Thursday, October 8, 2009

Controversy over blackface Jackson 5 skit

The producers of the Hey Hey It's Saturday Reunion Special have found themselves in hot water over a skit last night involving some guys impersonating the Jackson 5 in blackface makeup.

Harry Connick Jr, on the show as a guest judge, was less than impressed. Watch:

A number of things are interesting about this:

- The guy playing Michael Jackson is Indian! He should have known better.

- Given that all the performers are doctors, I'm assuming they are intelligent enough to know better.

- Somehow the producers of the show okayed this skit.

- Daryl Somers couldn't see that it might be offensive until it was pointed out to him by Harry.

- Daryl then acted as if Harry taking offence to this was some quaint American custom which was completely foreign to Australia.

- The audience seemed to love it.

- Was it meant to be funny? It wasn't.

- A fascinating thing happens at the 2:33 mark. When Harry says "If they turned up looking like that in the United States..." the noise made by the audience and announcer seems to show a realisation that some people (ie. black Americans) would be offended. Weird, it's just a noise, but it implies a lot.

- Credit at least for Daryl giving Harry a chance to address it later, rather than glossing over it.

- Harry Connick Jr deserves a lot of credit. Many would have sat there, thinking it was a bit wrong, but not having the gumption to speak up about it. And he spoke with wit when giving his score, and intelligence and class after the break. Respect to the guy.

- This performance has made news all over the world; well done Channel 9 for making Australians seem like a bunch of backward rednecks.

Now I wouldn't actually call this "racist" per se; I don't think there was any derogatory intention on the performers' part towards African Americans. Likewise, the audience finding it funny doesn't mean they are racist. Notice that Harry didn't use the word "racist" either - he's not implying that the performers or the show are racist. He's pointing out that what just happened is a relic of a shameful and racist point in history that brings back a foul taste for many Americans.

Imagine, for example, that performers came out dressed in KKK robes, or as neo-nazi skinheads, as part of their joke. That would not necessarily be racist, but it would still be very inappropriate. Some things, while not being racist in intention, can nonetheless recall an ugly and uncomfortable racist past, which is best left in the past.

So not racist, then. HOWEVER... this is certainly very IGNORANT on the performers' part, as well as everyone else in the show that allowed this to happen. The audience finding this funny also displays considerable ignorance, of the historical context of blackface performances.

Of course, not everyone agrees with me. According to some this is yet another case of political correctness gone mad. Take these readers' comments from

"as an American" - Perhaps Americans should clean up their own act before judging the actions of others in an unfamiliar society and telling them what is and is not acceptable. They have a long way to go before their slate is clean.
Posted by: baysider 12:21am today Comment 6 of 356

Ok, but when Australians are mocking black AMERICANS... maybe as an American, who is fairly in tune with black culture, Harry might know a little something about this.

You'd think with Obama in the Whitehouse that they'd finally have moved beyond this kind of B.S. political correctness.. and to impose his cultural beliefs on ours is plain arrogance on his behalf - we can decide what's racist for ourselves, thanks. Leave your racist baggage at home next time Harry.. you know that's not what we're all about.
Posted by: Luke 12:32am today Comment 10 of 356

Yes, we can decide what's racist for ourselves. Like our treatment of Aborigines throughout most of our history, we decided that wasn't racist, so that's what matters. I wonder if black Americans would think of the sketch as racist, since its about them? Oh no, that doesn't matter.

Yeah the American public were so outraged over Robert Downey's recent blackface routine in Tropic Thunder he was given an Academy award nomination.
Posted by: andrew jorgonsen 3:15am today Comment 51 of 356

Anyone who had actually watched that Tropic Thunder would know that it contains numerous references to how innappropriate the blackface character is. Did you actually watch the movie, Andrew Jorgonsen?

anyone remember that bad movie 'white chicks' where two black guys got made up in white make up? So thats ok in the US, but not if its reversed? who really cares, it wasn't a big deal.
Posted by: Nicole Smith of sydney 10:00am today Comment 112 of 356

Hmm, were you offended by White Chicks, Nicole Smith of Sydney? I think not. Is there a history of power-holding black people putting on whiteface and mocking disempowered white people? I think not.

Seriously, I'm not just picking out the few stupid people, these kinds of comments represent 90% of the comments on that site.

And then there's The Punch, which is full of this kind of comment as well:

Debbie says:12:25am 08/10/09
I agree with Ped…..if the world was NOT so politically correct, we would all be the same as no attention would single out any particular group, race or creed…the world would be a much happier place. The skit was NOT derogatory to Afrian American’s….it was simply a sketch based on a world famous group…if anything, it’s complimentary to imitate in good humour. If anyone found it offensive, they probably have racial insecurity problems themselves!

