Mumma mia… here we go again


Delta Goodrem's tweet promoting blackface.

Delta Goodrem’s tweet promoting blackface.


COMEDY is a personal thing, and I like mine political, particularly when white people come in for a pasting. Why? Because my career pretty much revolves around explaining to white Australians that we are not the master race. So I like the validation.

All that said, sadly, I never got to see Fear of a Brown Planet, the smash-hit comedy show by Nazeem Hussain and Aamer Rahman which, by all accounts, goes a considerable way to evening up the score.

In one clip on Youtube, appropriately entitled, ‘White people’, Rahman looks out through the stage lights into the audience and remarks, “We have a lot of white people here today… white people have generally avoided our show. I have a question for white people in our audience. It’s a general question that’s been on my mind for a while… what the hell is your problem?”

For whiteys, things pretty much descend from there.

Rahman reveals that his favourite complaint about other cultures from white people is that ‘Aborigines have a drinking problem.’

“You guys are from Sydney. You saw the Cronulla riots. I’m sure we can comfortably agree that no-one has a scarier drinking problem than white people. That’s why there’s no drinking (at this venue). It’s not for religious reasons. We just don’t trust white people and alcohol anymore. When white people have a party, one minute it’s a party and the next minute it’s the Nazi party. If you and your friends have a BBQ and within half an hour that manages to mutate into a 5,000 strong Hitler youth rally, maybe there’s something wrong with your culture?”

And this: “When I first saw the Cronulla riots on TV I didn’t know what was going on, I just thought it was the season finale of Home and Away.”
And finally this… at one point, Rahman acknowledges that he’s often approached by white people after the show, who tell him that he picked on white people so much that maybe he might be a bit racist himself. Rahman’s response should be printed on t-shirts and distributed to every Aboriginal Australian in the nation: “That hurts me. That really shocks and offends me when people suggest I can be racist towards white people. I can’t be racist towards white people. It’s impossible. Some of my best friends are white.”

Rahman is now doing a solo show called ‘The Truth Hurts’. It’s apparently no gentler. He recently lamented on his Facebook page how ‘brown people’ tend to arrive late to his gigs (he recommends leaving “three to six hours early” to get there on time) and how white people turn up early, and take all the front row seats.

And given the content of the show things can get a little uncomfortable for them. Hence why, apparently, Rahman has had quite a few whitefellas (and Zionists) walk out in disgust. I’m booked in for the May 31 gig in Sydney. I intend to arrive early.

But I digress. The point is Rahamn and Hussain are the masters of putting white people in their place. And that explains why, a few weeks ago, Rahman lined up one of the poster girls for white Australia, Delta Goodrem, via his Twitter account.

In case you missed it, Goodreem retweeted a photo of a group of Australian men who had dressed up for a party to coincide with the weekly airing of the TV show The Voice.

The problem with Goodrem’s retweet is that she labeled it “Hilarious”… even though one of the men in the photo was dressed up in blackface to honour The Voice co-coach, Seal.

Rahman tweeted in reply that there was nothing funny about blackface, nor about white people mocking ‘brown people’.

And then it all got a little, well, ‘Fear of the Brown Planet’.

Goodrem was inundated with tweets from people appalled by her conduct. By the following morning, she’d removed the picture, and apologised.

Enter Mia Freedman, a journalist, blogger and occasional fashion tipster who leapt to the defence of the beleaguered celebrity by posting a lengthy column on her website, Mamamia, entitled ‘The Boy Who Cried Racist’, a none-too-subtle shot at Rahman… and at the risk of preventing another Freedman meltdown, and in deference to her general air of ignorance, I’ll let the reference by a white woman to a man of colour as ‘boy’ slip through to the keeper.

Buoyed, no doubt, by her years as the high-flying editor-in-chief of such empowering magazines as Cosmopolitan, Freedman opened her column with some solid research… from the Dolly school of journalism.

“Here’s a fun fact: there are 178,000 Google results when you type ‘Delta Goodrem racist’ into the search engine. If by fun you mean batshit crazy.”

