(Dear Readers: apologies for the long absence. The fates have stepped in and made me a full-time carer for my injured partner and our baby, so little time for blogging. Background here. That said, some stories are too infuriating to ignore.)
I’ve previously mentioned the prevalence of the Golliwog figure in Australia in these pages. Last week, on a reunion show of “Hey Hey It’s Saturday“, an extremely popular and long-running television variety show that ran all through my youth, an example of Australians’ obliviousness to the prevalence of racism in oz came roaring into the nation’s living rooms.
That’s right, producers and audience thought it was so funny the first time they did it 20 years ago, they brought it back for an encore. For those non-Australian readers, the cutaway to the caricature of a fat-lipped figure with the caption “Where’s Kamahl?” is a reference to a popular Australian lounge singer who is ethnically Tamil and was born in Malaysia.
Discourse around the story in the media and blogosphere is following a similar line to that begun in the exchange between Harry Connick Jr and Daryl Somers in the clip above. To summarise:
Rest of World: Hey Australia, that shit is racist and it’s mind-blowing that you’re still yucking it up to minstrel shows.
Australia: This is not America. Blackface is not considered racist here. Take a joke, mate.
Me: White Supremacy is so deeply entrenched in Australia that ridicule of people of colour, even in the crudest and most outmoded of forms of expression, is a socially acceptable form of entertainment.
Note that Daryl’s apology is directed to Harry for offending his American cultural norms, not for the content of the segment itself and its offense to people of colour.
While Australian blackface commonly mimics the Golliwog/Sambo/minstrel type, we also have an indigenous form. Growing up in North Queensland, King Billy Cokebottle was a popular performer who did his routine on a local radio program, when not out touring the pubs of the nation and selling audio cassettes by mail order.
It is important to remember that the assault on racial justice in Australia is not only taking place in the field of representation. The government has suspended the Racial Discrimination Act as part of the “Northern Territory Intervention” in order to enact policies that explictly discriminate against indigenous people, and deployed the and federal police to enact these laws. Lynchings occur, and semi-organized fascist groups are sprouting.
But it’s just a joke, mate…
Not sure that OTT was actually something people said, i searched for it, and found that Alexei Sayle got his break on a variety show of sorts called none other than OTT.
Now, if you know me you probably know that I do not generally like standup comedy. I find it deeply unnerving to be told “Hey, this is funny. Laugh…….. now!”. On the other hand, I love the shit out of Alexei Sayle. I remember being, like, I dunno, 10, 11 years old, and my friend Danny O’Donnell (last spotted as a scientist of sorts who works out how to weigh vast quantities of grain for the Australian wheat industry) doing amazing impersonations of Alexei Sayle on The Young Ones. My primary school crew was pretty bookish…
Sayle’s combination of the absurd and sincere socialist politics was, and remains, an acid response to British neo-liberalism from its beginnings in Thatcher to the present.
Take this clip from OTT, 1982:
(note: doesn’t really start until 00:45, strange English business before that)
The riots he’s talking about were happening all over the joint in the UK in the early 80s. Youth fought cops in the streets of Brixton for several days in the year before this clip was recorded after London police descended on Brixton in what they called Operation Swamp 81, conducting public stop and searches on over 1,000 people in the neighbourhood in one week.
25ish years later, I was pleased to see him speaking as a member of the London Jewish community at the celebrity press conference in support of Gaza this week, in co-ordination with the huge popular demonstrations that took place there and all around the world.