Rear Left

Hey Hey it’s White Supremacy

Posted in Race/ism by rearleft on October 9, 2009

(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.


Get it? Kamahl has dark skin! And sings! Hilarous, right? Kamahl is reportedly not amused.

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…

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3 Responses

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  1. Morgan said, on October 15, 2009 at 12:58 AM

    Gah! Horrid man. I think the worst kinds of racism is the kind that each of us carries – but is unaware of. In my short time in Oz so far, I’ve already uncovered some of my own prejudices/Colonializations. And i thought I was this peace-loving, egalitarian liberal (in the American political sense) that was far from racist. Geez.

    Currently working on a blog post (for the AAY Toolkit) on working with indigenous populations. There was a neat handbook in the teacher’s lounge at the school here that had a ‘homework’ assignment for teachers/educators to familiarize themselves with local Aboriginal groups throughout Australia…

    Great post.

    • rearleft said, on October 18, 2009 at 5:06 PM

      You make a very important point. Decolonisation should be at the heart of the media and education work that folks like you and I engaged in.

      For the record, liberal means the same thing here and there. Consider that the policies of the oz Liberal party are closer to those of the US Democrats than those of the Republicans.

  2. SocAllDay said, on October 22, 2009 at 4:08 AM

    Well said Dan. I think the examples you site are good ones and you noted that the apology was to Harry and not for the act which points to just how clueless everyone involved in getting that segment to air are. Crazy mate…just crazy.

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