Great stuff. Here’s another fun fact: the phrase ‘bananas are racist’ returns 1,240,000 results. And ‘Mia Freedman nincompoop’ returns 104,000 results. And one more: ‘Mia Freedman five minutes of my life I’ll never get back’ brings 1,060,000 results.

My point being, if by ‘fun’ you mean, ‘using a totally irrelevant Google search to try and make a ridiculous point about an otherwise indefensible issue’….

Freedman was just hitting her stride.

“Stop this madness. PLEASE. WE. MUST. STOP. IT. I missed this story when it originally happened because I must have blinked momentarily and that’s all it takes for confected outrage to explode on social media.”

Right. So there you have it folks. Those of you who felt genuinely affronted by Goodrem’s endorsement of racist blackface got yourselves into a lather over nothing. Your anger was “confected”, according to Freedman.

At this point, I should make an admission: I knew precisely nothing about Mia Freedman prior to this column. Indeed I’d never even heard of her. I don’t own a television (and if I did, I would gouge my own eyes out with a spoonful of vinegar before I’d watch morning television, on which Ms Freedman apparently regularly features), and I’ve never really felt the need for advice on how to get a boy at school to like me… hence I’ve never read Dolly, or Cleo, or Cosmo, or whatever other magazines from which Freedman earnestly believes she’s waged a war to empower women with hair and make-up tips.

So I did a bit more research of my own. Freedman’s Wikipedia entry is particularly enlightening. At the very top is a Wikipedia warning: “A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject. It may require cleanup to comply with Wikipedia’s content policies, particularly neutral point of view.”

In other words, Wikipedia thinks Freedman wrote her own entry. Possibly because it’s quite lengthy, somewhat flattering and surprisingly detailed (including this ironic line: “Freedman has stated that she is not the author of a book called “Boned” that was released on June 2, 2008. ‘Not me, I’m afraid. I put my name to everything I write.’” Except perhaps your Wikipedia entry?

In any case, the point of my research is this: Freedman’s mother was a psychologist and art gallery owner. Her father worked in Finance. She went to Ascham School in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, one of the wealthiest schools in one of the wealthiest regions in one of the wealthiest countries on earth.

So of course, Freedman is in the perfect position to lecture people of colour on how they should feel about the sting of Australian racism and disadvantage.

Over to Freedman: “Blackface IS racist, no question. But to me (admittedly, a white girl so I welcome comments from those with a different perspective…), there is a huge difference between painting your face black to mock an entire race and painting yourself black to respectfully dress up as someone who has black skin.”

And of course, Freedman is right. There is a difference. But there’s not a lot of currency in comparing someone who set out do something racist and hurtful with someone who didn’t set out to do something racist and hurtful, but ended up doing something racist and hurtful anyway.

To the people who were hurt and offended by the act, the intent makes little difference.

And that’s the central point here: People like Freedman will never understand what it feels like to be ground down every day by insensitive white people doing insensitive white things.

But the irony of a socially and economically advantaged white woman devoting an entire column to defending the actions of another socially and economically advantaged white woman, without seeking the opinion of a single person of colour throughout the entire article, shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

Maybe she doesn’t know any people of colour? Or maybe some of her best friends are ‘brown people’? Who knows. But what does appear to be lost on Freedman is that she doesn’t actually get to decide what is and isn’t racist.

Indeed, allowing advantaged white Australians to define racism is like letting an alcoholic define sobriety.

And therein lies the part where Mia Freedman – and most of the rest of the nation – part ways with people of colour who are sick to death of ignorant Australians putting their racism down to ‘the Aussie sense of humour’ or ‘it wasn’t intended to offend’.

Well, it does offend, and even though it is ‘the Aussie sense of humour’, our humour is known around the world to be rooted in racism. I understand that people of advantage have a hard time understanding how people of disadvantage might feel about things. And I’ve struggled for years to come up with an analogy that white Australians will understand on matters of blackface and racism.

This is the best I can come up with: If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of bad policing – an arrogant cop who treats you like a child – it’s an experience that sticks with you. The reason why is simple: one person in the exchange had all the power. And it obviously wasn’t you. So it stings a lot more, and it’s maybe even going to change the way you feel about police generally.