Hmmm, if some black people did have racial insecurity problems, I wonder why that would be? It's not like they were ever treated differently or anything because of their race, right?

Then there's this from the lead singer:

Dr (Anand) Deva, whose face was painted white in the skit to portray Jackson, said he and his friends came from ethnic backgrounds and were all too aware of racism.
"Two of us come from India and one of us comes from Lebanon so we can't afford to be racist to be honest," he said. "If we did offend him (Connick Jr) we truly didn't mean to."

I'm f***ing sick of hearing this kind of thing from people. As if being "of an ethnic background" gives you a free pass from any accusation of racism. Just so you know, Anglo-Celtic Aussie also counts as an ethnic background.

Of course I'm not saying that Dr Anand Deva and his co-performers are racist. But they should really know better.

To all the fools out there saying "how come it's okay for black people to make fun of white people, but when its the other way round it's called racist?" - think about this analogy. Make a joke about my mother and I might laugh it off and not care. Tell the same joke to a guy whose mother was raped and killed, and you might not get such a good reaction.

I don't want to make it seem like there are only stupid people out there. So I'll leave it to this commenter to say it succinctly. Not that anyone bothers to heed it, though:

You cannot compare black people making fun of white people to white people making fun of black people. White people have a long history of exploiting the black man and so have all the power. It should be we white people that should be more sensitive to the history. And even our history isn't all that good. The Americans have fought wars over slavery and civil rights. People have died for it, especially in the South. HKJ showed a fair bit of moral courage to stand up and say it was unacceptable to him. But the true dodgy award should go to the producers. Skits that you showed 20 years ago are not always good for modern times. Times have changed
Posted by: Yoda of Sydney 9:34am today Comment 74 of 356

Wise and articulate you are, Yoda of Sydney.


UPDATE : For a black person's perspective on it, try here.

For an indigenous Australian's perspective on it, try here.



    Hi Eurasian. Here in Brazil blackface is quite common. In fact, when I first saw it on a comedy show, I turned to my housemate with a smile and said to her, "Do you know if you did that in America it would be VERY controversial." She replied, "Really?" somewhat surprised and a little intrigued. I explained that because of America's history of racism, they were extremely sensitive when it came to skin-color and racial matters.

    Without a doubt, such a Jackson Jive skit if conducted in the US would be racist, or at the very least highly insensitive, given the country's deplorable history of racism and its segregation (de jure in the past and de fact today). But is it racist in Australia?

    Australians can't be expected to be completely familiar with the niceties of American culture and the its social context. Someone like you, Eurasian, has a better-than-average interest and knowledge of American culture and society, particular its urban culture. But the audience of Hey, Hey It's Saturday can't be expected to have quite the same familiarity with overseas cultures as more cosmopolitan individuals like yourself, even though Australia is bombarded with American popular cultural influence.

    I remember in high school my school did Showboat as its production (that school has always been famous for its school productions). And guess what? Most of the supporting cast was in blackface, to portray slaves. I'd lived in England before migrating to Australia and this was my first year in Australia. So living in England, I had the benefit of at least being aware of the sensitivities that may exist in having white people paint themselves black. But nobody at the school seemed to be aware of such sensitivities. I remember as well on one occasion seeing all this cast in blackface walk past us as it was the final full-dress rehearsal. After they'd walked past us my friend, shouting to some other friends some way away at the top of his voice, yelled, "Did you see the niggers?" Startled, I looked around for the reaction. Now, this was near the staff offices, so the teachers would have most likely heard, and I expected the teachers at least to be a bit more aware of overseas sensitivities as to know to censure that. But no teacher came out to say anything. That was a very interesting experience, as I knew my friend was pretty much oblivious to the sensitivities associated with that word, although I'm sure he'd have nevertheless had a dim awareness that it would have been inappropriate to say that word to an African-American or in their presence, just as the Jackson Five would have had a dim awareness that for some reason the act would have been totally unacceptable in an American context.


  2. (continued...)

    Here in Brazil it's more understandable why the population would be completely oblivious to overseas sensitivities on matters to do with race. This is because American cultural influence is minimal, as local content dominates the television airwaves. During prime time there are four novelas back to back, with the news intruding twice (and even in the afternoon there's usually one or two that are re-runs). Big Brother Brazil is a very popular, high rating shows; but despite this, when it's on it can only get a showing normally from 11pm, as the last, most watched telenovela finishes at 10pm, to be followed by some news. (And only from 11pm or 12 midnight does the American movie start!) So Brazilians can be forgiven to be completely oblivious to the sensitivities that may be associated with such things as blackface. This comedy show I have in mind has a regular segment where one of the comedians is Barack Obama (usually accompanied by Osama bin Laden). The comedian is black, but the other comedian, who on this occasion plays Michelle Obama, has to paint his face black and wear something like brown-colored sleeves on his arms to portray Michele's skin color. Offensive? In Brazil, of course not! In America? Deeply offensive.

