All The Times Australia Was Enormously Racist This Week

More attacks on Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Waleed Aly, columnists defending apartheid, racist posters... it's been a bad week, Australia.


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If it feels like there’s been a lot of extremely terrible racist shit happening in Australia lately that’s because, sadly, there has been a lot of extremely terrible racist shit happening in Australia lately.

In fact, nearly every day for the past week the country has witnessed a high-profile example of some kind of grotesque display of racism. Everyone from the far-right to the commercial media has been having a field day trampling all over minorities, with basically no repercussions.

Let’s recap the awfulness!

Channel 7’s Poll On Yassmin Abdel-Magied

After months of criticism and straight-up abuse in response to her seven-word Facebook post on Anzac Day, engineer and author Yassmin Abdel-Magied announced she was leaving the country and moving to London.

A few days later Channel 7 decided to share a poll on Facebook asking whether Abdel-Magied should lead, or whether she should stay to “face her critics”.

Apparently oblivious to how deeply cooked it is for a national media organisation to poll its followers on whether an individual should leave the country, Channel 7 shared the same poll again later in the day. After copping a lot of heat on social media, the network eventually deleted the posts, and issued an apology.

But it wasn’t an isolated incident. Back in April, Coalition MP George Christensen said that Abdel-Magied should consider “self-deportation”. If you’re struggling to comprehend how this kind of thing has become a regular part of Australia’s public discourse, I’m sorry but I’ve got bad news. It gets worse.

Rowan Dean Telling Tim Soutphommasane To “Go Back To Laos”

Last Sunday, Rowan Dean — who took over from Mark Latham on Sky News’ Outsiders — got very mad about the fact the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) was advocating for more cultural diversity in business, politics and the media.

Rather than debating the merits of the AHRC’s ideas, Dean decided to personally attack the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, on the basis of his cultural background.

“If you don’t like it, join Yassmin, hop on a plane and go back to Laos,” Dean said to Soutphommasane, ignoring the fact that he was born in… France.

A number of high-profile Sky News presenters slammed Dean for his remarks, but so far he hasn’t been formally reprimanded by the station. In fact, Sky News execs haven’t bothered to say anything about the issue, presumably because they have no problem with one of their employees using a national media platform to tell someone to go back to where they came from.

The Racist Posters Popping Up In Sydney

This week a far-right group calling itself “Aussie Nationalists” started plastering incredibly racist posters across Sydney’s inner-west. The posters, which parodied Pokemon cards (why do racists have to ruin everything?), attacked migrants and singled out Waleed Aly and Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

They described Aly as “charming yet insidious” and used the tagline “Gotta catch and deport ’em all”, referring to both Aly and Abdel-Magied.

Police said they were investigating the posters, but an anonymous spokesperson for the group that’s thought to be behind them said the public should expect to see more.

The Age Describing Bicycles As A “Yellow Peril”

Ok this one is just weird. On Monday The Age ran a story about oBike, a bicycle sharing company that’s been operating in Melbourne. The bikes are apparently being left all over the place, which sounds highly annoying.

But it was The Age‘s choice of headline that blew everyone away:


“Yellow peril”?! That term was used in the ’70s to describe a hated yellow sculpture in the CBD, but it’s also — and probably more notably — a racist metaphor that evokes fears of Australia being ‘swamped’ by East Asians. I get that the bikes are yellow, but geez.

Eventually the paper decide to amend the headline, suggesting they realised it was a bit of a fuck up.

The Conservative Magazine That Defended Apartheid

When an article opens with the line “It seems some of the instigators of apartheid may have had a point” you know you’re in for a wild ride. And that’s exactly what we got with this bizarre piece published in The Spectator Australia this week by John Elsegood, which defended South Africa’s policy of apartheid.

There’s not really a lot to say about this one. Apartheid was very, very bad and its legacy is still impacting South Africa today. What would compel an Australian publication to publish a defence of it in 2017?

Oh, just as an aside the editor of The Spectator Australia is… Rowan Dean.

A Radio Commentator Said They Wanted To Run Over Yassmin Abdel-Magied

On Wednesday, radio commentator Prue Macsween jumped on 2GB to chat about Yassmin Abdel-Magied, because apparently that’s all conservative media figures do these days.

Macsween referred to Abdel-Magied as a “flea” and said “she says she was betrayed by Australia and felt unsafe in her own country. Well, actually, she might have been right there because if I’d seen her I would have been tempted to run her over, mate”. 2GB’s host, Chris Smith, was heard laughing in response.

2GB later said it “doesn’t condone Prue MacSween’s comments” but Macsween dismissed criticism, saying “It’s sad people have now lost their sense of humour, we used to celebrate larrikinism in this country, celebrate free speech and sadly that’s gone.”

Ah yeah, the classic ‘free speech’ defence. No one is trying to restrict Macsween’s freedom of speech, they’re just pointing out it’s incredibly fucked to suggest you would run over Abdel-Magied.

So What Does This All Say About Australia?

It’s supremely depressing that most of the above examples involve Yassmin Abdel-Magied in some way. The process through which she has become such an intense figure of hate throughout sections of the Australian community has been distressing to watch, and the fact that we don’t seem to have learnt anything from it is even worse.

Abdel-Magied, Aly and Soutphommasane have become the targets of ferocious, racist attacks not because of what they say but who they are. Large parts of this country, including big media organisations, seem terrified by the idea that articulate people of colour exist and appear to be quite desperate in demonising them and shutting them down.

Should we ignore the likes of Rowan Dean or do his comments need to be ‘called out’?

It’s difficult to know how to combat it. Should we ignore the likes of Rowan Dean or do his comments need to be ‘called out’? The idea that we can get to a point where media figures can openly attack a public servant on the basis of his race and we just shrug and accept it is pretty uncomfortable, but on the other hand does reporting on it change anything?

What previously happened to Mark Latham suggests public criticism of comments that are well outside what we consider to be societal norms can in fact lead to action. Latham was sacked from Sky News after making a series of offensive comments on a range of different issues and is now relegated to posting terrible, B-grade videos on his own Facebook page. Though he’s still afforded a definite platform with various other media outlets, it’s thankfully smaller than what it once was.

But we haven’t really seen the same kind of response to people like Rowan Dean. Both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister managed to find time to comment on Abdel-Magied’s seven-word Facebook post, but have decided to stay quiet on the Race Discrimination Commissioner being attacked on the basis of his race on national TV.

These problems run much deeper than our media and political class, and they can’t be fixed by politicians alone. But in a context where Pauline Hanson and the far-right of the Liberal Party seem quite keen to stoke racial tension, the whole situation would be a bit less infuriating if our political leaders were willing to actually confront these issues.

Osman Faruqi is Junkee’s News and Politics Editor. He tweets at @oz_f.