But imagine if you didn’t just encounter one cop having a bad day once in your life – imagine if you encountered it almost every single week? Or every single day? Imagine how you would feel about police? And imagine how sensitive you would be to police behaving badly?

Well, racism works exactly the same way. Which brings me to the point of what racism really is, and how many Australians mistakenly believe it’s only about race.

It’s not. Race is only part of the package.

It’s about power. The power of one group over another. The group just happens to be defined by race, or sometimes simply skin colour or religion.

And in Australia, white people overwhelmingly hold all the power. We are the ‘dominant species’ and unfortunately, we collectively wield that power over people of colour – be they Aboriginal, Indian, African, Asian, whatever – every single day.

Our first weapon is always our humour, but that’s never an excuse.

Australians routinely fail to grasp this fact about racism and power. That’s why when stories of blackface come up, Australians respond with comments like ‘Well the black guy in the movie White Chicks dressed up in whiteface, that’s racist as well’. Or ‘Some black guy called me a white cracker… that’s racist as well’.

No, it’s not.

It may be rude, it may be ignorant, but it lacks the most important ingredient of racism – power.

And speaking of things lacking, back to Freedman’s column… which lacked not only empathy and common-sense, but a basic sense of history.

“….this is what I worry about: using words like ‘racist’ to describe the retweeting of this photo diminishes and dilutes the power of that word. I worry that by over-using it, we render it almost meaningless.”

I think by ‘we’, Freedman means ‘us whiteys’, because people of colour don’t think it’s over-used. They think the act of it is over-used, and the basis of it misunderstood.

And then there was this: “I’m having one of those ‘has the world gone mad?’ moments. Look, I do think it’s fantastic we’re now having conversations about racism, sexism and homophobia that we never would have had a decade ago.”

Really Ms Freedman? Are you sure? I’m pretty certain if you do a Google search you’ll find that Aboriginal people have been talking about racism for quite a while. Indeed all people of colour have been railing against – and talking about – racist Australia for decades… and decades and decades.

John Pilger’s Secret Country was released in the early 1980s, more than 30 years ago. Aboriginal leaders like William Ferguson and Jack Patten were talking about Australian racism in the 1930s – more than 80 years ago.

This is not a new discussion Mia Freedman – it’s just new to you. And it’s great you’re finally engaging in the debate, but can I respectfully suggest that your noob status in this area is a bloody big pointer – in flashing neon lights – as to why you should stay quiet and listen a little more before you weigh in.

And that explains this line in her column: “Does anyone truly believe Delta is racist? Or the guy dressed up as Seal? Come on. Let’s not be The Boy Who Cried Racist. It’s too important an accusation to throw it around so carelessly.”

I don’t know if the guy who dressed up as seal is racist. I’ve never met him. But I know for a fact that he’s ignorant. And I don’t know if Delta Goodrem is racist either. But she is ignorant too. And so are you, Mia Freedman.

Indeed, you’re a beacon of ignorance, because Goodrem made a mistake, corrected it and apologised. You, by contrast, wrote a lengthy blog defending the actions that Goodrem had already acknowledged were wrong.

That so many people of colour object to blackface should be a simple indication to people like Goodrem and Freedman that in this day and age, it’s no longer acceptable.

The fact is, people of colour are fast reaching breaking point. And so as the onslaught of Australian ‘I’m not racist but…’ grows, so too does their frustration and their sensitivity to it.

There is, of course, a simple solution. Australians can just stop dressing up in blackface. It’s not like you’re being asked to slaughter your favourite pet. Or stay sober on Anzac Day.

You’re simply being asked to stop smearing yourself with black boot polish to ‘honour’ people you think are neat.

If that’s a struggle for you, then I’d respectfully suggest that you suffer from what I like to call ‘mind-numbing stupidity’.

Finally, some advice to Freedman: Let’s not be the Advantaged White Woman Who Sits In An Eastern Suburbs Café Telling People Of Colour How They Should Feel About Racism.

And one more piece of advice: If you really want to start to understand how people who’ve spent their life on the receiving end of racism feel about it, get yourself a ticket to Aamer’s Sydney show (available here http://www.comedystore.com.au/index.php?option=com_eventlist&view=details&id=182) He doesn’t really need any more material – Australian racism is in abundance. But can I suggest that the view from the front row is very good.