    Brazil has the largest colony of Japanese outside Japan (Hawaii is second, followed, I think, by Peru -- think Alberto Fujimori), with 1.4 million people of Japanese descent living here, mainly in Sao Paulo. They started migrating to Brazil at the end of the 19th century up to the 1950s. I'd had the benefit of reading the account of an American sociologist of Japanese descent who wished to do a comparative study of the Japanese of Brazil and the Japanese of America. He related many examples of things that would be very offensive in an American context but carried no offence in Brazil -- such as matter-of-factly referring to people of Japanese descent as "Japs" or "Jappies", including to their face. Another thing this American researcher noted was that pulling one's eyes back to make a slanty appearance when referring to a "japa" was not considered offensive in Brazil either. Recently I noted that members of the Spanish Olympic team got in trouble when seen pulling their eyes back in photos to signify their heading to Beijing. The Spanish athletes expressed surprise as the apparent insensitivity of this. And more recently, a presenter on one of the show business shows was interrupted by popular children's actor Didi Moco who kindly noticed that she was of Japanese appearance and pulled his eyes back to emphasise this point, chuckling. Did the presenter find it offensive or even tiresome? No, she just smiled and carried on.

    Anyway, having this knowledge, when we went to meet up with a friend of my housemate, we were greeted with the problem of her not remembering which apartment he lived in. One can't simply walk into apartments here and has to inform the door person, who rings through to the apartment to inform the person that he has a guest. So my friend began to describe this guy to the "porteiro". "He's half-Japanese", she began, pulling her eyes back as she said this. This must have helped the door person think who she had in mind, as he opened the gate. But had I not been aware of this phenomenon, I would have viewed it with my Anglophone glasses, and seen it as undoubtedly offensive. But instead I just chuckled to myself at this cultural difference.

  3. @ Peter: interesting points as always.

    Regarding the Brazilian Obama-impersonator, that's not necessarily unacceptable by US standards, if he is going for an accurate impersonation of Obama. By contrast, simply smearing black paint on one's face an putting on an afro wig is unintelligent and lacking in redeeming nuance.

    I take your point that most mainstream Australians won't know the history of blackface. But still, I find it somewhat disengenuous when people can't see that it is offensive. Would anyone in the audience that booed Harry be brave enough to walk through any predominantly black neighbourhood in the US wearing blackface and fake afro? I seriously doubt it.
    As soon as Harry mentions how it would be received in the US, you can hear the sound of announcer and audience thinking, "Oh hang on... yeah I guess it wouldn't go down well..."

  4. Sure, but what I was getting at is that it's an American hangup and not necessarily a universal one. The American experience is not necessarily universal. There are some people who are very familiar with aspects of the American experience, but there are many who are not. Of course it's offensive in an American context -- given their history. In a country like Brazil, where there's never been anything resembling the Jim Crow segregation of the US in the country's 500-year history, there's no need for such sensitivities to exist. Nobody over the last 500 years in this country has been obliged to ride at the back of the bus and be treated as a second-class citizen merely on account of his skin color. So you'll find dark-skinned people here are nowhere near as sensitive as are dark-skinned people in the United States, where they have no choice but to be sensitive about that matters. The Hey, Hey people failed to appreciate the more globalized environment we now live in, where such a skit could be easily beamed around the world, and thus into different social contexts where it would be interpreted differently. Once Harry reminded the audience of the different interpretation such a skit would be greeted with in an American audience, the Australian audience seemed to realize the risk of causing offence that it brought.

    Let's say we had an Iraqi judge sitting in on a Red Faces skit. The act involves the person sitting on a chair, as if in his office, with his feet up on his desk, the bottom of his shoes visible to his interlocuters. The Iraqi judge says, "Now if you'd done that in Iraq, that would have been treated as very offensive to show the soles of your shoes at someone." The audience, having a vague awareness of the insulting power held in shoes in an Iraqi context, acknowledge this as they gasp in realization. Does that mean the skit was offensive? In Iraq, yes. In Australia, no.

  5. Hmmm.
    I tend to think, that given Australia's fairly shameful history of race relations towards its own black people, that we should be more sensitive about this kind of thing.

