point former Opals player Natalie Porter started liking comments accusing Cambage of making “a storm in a teacup” and “using this as an excuse” to get attention. Then, as Briggs pointed out, Olympic swimmer Stephanie Rice lent her support to someone arguing the act was not offensive at all.

Though Rice’s comment wasn’t completely unexpected — outside of the pool, she’s most well-known for a homophobic statement she made in 2010 — the general lack of knowledge around this kind of racial issue was truly shocking. Nakkiah Lui tried to remedy some of this, taking time to counter the common argument that ‘blackface is only offensive in the US’:

But others were rightfully less inclined to help out:

Though it’s clear a great deal of Australians have a long way to go in terms of education around race relations and the historical context of actions like this, the absolute least they could do is not wilfully abuse people of colour when they try to help them learn. Send some support over to Liz Cambage here.