* Chris Graham is a freelance journalist based in Sydney. He’s the former and founding managing editor of Tracker magazine.

Comments

  1. Excellent stuff Chris

  2. Well written, mate.
    As a whitey who has had a few too many run-ins with cops caught with sand in their vaginas, I can appreciate your analogy.

  3. Thank you Chris, for your life, your career, your ongoing body of work, your heart and your clarity. Sounds a bit off or gushy I know but I mean it.
    Some times I get home at the end of the day feeling like I could hang some of Australia’s meat heads up by the ankles to bleed out and I get to read a piece like that and all of a sudden I remember I’m not crazy, reality is out there somewhere, it’ll be OK!
    Thank you for reminding me where the ground is. 🙂
    Shame we can’t all be read back into the world as it should be every damn day.

  4. exactly right.
    as a German, I am SHOCKED by how in Australia, people that want to be perceived as educated, tolerant even progressive public figures, let things slip, make a joke, “mean the opposite” or “didn’t actually mean” things that are obviously racist. not just lately…
    it’s the breeding ground for more extreme, more open scenes of racism, like the scenes we saw happening on public transport. combined with growing economic fears of the white population, yes, even here, that can lead to racially motivated violence – it’s all connected. Mia F is not at her first offense with not only voicing her ignorance in a derogatory way from her privileged white upper class background. her appearance on Q&A left a bad aftertaste for women in the sex industry. yet again, she used her mummy platform to recharge on it and defied her views as acceptable as they were obviously widespread. cue lots of support from her readers.
    Mia, you can’t be “a little bit racist” or bigot. you are or you are not. and when those from INSIDE the debate tell you there IS a problem, your words are contributing to kill the debate that SO MANY are waiting for to finally just live a normal life.

  5. Mia’s father left South Africa in protest against apartheid. He arrived in Australia with nothing but the clothes on his back and built his company. He heads the Freedman Foundation which donates millions of dollars every year to young Australians, scientific
    research, the arts and numerous other endeavors. This includes Indeginous projects, including, but not limited to the recording of Aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley with their substantial donation to the KAF.

    I have no connection to Mia or the foundation but I have followed this incident and the Adam Goodes incident with interest.

    I must say that I am embarrassed by much of the Koori commentary I’ve read. The level of hatred and prejudice does us no favours.

    Please, next time, try to temper your hate with a teaspoon of fairness and report facts instead of inflaming the situation unnecessarily.

    • Caz, I see what you’re saying. That Mia should not be be scrutinised because her father is a nice guy. Makes sense to me.

      • Really, that’s what you took from my comment? You can’t see that Chris deliberately left out information about Lawrence Freedman in order to support his argument that Mia is a privilaged white racist? Oh well …. carry on

        • Oh I see, in that case he should also have included information about her mother and grandparents, yes? I understand how you’d see that an article is being baised, if it article doesn’t include a full family tree. It must be very difficult to form an opinon about someone when all you have to go on is what they say and what they do.

    • That’s great Caz. My natural father was an unabashed racist and referred to Aboriginal people as ‘coons’ and Middle Easterners as ‘tea-towel heads’. Now, what’s your point again?

  6. random7830 says:

    Excellent article, but sadly we now have another case of celebrity foot-in-mouth. Eddie’s admitted ‘slip of the’ tongue is now thr basis of the ‘poor Eddie’ movement which aims to engender our sympathy because he feels so bad about his mistake. Oh poor, rich, middleclass, white Eddie
    Goode’s feelings no longer seem to matter nor the feelings of thousands of indigenous children who continue to suffer bullying and racist taunts in the playground every day because heroes like Maguire get away with it.
    .

  7. privileged whitey says:

    Brilliant and thank you.

  8. I am brown. I feel the planet is and was always predominantly brown. Every indigenous race has been a shade of brown. I care a damn about political correctness. It doesn’t bother me if you paint your face brown, black, yellow, or red. If someone pokes a jibe at me for being brown, I would respond in kind, if I feel the need to do so. But most of the time I am too bored to react to the inferiority complex of a population that is in minority on this planet..