    I really wish the reaction of the Australian public had been, "oh well, hadn't thought of it that way... learn something new everyday."
    Rather than "how dare that American tell us what is offensive. He should clean up his own backyard, blablabla."

    HCJ didn't accuse the performers or Australians in general of being racist. He just explained why it upset him, and why in America considered it inappropriate. For that he is getting pilloried now.

    We don't have a history of Nazism in Australia either. But I think we would recognise that dressing up in Hitler uniforms, or making quips about concentration camps (as Kyle Sandilands did recently) is just not appropriate.

  6. I do think Australians are quickly "learning something new" from this whole experience. Those doctors, for example, now know for sure never to do anything like that again. I think it was just ignorance. Now everybody in Australia at least knows that white people painting their face and skin black, or at least something that resembles "blackface", may be treated as offensive by everybody. I think the resistance of many Australians to accepting this just highlights how ignorant they were of the extent to which such a skit could be interpreted around the world.

  7. Peter, you talk about context and you have a point. I agree that blackface doesn’t have the historical baggage that it does in the US. But that’s not the only context that we’re facing here. There is an intersection of contexts which we have to consider and the Australian public reaction to the controversy illustrates well why it is so offensive. (I actually find the public reaction more stupid (read: offensive) than the actual skit itself, but then again I'm not black.)

    The lead singer (who sounded more Australian than Indian to me) says: “I am an Indian, and five of the six of us are from multicultural backgrounds and to be called a racist ... I don't think I have ever been called that ever in my life before…” This is an absolutely ridiculous argument. Obviously these guys are oblivious to racism.

    Also, there is all this condemning of PCness. The thing is, I hate Australian PC too. But for a different reason. Many people I talk to seem to be all about being polite and PC, and but still (subconsciously or consciously) holding deeply ingrained racist views. And then there are those I talk to who hate PCness because…well, they are prejudiced, but they still try to be PC. It’s hard to explain, but I find that the PC in Oz actually silences any real discussion of racism in real life (outside mainstream media). So, to just attribute Connick’s reaction as PC gone mad shows a lack of willingness to tackle racism in Australia.

    And this whole thing about cultural imperialism…but isn’t blackface an American thing? So, as Eurasian sensation suggested, if you make fun of black Americans using an outdated white American method IN THE PRESENCE of an American…well, how does that make Connick’s reaction cultural imperialism? So if someone in Holland made fun of Aboriginal Australians using seriously offensive, historically loaded, outdated methods used by white Australians in the presence of an Australian…are you saying the Australian should just suck it up and laugh with them?

    I think there’s a bit more to the context than can be explained by American imperialism or their lack of understanding of cultural relativism.

    Also, Australia is not Brasil. I don't know what the situation is in Brasil, but Australia has a pretty loaded history of racism that still deeply affects society today. So a bit more sensitivity is called for.

    (Btw, the audience was white.)

  8. I saw on the news that Daryl Somers had made a comment saying that the act was some kind of tribute (??!!) to the Jacksons.

  9. >Did the presenter find it offensive or even tiresome? No, she just smiled and carried on.

    So did Kamahl who used to appear as a guest on this show. "Kamahl told The Daily Telegraph he had endured years of racist remarks at his expense on the show but had enough after again being the butt of a joke during the now condemned Jackson Jive sketch."

    He "said he did not watch the show out of disgust."

    "I used to laugh along when I was a guest but deep down I was thinking why are people so unkind? It's just the same old rubbish.",28383,26185061-5013560,00.html

    In fact, I do it too. When someone says something racist about people who look like me or other people, most of the time I just laugh along because I don't know what else to do. You know, you wanna say something, but you realize it'll take a lightning for the other person to realize that they were being racist with what they just did. So you just shut your mouth. But inside I feel deeply offended or hurt, and sometimes quietly decide not to be near them anymore.

  10. Part of my complaint with this cultural imperialism thing is that it places the same template upon the whole globe. Thus, "racism is universal".

    The problem is, I've found that the Australian understanding of racism is not the same as the English (or American) understanding of racism. The reason being, most Australians have never had the opportunity to see real, or serious, racism, and so don't really know what it looks like. But they nevertheless insist on "seeing" racism around them because they've been instructed that "racism is universal", so it obviously must uniformly exist around the world, in more or less the same form and to more or less the same degree. People who subscribe to this putative truism are thus under subconscious pressure to "live up to expectations", and so dutifully tilt at all the windmills that surround them.

    A personal anecdote. When I was in the Army Reserve, I remember preparing for an Anzac Day March in our mess at Melbourne University Regiment in 1998. We were being joined by some people from 5/6 RVR, a dedicated infantry regiment.

