Opinion: Australia – Where highlighting racism is more offensive than committing the act itself.

Many well-known Australian figures have faced a tirade of online abuse in response to naming and shaming those who think it’s appropriate to don blackface to a party.

Recently, a photo of two young Victorian men dressed up as Indigenous Australians, complete with blackface, surfaced on Facebook. The post, which was shared by Victorian woman Sis Austin, gained much traction over the social networking site and was eventually seen by indigenous musicians Briggs and Thelma Plum, who called the two men out on their ignorance. Instead of being met with agreement and support, however, the two Australian artists endured an onslaught of online abuse including “kill yourself” and being called a “petrol sniffer”.

More recently, Australian basketballer Liz Cambage endured personal attacks via her Twitter account for expressing shock over fellow Opals team mate Alice Kunek’s decision to dress up as Kanye West and paint her face black for a “Silly Sunday” party. Social media users called Cambage a “sook” who was only “looking for attention”.

Why were Briggs and Plum on the receiving end of such disgusting remarks? Why was Cambage’s outcry deemed dramatic and exaggerated? Why are the people who are trying to do the right thing being harassed and punished?

According to some Facebook users, Briggs and Plum had unfairly placed the young Victorian men in a defamatory spotlight who did not deserve the backlash they were receiving. They are “beautiful boys”, asserted one defender, and what they did was not racist, asserted many others. Better yet, the Aussie musicians were told to “get over it”, that it was harmless fun and that they should just see the humour in it.

Painting their faces black. Imitating (poorly, and thus stereotyping) traditional Aboriginal dress and body paint. What these two white boys did, trivialising a race that has, for so long, and still continues to, struggle to recover from the extreme dehumanisation of a white invasion, by adopting “Aboriginal” as a response to a party theme, is in no way racist.

Was the joke made at the expense of the two Victorian men? No. So how can they possibly think that they’re the ones who can indirectly tell the Aboriginal community that they shouldn’t find the incident offensive? 

“If you are the oppressor, you have absolutely no right to dictate how the oppressed should be dealing with their oppression, nor are you able to decide what may or may not be deemed oppressive.” 

Taken from Adelaide hip-hop artist Jimblah‘s Facebook.

But somehow, it’s the victim’s fault for being too sensitive and not being able to take a joke. I am sick to death of this overused and pernicious excuse. There are two things wrong with this line of thought: firstly, it dismisses the victim’s pain, denying any chance for recovery; and secondly, the shift of blame, from offender to victim, enables the offender to continue exhibiting these harmful thoughts and actions in the absence of punishment. 

When you’ve got non-indigenous people (still) dictating how indigenous people should react and feel, it’s pretty self-evident that racism is well and truly alive. Victim blaming is an extremely problematic ideology, deeply rooted in and constructed by society, that only serves to perpetuate the injustice through its refusal to face the larger issue at play. The problem is not that the offended are being too sensitive, the problem is that society still allows for racism to operate under that very guise.

We need to understand the intricacies of racism and how it manoeuvres in society in order to put a stop to it, and we can’t begin to do that if we keep making concessions for the offending parties.

That’s why it’s important to call out racism when you see it, and that’s exactly why people like Cambage, Plum, and Briggs have done so and will continue to do so.


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