  9. I kept waiting for you to say why the blackface was racist, but you never did. I suppose the guy dressed up as Delta was sexist.

    You can wax lyrical all you like about how racism is a bad thing, but you didn’t connect it to the photo at the top of the story. Not once. You didn’t even try. What a puff piece.

    • I assumed it would have been too basic, and even a little condescending, to explain why blackface is racist. But you’re right – I should never underestimate the depth of Australian ignorance.

      • No, no no… your article was pretending to explain why the blackface in the photo was racist. But instead of actually saying why, you went on and on about how it was racist because brown people were offended. If a victim of racism says something is racist, then it automatically is. That kind of induction might sit comfortably in your brain, but it’s just sugar dust to me.

        And your “hey brown people, I’m a white guy who gets it” thing is completely condescending. You go even further: “I’m a white guy who gets that he doesn’t get it, because only brown people could possibly understand racism”.

        It’s 4 guys dressing up as the hosts of a TV show. Seal’s look is defined by his dark skin, bald head, and facial scars. What were they meant to do?
        – find a black guy to be Seal
        – dress up as a white Seal
        – not dress up as the 4 judges from The Voice

        There’s nothing inherently hateful or mocking about that photo. It’s not hilarious that a white guy is painted black. (It’s not hilarious at all, but the lameness of reality TV is another subject.) It’s hilarious that they took the time to dress up as the judges. And if you’ve spent any time following Delta over the years, you’ll know that she probably only cared about the guy dressed as her, and narcissistically didn’t even notice the other 3 guys in the picture.

        So make your case.
        – they were mocking Seal’s dark skin
        – that is what Delta found hilarious

        Or if you’re too busy, then just dish out another insult. I’m ignorant, what else?

        • Yes, yes yes… the article didn’t pretend to explain anything other than Mia Freedman is ignorant, and why that is so. And to be frank, I don’t really have the energy or the inclination to explain the bleeding obvious to the wilfully ignorant and the conspicuously anonymous. You’re just a faceless troll who feigns stupidity (or possibly not… it might genuinely be your default position) for the sake of attention and an argument. Frankly, that’s boring. The headline ‘here we go again’ is a reference to the fact that blackface – and why it’s unacceptable – has been explained sooooo many times in the past. That you struggle with the concept is really of no great interest… as I said, just boring really.

          • I’m an ignorant stupid faceless troll. Good job, three new insults.

            You’re refusing to make the case for why this blackface was racist. You’re saying that all blackface is racist and this has been established in the past. Perhaps a link to an article? Do I have to research this myself?

            I don’t find anything wrong with dark skin. Therefore, there is no inherent mocking aspect to a white person painting their skin dark. If you can explain why there is always that mocking element, that abuse of power, that would be cool. I can’t see it myself.

            Impersonating a cripple’s gimpy walk, or a deaf person’s speech impediment, that is inherently mocking. But those are afflictions. If dark skin is not an affliction, what is wrong with imitating it? There must be something. I am struggling to see it, could you find the energy and interest to show me?

            Now, once you establish that all blackface is racist, you then have to show that Delta was laughing at the blackface. Can you do that? Or has that too been explained sooooo many times in the past?

            I’m not anonymous, at least not intentionally. My real identity has no real currency, but I’m not hiding. My real name is Ben Marlton and I live in Canberra. My anonymity comes from my being one of the masses, not from having a silly online name.

            I read your article BAD AUNTY, and it was much better than the average story on the NT intervention. You’re capable of reason, so stop with the insults. Just explain what I’m missing.

          • No Ben, I’m not refusing to make the case. I’m just refusing to repeat it because it was made long ago, repeatedly. So yes, do the research yourself. You might find it cathartic. Google the phrase ‘history of blackface’… then come back and explain why it’s OK. And while you’re at it, try and mount an argument for why it’s OK to dress up as Hitler. And one little piece of advice – when you start commenting on someone’s blog, and you expect to be taken seriously and treated respectfully, don’t start by being flippant and dismissive because that’s likely what you’ll get it back in return. Kinda sets the mood, don’t you think?