    To my shock and astonishment, in walked a Sikh soldier! I held my breath and my heart started pounding louder and louder. I waited for the inevitable, the anxiety and tension mounting with each heartbeat that beat louder.

    As the seconds passed and I slowly looked around, stiff with tension ... nobody was taking any notice! Everybody was carrying on as normal without taking the slightest notice of this Sikh!

    This was extraordinary. The mess looked largely indistinguishable from one you would find in the British Army -- the picture of the Queen, the various military decorations and paraphernalia one would find in such messes. And the soldiers -- the soldiers, as in the British Army, were the antithesis of refinement, being foul-mouthed, crude and vulgar (I wouldn't allow a female member of my family within a two-kilometre radius of them) and generally pooh-poohing the dictates of political correctness.

    And yet, they took no notice of this Sikh, with his turban (in place of a slouch hat) and beard, going against the military principle of uniform dress.


  11. (...continued)

    Soon enough this Sikh soldier had sat down and was busy in discussion with a fellow petrol head about which of their respective cars would win in a drag at the lights.

    The reason I'd had my previous reaction was because I'd lived in England beforehand and I'd had the opportunity to be around military surroundings and culture, having been a sea cadet. But one, if living in England, doesn't have to have been in the sea cadets or interacted with British military people to know that that scene I saw that Anzac Day was extraordinary.

    The reason being, every Briton knows that it is absolutely impossible for a Sikh to join the British Army.

    Now, first of all, the Sikhs are a martial people, given their religion, and thus are disproportionately represented in the Indian Army. Secondly, there's a much higher number of Sikhs in Britain than there is in Australia.

    And yet, it is IMPOSSIBLE to imagine a Sikh serving in the British Army, even if he was born there. The idea of such a thing would bring laughter from British Sikhs and an incredulous look from other Britons. And yet in addition to this soldier I'm speaking about, I remember seeing in the Army magazine once a picture of a Sikh major in Australian military dress. Also, we had at Melbourne University Regiment an officer cadet (the Regiment trained officers for the Army Reserve) with a thick Indian accent. Again, it would be impossible to imagine somebody with a thick Indian accent, or even a slight Indian accent, joining the British Army. (Though one born there, admittedly, would be able to serve, but not if he still wore a turban and had a beard like a British-born Sikh.)

    Why are such things impossible in Britain? Because such soldiers would be beaten up so bad by their fellow soldiers that they wouldn't last a week. This is because their mere presence would be so offensive to these, the ultimate guardians of British sovereignty and identity, that they would have to be purged from the regiment. Of course non of this would be officially countenanced by the officer corps, who, being traditionally of the upper class or (if not) being more refined, would be appalled at such barbarity and would condemn it unreservedly; but it still would and does occur, the British lower class tending to be quite terrible. (This is the same class that produces those world-famous social hooligans.)

    I remember as we were marching past the dignitaries that Anzac Day in the area of the Shrine, we were doing our "eyes right", our heads turned right to acknowledge the dignitaries and the saluting officer as we passed. Jeff Kennett was staring at me (and presumably the Sikh). That's because, being a high-ranking politician, and so well informed, he'd have been aware of the unusualness or achievement in having two non-Aryans like us marching and leading the Anzac Day March. (I remember in the Aston by-election, when victory speeches were being given by Chris people and such people who helped like Peter Costello, Senator Richard Alston was staring at me with that eagle stare of his. He, being a high-ranking and well-informed politician, seemed to be the only person there who recognised the apparent incongruity of having a person of my appearance being involved in a conservative political party.) Everyone else that Anzac Day took no notice of us. Except, perhaps, for any Britons that were watching the march.

  12. Oh, I forgot to say: I gave Jeff a wink in response to his staring at me!

    Another anecdote (since I'm on a roll!). I remember walking back in England and hearing two Indian lading behind me speaking -- wait for it -- in Hindi!!!!!!! (Or whatever language it was.) The rage quietly built up inside of me as they continued in their unintelligible nonsense. Imagine! Here in England ... and yet having the nerve to speak another language!!!

    Then I came to Australia and had to adjust to the phenomenon of hearing multiple languages being spoken out aloud on the train ... and yet nobody having a problem with this!

    Admittedly, while in England I was in Weston-super-Mare, where EVERYBODY was Anglo-Saxon. Only my closest friends could spell my surname. (In Australia, everybody knows how to spell it after the first time, interestingly.) But I learnt to adjust to my surroundings and not be so offended by hearing people speak (out loud) in other languages. I accepted the new context I was in.

