Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sabrina Houssami on The Apprentice and racism

Just happened to have the TV on and caught episode 1 of the new Australian series of The Apprentice. Normally I may have changed channel but given that one of the contestants is the uber-attractive Sabrina Houssami, I had to stop and watch the whole thing. For those that came in late, Houssami (23, Sydney-born to Lebanese and Indian parents) was Miss World Australia in 2006 and the first and only Muslim to receive that honour.

Given that the intelligent and articulate Houssami is being touted for a future political career and clearly wants to be taken seriously, The Apprentice seems a strange move, given the show's penchant for nastiness. Let's see what happens.

Recently Houssami was interviewed in a News Limited article about her appearance on the show, but the topic also turned to racism in Australia, which then became the main story. She spoke about her experiences growing up being picked on for looking different, which led to the attention-grabbing title "Apprentice hopeful Sabrina Houssami says Australia 'racist'". Here are some responses from commenters:

jk: Whinge, whinge, whinge .As Australia is a multi-cultural country, I assume she includes all the many races that live here as being the racists? Or is it just the white ones? If so, then I find her remarks RACIST !

bjm of perth: FORMER MISS WORLD AUSTRALIA..not sure who voted her in but we cant be that racist if we made her represent our country..if we were all racists she wouldent have been there..

Um, did she say every Australian was a racist? I don't think so. This is like those who say that racism is over in the US since they elected Obama.

Gee: Gee a person of Indian heritage calling Australians racist,, i think she had better go have a look in India and see the way they treat their own people, thanks to their dicriminatory caste system.

Defensive, much? The amount of times I've heard this kind of crap... For a start, Houssami is an first and foremost an Australian talking about Australia - India is irrelevant. But more importantly, the argument that Indians have no right to complain about Australian racism because India is allegedly so much worse... its a rubbish argument. Either Australia has problems with racism or it doesn't. If it does (and yes, it does) then we should speak out about it. India is probably a racist country too, but that is irrelevant.

The above commenters perhaps think only about their experiences. If I were to base my opinion solely on my own experience, maybe I would say that racism is not a big problem in Australia, since it hasn't been a major factor in my life. However, if I asked my African friends, they would say something different; just as based on Houssami's experience, she feels that there is a lot of racism in Australia.

If you wanna know about racism, trying asking someone who has experienced it, rather than someone who hasn't.


UPDATE: Seems lots of people find Sabrina annoying, based on watching her on The Apprentice. Which is fair enough; its a show that is designed to bring out and display unflattering characteristics in its contestants. To her credit, she has never come across as nasty in the way that some others have. Oh, and she's still hot.

UPDATE (16/11/09): And she's gone! And in truth, she had it coming. She didn't do that much bad, but didn't really stand out either (aside from general hotness). My money is on Morello, anyway - he's pretty much stood out from day one, even if he does come across like a dodgy used-car salesman, only nicer.


  1. As a multicultural woman with a voice at home and abroad, she is in a unique position to focus attention on the plight of her sisters around the world and speak out against injustice wherever it may be. To focus attention on unkind remarks is to distract us from the real human rights violations that take place in the homelands of her parents; India and the Middle East. Should she enjoin other with conscience and compassion to courageously speak out and defend the oppressed against those who violate their rights, she might realize the catwalk and apprenticeship were curtain calls for the world stage together with Irshad Manji and other reform-minded Muslims.

  2. @ unearthed, I understand what you're saying, but one person can only do so much. She doesn't even have a very high profile in Australia, let alone the wider world. Why would anyone from India or the Middle-East listen to what she had to say?
    If all she does is work for an end to racism in Australia, no one should complain about that not being a noble pursuit.

  3. Sabrina seems to be in a unique position to bridge the gap. Racism is rooted in stereotypes that can only be overcome by dramatic perceptual changes over time. The media thrives on controversy. Nothing would be more controversial than an articulate and intelligent Muslim-Australian beauty queen condemning terrorism and human-rights abuses taking place in the name of Islam, her chosen religion. The image would be striking and begin to change the perception of Middle-Easterners. The “beauty with a purpose” mission would certainly become a reality. The stage will soon go black and the mics turned off if she does not speak while she has an audience. The beauty queen image fades fast. If she becomes The Apprentice, she will certainly be told what she can and cannot say in public. She has already defied Islamic clerics through her participation in the swimsuit competition. She should not stop there, but make it clear that injustice cannot be tolerated anywhere. Such courage would embolden others. . . peace sounds resonate.

  4. Reason A Bubble
    Sabrina was so fake it was offensive. That supercilious voice and cheesy saccharine smile was nothing short of sickening.

    I can't imagine a serious business person employing her to sit on the fence while she nod her way through important meetings.

    Sure she was smart but only in the context of a standardized testing environment- which is totally different to 'intelligence'

  5. @ Reason A Bubble:
    I didn't read it as fakeness. Sure, she was totally out of her depth on the show and didn't deserve to win (she's only 23 and seemingly lacking in experience compared to some of the others). But what you read as a "supercilious voice and cheesy saccharine smile", I read as her trying to maintain civility and a pleasant demeanour.

    But neither of us know her so it's hard to say.

    Intelligence works in lots of different ways. Having seen her speak on "Q&A" about a number of issues, she stood out as being very intelligent. But having a good head for business is quiet different, and it's true she didn't seem to be up to scratch in that respect.