      • You need to research what blackface is. Contrary to what you either believe or just choose to profess in order to support weak arguments, it’s not painting your skin. It was a vaudeville style popular in the US early last century. Conflating the two makes you either ignorant or disingenuous – take your pick.

  10. That’s just more induction. This wasn’t a minstrel show. And don’t Godwin this convo, that’s just cheap.

    You’re not prepared to say that dark skin is an afflicton. But you are saying there is something inherently bad about painting skin dark. That’s a contradiction dude.

    I mean, if you really wanted to argue about the history of blackface, the real issue isn’t the blackface itself. Minstrel shows were used to invoke and sustain racial division. There was no entertainment value in minstrel shows unless you were a non-black person who felt threatened by black people. It was lousy theatre.

    Minstrel shows used caricature to mock black people. But was the guy in the photo caricaturing Seal? It was a goofy costume. I don’t see how it makes fun of Seal. Even if that was the guy’s intention, he failed, because Seal is awsome and this guy was just doing a cheap job of dressing up like Seal.

    Also, you keep ignoring the salient issue of the guy in drag. It would be absurd to say that he was mocking women, that he was sexist. He’s right next to the Seal costume guy, in a lousy blonde wig. Why is that cheap costume okay but the Seal one isn’t?

    I’m saying your article was garbage. You’re saying I am garbage. That’s not equivalent.

    There’s no reply option under your last comment. Technical issue, or are you shutting down this conversation?

    • I’m tempted to ignore you, but not shut down the conversation. Still, to help you through your ‘conspiracy at every corner’, no, it’s just a WordPress thing. Mine doesn’t leave a reply link either. Surprisingly Ben, I’m not ignoring any of your points, I’m just not all that interested in engaging in a debate with someone determined not to get it, nor someone who arrives at a blog, throws around some glib insults, and then when challenged reverts to the ‘but I’m just trying to learn’ approach. Do you own research Ben – I’ve got much better ways to spend my time. 🙂

      • It’s amazing, but you don’t seem to grasp what was wrong with minstrel shows. The key aspect was the caricaturing of black people’s mannerisms, speech, walk, etc.

        Minstrel performers haven’t gone away. They took the makeup off, but they kept on mocking black people. Modern popular comics like Tina Fey use ironic blackness as a staple of their repertoire, and no-one complains. No non-blacks, at least.

        The only reason minstrel performers wore black makeup was to make it crystal clear to their naive, uncultured audiences, that black people were the objects of derision.

        So now we have articles like this, where everyone is outraged at a superficial link to minstrel shows.

        Yet the spirit of minstrel shows is alive and well, and celebrated.

  11. The one thing that makes white people both fascinating and deplorable all at the same time is that they never modify their understanding of what racism is or are convinced that it requires some intellectual grunt to unpack and analyse it properly. This is because they don’t have to (or are compelled to) THINK what it means to be white – and understand whiteness as a privileged position in western societies. I’ve given up trying to re-educate people in online forums because its just a waste of my time, especially here in Australia where you can encounter white people with PhD’s espousing the same racist beliefs as someone without a good education. All of them earnestly believe Pauline Hanson is the face of racism in Australia, but if they truth be known, they represent the majority. In other words its not the rabid racist redneck shouting racist obscenities at football matches but rather those who sit alongside them and say and do nothing, or like Goodrum and Freedman, purport to have an intimate understanding of the complexities of racism, when its clear, they do not.

  12. Jordan Fermanis says:

    I know I’m a year late but this is so awesome!

Trackbacks

  1. […] not only for the most recent events, many have posted about how it is important to point out racism and not just let it go. Others in Australia really seem to struggle with that. Thankfully, they were also answered. But […]

  2. […] and they definitively hear it all. People of ALL colours are listening, watching and hurting when yet another idiot makes a racist joke and then he, or others for him, finds all kinds of excuses. When this happens in Australia towards the indigenous population which […]

  3. […] number of talkback radio callers, most people who comment on articles or people who have absolutely no excuse at all I understand that being straight I don’t get to decide how offensive Shocked’s […]

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