    Another example I can think of is that of Abdul. Abdul was asking for it. He was an Iraqi student who'd come over with his family to England. He had an accent and a poor command of the language. He was asking for it. Man, we gave him a hard time! Gosh, I writhe at the thought of the hard time we gave him. Admittedly we had a "Paki" at the school who was quite popular. I observed his case with interest, as it seemed to show that once the "Pakis" lost their accent and became little different from the Poms, they were okay; and it helped that this one was good at soccer. But Abdul -- poor Abdul. I feel sorry for the guy in retrospect. But at the time -- he was asking for it.

  13. >The problem is, I've found that the Australian understanding of racism is not the same as the English (or American) understanding of racism.

    And my understanding of how Australians understand racism is this: Never mind the fact that many subconsciously see those who are not white or who do not 'act white' as inferior. As long as people don't clearly say derogatory things to you it isn't racist. And when they do derogatory things, it still isn't racist if they didn't consciously intend to be racist.

    Well, that's just BS for the one experiencing racism. Parochialism is no excuse for racism.

    Perhaps they didn't understand the weight of 'blackface', but surely it is commonsense to know that painting their faces as dark as they did (when the Jacksons aren't actually that dark) is offensive to black people.

    >But they nevertheless insist on "seeing" racism around them

    Who is insisting on seeing racism around them? Most insist on NOT seeing it. They didn't see it when Pauline Hanson came around, they didn't see it when the Cronulla riots happened (they said the Lebanese were being sexist), they didn't see it when the so-called 'curry-bashing' was happening (because they said the Indians were loud and flashy), and they don't see it now with the blackface incident (because Americans are being cultural imperialists). So when DO they see it? I'm only giving public examples here, but it (the 'not seeing' bit) happens on a personal level too. People just don't see it.

    And with regard to your Sikh example. Often having one or two foreigners is not so much of a problem. It's nice and pretty for 'diversity'. (Often referred to as 'tokenism'.) But when they come in droves and are there to stay for good, then stereotypes form and tensions rise.

  14. Last example!

    I was watching Insight on SBS a few years back, perhaps in 2005. The discussion was about kids adopted from different countries and cultures and of the experience of these kids growing up and of their adoptive parents.

    The inevitable question came up of whether they'd experienced racism or whether they'd been made to feel uncomfortable being of obvious physical difference. An Australian girl, whose parents had adopted a boy from, I think, India or Bangladesh, acknowledged that she'd seen racism and spoke of her experiences.

    What was this racism?

    Apparently, people, when seeing her and her brother, say, going to the movies, would assume that they are boyfriend and girlfriend rather than brother and sister -- he being of Indian appearance and she being of North European appearance. She related these experiences with a look of hurt and a slightly bitter expression that said, "Hey, I know what racism is like -- I've been there. I've seen it right up close and personal. And it's affected me strongly. But I'm strong, and will continue living my life, not letting this experience hold me down."

    Thank God Jennie Brockie, the host of the show, had asked this girl to elaborate and give her experiences of racism! Had Jennie not done so, I'd have been left with a certain image in mind when the girl said she'd experienced racism. I'd have had real racism in mind, the stuff I'd seen in England. It of course never occurred to me that anybody would consider it racist for people to assume that an Indian-looking guy and "Aussie" girl going to the movies together were boyfriend and girlfriend rather than brother and sister!

    Such experiences have meant that I rarely take Australians seriously when they talk about the matter of racism, simply because it is unlikely that most know what it is for lack of ever having come across real examples. So rather than just accepting people's professions of seeing or experiencing racism as being accurate, I normally withhold judgement and perhaps get them to elaborate more, careful not to show that I'm doubting them, as people tend to get offended if you discount their understanding or interpretation of things, treating it as a personal slight. And generally speaking, in my experience, Australians can't be counted on to know what they are talking about when it comes to racism -- through no fault of their own but rather through lack of experience of the real thing.

    I see the same thing in Brazil. But because "racism is universal", people on all four corners of the world are busy tilting at sundry windmills in their various particular social contexts and historical realities. Everybody must read from the same American script, wherever they may be. Or else! The imperialists will come and getcha!

  15. Uh...what was your point with your last post? (Dated: October 11, 2009 1:14 AM) The only point I see is that you're trying to prove that you were or are xenophobic and/or hold racial prejudices and don't seem to mind being physical about it.

    (And please don't come back with the same defense as that Dr Deva - Oh, but I'm an ethnic minority too, people can't spell my surname right. And I have 'multicultural' friends too, so how could I possibly have racist views?)

