Politics

Cancel Culture Does Exist In Australia, But Only For People Of Colour

There is a double standard on Australian TV which needs to be addressed.

cancel culture australia

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After a clip of Josh Thomas making racially insensitive comments on a panel discussion circulated last week, fans and foes of the Australian comedian were understandably outraged.

Sitting on the 2016 BingeFest panel at the Sydney Opera House, Josh offered his two cents on diversity casting by starting off with the words “this is going to sound racist…” It certainly did. And it was the start of a series of multiple problematic statements made by the star of Please Like Me.

Despite the passionate discourse which ensued on social media, Josh Thomas was never actually “cancelled” for what he said. Much like many other media figures in Australia who have made controversial comments, there is a lot of discourse around the idea of being cancelled, or of cancel culture going too far — yet rarely do they feel any lasting effects on their careers.

It usually passes extremely quickly.

But, in stark contrast, people of colour are treated very differently in the media when they make controversial statements.

White People Don’t Get Cancelled

Very rarely do we see white media personalities, some of whom have a history of making xenophobic comments, being completely banished from our screens.

In 2016, on national television Sonia Kruger called for an end to Muslim migration because she “wants to feel safe”. She justified her position by explaining that “for the safety of the citizens here … it’s important”.

Despite calling for the followers of an entire religion to be banned from entering the country, Sonia Kruger is still on our screens. She currently hosts Big Brother Australia and is a judge on the upcoming season of Australia’s Got Talent. Sonia Kruger was never cancelled.

In 2015, Samantha Armytage praised a fair-skinned twin with an awkward “good on her” comment in a video which was recently trending online. Even if this was a genuine slip of the tongue, Samantha Armytage has never faced serious professional consequences for her racial vilification.

By anchoring segments which provide: a disproportionate amount of airtime to the likes of Pauline Hanson, platforms for all-white panels to discuss race-related issues or opportunities for Prue MacSween to call for another Stolen Generation on primetime television, Samantha Armytage has a history of racial insensitivity.

This has been relatively inconsequential on her career prospects as she still hosts one of the most popular breakfast TV shows in the country on most days of the week. Samantha Armytage was never cancelled.

However, Sonia and Samantha are not the only media people who are being showered with an abundance of airtime despite their history of bigoted commentary. TV personalities like Kerri-Anne Kennerley and Joe Hildebrand, just to name a few others, also continue to be provided with a platform for their problematic views, making it clear that cancel culture simply doesn’t apply to certain people in the industry no matter how much hurt they have caused.

The Double Standard

The same cannot be said for outspoken PoC. We do get cancelled. And very quickly for that matter.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s now infamous ANZAC day tweet not only caused months of death threats and intense bullying from all corners of media, politics and the general public, but it also led to the ABC program which she presented, Australia Wide, to be swiftly cancelled.

Yassmin was tormented out of her own country whilst Prue MacSween, who had suggested Yassmin be “run over”, is still on our screens.

In more recent times, community activist and lawyer, Nyadol Nyuon, has been the victim of a targeted campaign of abuse following her appearance on Q&A. The trolling she has been subjected to, including from a South Australian police officer, across multiple social media accounts, is indicative of how our media landscape is not particularly conducive to creating a safe space for PoC to express their views.

Even if they are coming from someone as intelligent, accomplished and articulate as Nyadol Nyuon.

Unfortunately, the problem lies in the fact that Yassmin and Nyadol aren’t the only PoC in our media to have suffered intense scrutiny which their white counterparts have not. Whether you be a presenter like Yumi Stynes, a journalist like Osman Faruqi or an AFL star like Adam Goodes, it is clear that a different set of rules apply for PoC who talk about race in the public sphere.

There is a double standard on Australian TV which needs to be addressed.

Cancelling Cancel Culture

Instead of resorting to cancel culture, how we treat public figures with a history of prejudiced commentary needs to change, just as much as how we treat outspoken PoC. Our outrage can be channeled in more effective ways.

In terms of the first group, which includes Josh Thomas, our first instinct should be to first acknowledge the hurt they have caused minorities. Then it becomes the responsibility of that individual to work with PoC to do better in the future by having constructive and nuanced discussions on race. This way, they can address and overcome their implicit biases.

Considering Josh’s Twitter apology ended with, “I am committed to doing better” and the fact that he even conceded that his show was “very white” in the same BingeFest conversation, shows a level of self-awareness which indicates he is willing to grow. As someone who has used his platform to better represent queer people and people with autism on mainstream television, we can give him the opportunity to do right by us too.

Likewise, cancel culture shouldn’t apply to PoC in the media as well.

The same level of compassion and forgiveness that is currently being granted to Josh Thomas should also be afforded to outspoken PoC. We can do this by holding the media accountable to not only diversify the people we see on our screens but to stand by them in times of controversy.

This way, Australian TV will better represent us, and controversial views can be challenged and debated in mainstream media at the time they were made- not years later. These conversations help us all grow and cancel culture prevents that from even happening in the first place.

Our aim should not to be take away anyone’s voice. Instead, it should be to elevate our own.


Masrur Joarder is a university student and writer of colour. He wants more followers on Twitter: @masrur_writer