This question is reflected in the current international discussion about a skit broadcast on an Australian variety show depicting five men in blackface calling themselves The Jackson Jive. The typical Australian response has been ‘what’s all the fuss about?’ and ‘it was not meant to offend’ and even ‘this is not
This was the subject of discussion on today’s BBC’s international radio talk show ‘World Have Your Say’, the overarching question in relation to the skit being “should we have more of a sense of humour about race?” What is interesting to me in this sentence is the “we”. Who are “we” and how do “we” begin to address issues like racism and humour in a global context?
It was well understood on the radio program that this skit would not have aired in the United States or Britain in 2009, and the Australian guests constantly reminded listeners that it was “just a joke”, “not meant to offend”, and happening in a country that did not have the same history, and that “context is important”.
So, “we” do not share the same history, but “we” certainly know of the history. One of the Australian guests accused an American caller of “living in a bubble” like other Americans when it comes to Australian history and that Australians are very aware of the history of black people in the
And here is some important Australian history. We did not have a federal government until 1901 (quite a few years after the end of the American Civil War), with one of the policies of the time being a ‘White Australia Policy’, that intentionally restricted non-white immigration into the country. This policy was not completely dismantled until the mid-1970’s, and it was only in the 1960’s that the indigenous Australian Aborigines were giving the right to vote.
This too has its context (yes I am conveniently overlooking the slaughter of the indigenous population by the way). The oppressed underclass in Australian history was white. The slaves were at one time white.
This by no means is to excuse a blackface skit, or the terrible race based riots, it is merely a lens to view another’s experience of oppression. Class was a big factor in the segregation of Australian society in which race played a role but not necessarily the most prominent. A lot Australian humour stems from a complete lack of understanding ‘the other’ because we view ourselves as ‘the other’ – the underclass of
Because of this white working class identity, race issues unfortunately blur in
International finger-wagging at the stupid humour of Australians should not overshadow acts and beliefs still held in other countries that are not so blatantly racist. Perhaps a blackface skit could not be gotten away with in American society but that is a victory that had to be fought for and the