  16. Listening to you, fromthetropics, just further confirms why I can't take most Australians seriously on the subject. I guess I just have to stand there, shaking my head and chuckling to myself, as the likes of you continue tilting at all the windmills you see around you.

    But, happily, the period of American cultural hegemony is set to decline precipitously with its economic decline. Thankfully we won't have to dance to some of their silly beats like their racist one.

  17. >Listening to you, fromthetropics, just further confirms why I can't take most Australians seriously on the subject.

    Said who I'm Australian? And no, I'm not American either. For all your traveling you obviously have no clue how not to place people in neatly divided boxes. So much for your cosmopolitanism mate.

  18. So where are you from? What's your perspective? Have you ever been to Australia? Do you know how they think? Are are you only contributing your fury and bluster from wherever it is you're from without taking into account the Australian social context or historical reality?

  19. I've lived in Australia for about 10 years. (And I've lived in quite a few other countries too, which serves me well when I need to compare things.) So I'm contributing my views (as opposed to the fury and bluster that you accuse me of) as someone who has had more than a passing taste of Australian racism.

    And how long have YOU been in Australia? And why do YOU seem so furious that anyone dare accuse Australia of having problems in the area of racism?

  20. >just further confirms why I can't take most Australians seriously on the subject.

    Btw, where do you get off suggesting that Australians aren't as intelligent as you?...on an Australian blog at that. You don't really have much of a point do you?

  21. Ouch. Seems I got under your skin, fromthetropics. I guess we'll just have to disagree. Peace.

  22. Play nice, kids.

    Peter, though I usually like what you have to contribute to discussions here, I must say do take an exception to your implication that people in Australia don't know anything about "real racism".

    I don't have the experience to say whether Australian racism is the same or not as that in the US, UK, Brazil or wherever. But it exists here; some people feel subtle overtones of it and some people experience it frequently and quite overtly.

    Yes, certainly some people overreact to innocuous events that may not actually be racist. On the other hand, some people deal with some pretty shocking stuff and feel they have no choice to just accept it as the price they pay for being different.

    I wish you could hear some of the stories my African friends have to tell. One of them, a Kenyan guy, experiences it in mostly subtle ways which you could possibly discount if they didn't happen ALL THE TIME. Just getting asked 100 questions trying to get in the doors of clubs that I walked straight through a few minutes earlier without hassle. Or being asked questions by security just for standing around somewhere.

    A Zimbabwean friend of mine went to meet her white boyfriend's family, and had to endure the guy's brother at the dinner table trying to convince her that everyone knew the scientific fact of blacks being much closer to monkeys than everyone else.

    And these two friends of mine are very well-presented, intelligent and good-looking professionals; little that would mark them out as different or foreign other than their colour and features.

    I could tell you plenty of other stories, including some things that have happened to me. But my point is that there are many different experiences, and some girl on the "Insight" program is not necessarily representative of the rest of us.

  23. Hi Eurasian,

    I'm just speaking from my experience of 18 years in Australia and a few other countries, and the extrapolations I've made from them. I've given examples for why I think the way I do. Basically I was saying that different social, cultural and historical contexts need to be taken into account -- basically what those French sociologists Bourdieu and Wacquiant have to say in that paper (I'm not sure whether you had a chance to read it or, if you did, what you think of it) -- rather than uncritically universalizing the American social context and experience. In debate, we're not always going to be able to convince those with whom we're discussing to our point of view, no matter how well we try and reason. Oh, well. Live and let live.

  24. >Ouch. Seems I got under your skin, fromthetropics.

    ...? I see the capitalization and what not seems to have conveyed a tone that wasn't there.

    >what those French sociologists Bourdieu and Wacquiant have to say in that paper (I'm not sure whether you had a chance to read it or, if you did, what you think of it)

    Knowing how much highly intelligent and award winning postgraduate students struggle reading Bourdieu's (difficult) writing, I cannot help but think your references to the him are also in part a way of bragging...

    But that aside, have you tried reading 'Black Skin, White Masks' by Frantz Fanon (easy read) or 'Location of Culture' by Homi Bhabha (difficult read)? Yes, they're both non-white writers, so that might be an interesting change to the white French guys. Those would illustrate to you that while blackface doesn't carry the same historical weight in Australia as it does in the US, it still reveals the racist undertones which exist in the minds of the Australian public by the way it pokes fun at black skin and deeming them devoid of humanity.

    >rather than uncritically universalizing the American social context and experience

    But we have critically examined the context. That is precisely why I find it offensive. Perhaps you might want to re-read Chris' original posts and the comments others have written. And this too. You might like it as Brasil comes up in the comments:

  25. Look, fromthetropics, I've learnt over time that there are some people whom one simply can't reason with, and I place you in that category. I'll leave it at that with you.

