A notepad for a mind

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Advance Australia Fair?

Apparently, Australia is a racist country. Last time I checked, I had nothing against anyone of any ethnicity different to mine. No - wait, that was a lie; I've never felt the need to check, to pause and think: was that a little bit racist? I'll admit to making stereotype-based comments of all kinds in a vain attempt at humour (if it's funny, it's not offensive. Right?), but I don't believe I've ever genuinely felt negative thoughts stemming from physical or cultural differences between myself and another person.

And then a reunion of an old television show came around, and brought back elements of the past that are not supposed to reoccur in history. The skit I'm referring to (and I use that term loosely) is up on YouTube, God help us, and the offense was taken at the "blacking up" of 5 white Australians with professions in the medical stream in order to convey the members of the Jackson 5. A judge on the red faces panel, Harry Connick Jr was beyond displeased at the airing of this act, and negotiated an apology during the ad break.

What irks me most about this is not that it was aired. Networks screw up, "entertainment" crosses the line, and the public thrive on it. God forbid life should be perfect and boring and the whingers not have anything to whinge about. The thing that perplexes and shocks me is the immense difference in responses between Australian and American audiences. According to the polls floating around everywhere, it seems a whopping three quarters of our population did not find this skit racist.

Once again, I must admit, upon watching this skit when it was aired and seeing the headlines in the paper, I could not figure out what about it was racist. Sure, they painted their faces black, but they're white men trying to fill a role. Surely actors can do that; white men have played characters of African-American decent before. Sadly, like most of the 75% who didn't brand the act racist (I assume), I was ignorant to the history behind such acts. American History was an elective subject all those years ago at school, but not one that I chose; and I've never felt the need to wiki or google "racism" or topics related to it.

Does such ignorance make one racist? I understand that this was a racist act, now that I know the history behind it (for a brief explanation, see Justin Hamilton's blog, 4th paragraph http://justinhamilton.com.au/node/55) but I feel there's a difference between those who have negative attitudes towards people of different ethnicity, and those who simply haven't been properly educated. Is it fair to call us a racist nation? Personally, I'd say Australians are more stupid than racist, blunt though that statement is. For a country that's supposed to be multicultural and okay with it, it seems 75% of the population lack the intelligence to judge such things. The men who took part in the Jackson Jive act claim that their intentions did not lean towards racism, and they are respected men of the community with highly important professions. And yet, these people so pivotal to society manage to unintentionally offend like this. Maybe it's time to make study of such elements of American history a compulsory part of the high school curriculum - at least then the younger generations would have some idea.

I can see how wrong the act was. Having a "bit of fun" is no justification for such things, and I do strongly regret that this was allowed to air on a show broadcast so widely.

However, I do not think we, as a nation, are racist. Generalisation, after all, is a cause and product of the problem. If to be Australian really is to fit that stereotype, then it's not where I want to be. Though, there are worse first world nations in which one could exist. 18 percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the Earth (http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0508/Things_Americans_believe.html). Further reading of polls of the American people reveals 10% of Americans think Obama is the Anti-christ (http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/archives/fringe_views_not_so_fringe/), a slim majority believe military action is the way to achieve peace, 28% believe school boards should have the right to fire gay teachers, and 65% of Americans don't think blacks and other minorities should get preferential treatment to improve their position, though 87% believe all Americans should have an equal opportunity to succeed (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/lists/8-american-beliefs). Yet all the people I’ve ever met originating from that land have shown me nothing more than absolute kindness.

No one person I've ever asked can define what it is to be Australian. With current affairs programs stamping "Un-Australian" in big red letters over every incriminating article of media they can find and put on television, it's understandable. I can't speak on behalf of Australia - why other people view things they way they do is beyond me. Blacking up aside, that skit really was less entertaining than the burping act before it. Also, if you were to look at the comments on the video on YouTube, you'd notice there’s even a small percentage of Americans (not necessarily fair-skinned) who found the Jackson Jive act funny.

Go figure.

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