  26. Oops. I just realized I got Bourdieu mixed up with another French guy (Derrida). But the rest of the comment remains.

  27. I wrote a post on this when the story broke. I read most of the comments here and I have to say, Peter you are mistaken about Australia not being in the least bit racist. The country's treatment of it's ethnic and religious minorities, especially Aborigines, begs to differ. I also take exception to the person who said in essence Brazilians know no color. Brazil is notoriously racist. To this day, the most undereducated and poor Brazilians are Afro Brazilians. Brazil was one of the most brutal and devastating slave colonies of the New World. The legacy of slavery lives on today. Your examples of hwo no one seems to mind or comment on racial slurs and stereotypes underlines just how far behind Brazil is in addressing its issues. The days of Brazil being seen as the paragon of racial harmony are over. This is a more global world where culture is exported with the click of a mouse.

    Here is some light reading for you:

    As for the performers, I think the performance was racist, but I can't say whether or not the performers and host are racists. I find it sad that of all the wonderful performances Michael and his brothers put on over the years, all those contestants saw was huge afros and tar black skin. Not flashy outfits, killer dance moves, sweet harmonies, or great music. Certainly not brown skin, but black shoe polish skin and wild clown wigs. It makes one wonder if that's all they see whenever they look at any Black person. That would be racist.

  28. respect, wild safari.
    i was wondering who was going to pull this guy peter up on his cheerful denial of racism in brasil!!!???
    and your closing argument,
    well that sums it up really doesn't it?
    made it more clear in my mind anyway.

  29. Youse are just the carriers of the American model, of American cultural imperialism. It might help to take those American glasses off once in a while. The use of Ebonics slang says it all. (By the way, read Bourdieu and Wacquoint's article "On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason".)

  30. But really, Peter, noone in Brasil has been treated as a second class citizen due to their skin colour???
    What about my friend of mixed African, Indigenous and European descent who was pulled from a Taxi and beaten up by the police because they couldn't believe that he wasn't abducting his white girlfriend in the front seat?
    What about the subtle, pervasive racism of Brasilian TV that never shows black or even brown characters except in lame reenactments of slavery?
    What about the fundamental, endemic racism that has skin colour directly linked to socioeconomic standing?
    Now, the question of American imperialism. Generally I agree, and also hate it. But in this situation I am more hesitant to criticize it (look, my spell check forced me to put a z in criticize!!! No!!! It's happening all the time!!)

  31. Yes I must admit I'm a bit surprised about Peter's claims about the relative sense of racial harmony in Brazil. I haven't been there and won't pretend to know better, but it does clash with a lot of things I have heard. I wonder if poor black Brazilians would share Peter's view.

    @ Peter: regarding your claims of creeping American cultural imperialism - i dunno whatchu talkin bout, but I think you do be trippin'.

  32. What I was going to say before my culturally imperialist spell-check overpowered me and forced me to write in American -
    The US has been the stage for an enormous, bloody and, yes it is important, well-publicised racial struggle. That black and brown people around the world see parallels to their own situation, or inspiration, or merely food for thought in this, I can find no problem with. That some people, indeed, take it further, and find themselves identifying with black Americans and black American culture, that they come to see a slight of balck Americans as a personal insult - who is to judge that?? Certainly not me! I'm not black. But really, I don't know that anyone is qualified to be disparaging. Racism is an insidious disease. It is certainly true that forms of racism blur over national boundaries: for example, Indigenous Australians have been labelled with American epithets coon and nigger. A particularly lame but still offensive name for South Asians 'curry-dot' is used in Australia although I'm almost sure it's origin is in the UK. So why should racial solidarity not also be trans national? Yes, the US has a huge emphasis in the global media, overly huge many would say. But, given that this is the case, and that in the short term we can't change it, of course we in other parts of the world are offended by such crude vehicles of profound racism as blackface. We know what it means!
    And to be honest I am not impressed by the 'Oh, we're not American, we can't be expected to know it's offensive' argument. Ridding oneself of racism demands a certain sophistication, a certain willingness to learn about and respect other people's experiences. And HCJ is and Amercian, with a band he plans to perform with later containing black American musicians. Does it really take an inhuman effort of the imagination to put oneself in his shoes and predict his discomfort, and indeed the discomfort of many Australians of many races who have been exposed to blackface in it's original awfulness? I don't think so.
    Incidentally, a film that really helped me understand blackface and what it really can mean is Spike Lee's Bamboozled. I really can't speak highly enough of it, an amazing, funny, awful, disturbing, beautiful, moving film.