human behavior

Hey, Hey, It’s the Ugly Australian!

smallish_ThatsRacistIf you haven’t already heard about the blackface routine performed by the “Jackson Jive” on the Australian television show “Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday”, you can find footage here, and more articles here and here. I really don’t feel like retelling the tale. I highly recommend you read the comments after each article, as the comments say more about the diversity of attitudes in Australia. I read the articles and comments before I saw the sketch.

It should be emphasized that the overwhelming majority of comments express disgust at the sketch. I quote a few of those at the end of this post.

Others express disgust at Americans:

Angry of Mayfair
Thu 08 Oct 09 (09:52am)

Whatever the connotations of ‘black face’ in the US, we’re not in the US. We are in Australia. Harry Connick should show a little more cultural sensitivity and not expect us to pander to his cultural values over our own.

This show chose to parody an American group using an historcally racist American technique in front of an invited American judge. They were asking for an American opinion and they got one.

Thu 08 Oct 09 (11:41am)

Oh for heaven’s sake. How far can this political correctness, false hand wringing and crocodile tears go? …. As Australians we need to lighten up a bit otherwise the traits and characteristics of larrikinism, lack of self importance and the ability to take the mickey out of each other that we all like to puff out our chests about and claim that this is what makes us uniquely Australian will be lost forever. For me, I don’t want to go to bed at night having saluted the flag and thinking of Mom, God and apple pie. I’m not a racist. I’m an Aussie, not a Yank.

If you’re an Aussie and not a ‘Yank’, then “take the mickey ” out of your own, if that is what it means to be “uniquely Australian”. Showing respect for the fact that blackface is grossly offensive to me, my community and my countrymen, doesn’t mean you have traitorously yielded to Americanization; but didn’t I see you at McDonald’s the other day after that Warner Brothers movie?

Andrew Smith
Thu 08 Oct 09 (10:27am)

Amanda Meade, what a load of bull.  This country needs some family entertainment and whether you like it or not, this is it.  It was great fun and frankly the overreaction of Harry Connick Junior shows how blatantly arrogant Americans really are. And unfortunately it gets blown out of proportion by narrow minded opportunists such as yourself.  The world may have changed since 1999, but sometimes we need to sit back and relax and take things for what they are, as racist, this was not.

I read more than a few comments accusing Harry Connick Jr. of being arrogant. I simply cannot fathom how someone comes to this conclusion. The man showed remarkable grace and courage in speaking up. He was as visibly uncomfortable expressing his view as he was watching the sketch. He took great pains to emphasize that he did not think the sketch was purposefully offensive. He made a special point of expressing his love for Australia as a second home. He was apologetic in his statement that he did not want to depress the tone of the show. How many of us have the courage to speak out when we are offended by the actions of others? The man did so on national television. Would that we all stood up for what we believe when on the spot. This commenter has got some seriously unresolved Yank-hate.

Thu 08 Oct 09 (11:53am)

I can’t believe that political correctness could have been allowed to get to the stage where this act was regarded as offensive. The intelectuals have taken over and are telling us ordinary people what we should see—Never Never!!. Maybe they should move to America where they will fit in better. The arrogance of the American “Star”?? was amazing – lets make sure he doesnt come back to Australia where real people live.

Yes, because real people find it funny to dance around in blackface to honor a black musician after his tragic death. An arrogant person takes public offense at seeing his fellow countrymen and fellow musicians parodied in front of his face, and for his benefit as an invited judge.

Now to my main point…

Do I find the sketch racist?

That’s the wrong question, because what we really want to know, is if something is good or bad. We acknowledge that racism is bad, so if we find something is racist, then we conclude it is bad. If we find it is not racist, then we conclude it is not bad. But we don’t need to label something racist to determine if it is bad.

People made derogatory comments about blacks throughout my childhood, and to my face. What hurt me so deeply was not that people held these attitudes, but that they shared them with me. They showed so little respect for my feelings and dignity in expressing attitudes they knew would offend me.

Today, Australians do this to me with alarming frequency – only they tell me to my face that Americans are idiots. I don’t think they’re bigots. I think they’re brutes.

From one article:

The lead performer in the sketch, Dr Anand Deva… said … the Jackson Jive act … was not meant to cause offence, but he admitted he would not have performed it in the US…. “I suspect things are probably a bit different in America in terms of what that (black face) means,” he said. “I understand the history of the black face but certainly it was not construed in that way at all.”

So he performed something on national television in Australia that he knew would be offensive to Americans, and that mimicked what he knew were racist practices in America’s past. There are about 100,000 Americans in Australia and tens of millions with access to the Internet and television news. To perform an act you know would be offensive to others is to be insensitive to the feelings of others. It is rude. It is ill-mannered. It is by definition offensive, as you know it will offend others. It is ugly.

To be politically correct is to be respectful of the feelings of others by refraining from using language or engaging in behaviors you know others find offensive. You may find it annoying to have to watch what you say and do, so as to avoid offending others. In the end, you decide whether or not you want to offend people. If you choose to do something politically incorrect, be prepared to hear the complaints of offended people. Attacking people for being offended is as brutish as knowingly offending them in the first place.

Here’s the leader of the sketch defending himself:

Dr Deva further defended the act by saying the group of doctors were from multicultural backgrounds and were huge Michael Jackson fans.

“I am an Indian, and five of the six of us are from multicultural backgrounds and to be called a racist … I don’t think I have ever been called that ever in my life before,” he said this morning.

The last time I checked, every human being had the capacity to offend others. No ethnic group is immune from being insensitive. Anyone can be a brute. See how much more useful a conversation we can have when we don’t force the use of the word ‘racist’? Maybe this guy has never been called a racist, but I bet he’s been accused of insensitivity before. That’s a much more specific accusation. I would add ‘clueless’.

Apparently, the men who performed the sketch were all medical specialists. This is a pity, precisely because doctors are expected to develop and demonstrate an adequate level of sensitivity towards the diversity of patients for whom they have a duty of care. One has to question the judgment, if not the sensitivity, of doctors who would think that sketch was appropriate.

Here are a few of the comments expressing the majority opinion on the sketch.

Thu 08 Oct 09 (11:24am)

I am dumbfounded by how racist some of the comments above are, and what is even more amazing is that they believe that they are not racist comments.

White men dressing up as a racially stereotypical black men deemed as family entertainment is indicative of how racist these people are, and that they clearly are happy to have their children grow up thinking that racially lampooning people of a different colour is acceptable. Do they also think it acceptable to throw racist abuse at people of a different colour as well?

Australia is renowned around the rest of the world as being one of the most racist countries, and shows like this and comments as above will only go to reinforce that perception. This will be broadcast around the world and I for one am glad Harry Connick Jr made the statement he did; all other fair minded people would do the same.

And another:

Thu 08 Oct 09 (10:02am)

This segment was in apallingly poor taste, and reflects a blindspot in Australian Anglo-Saxon culture around ethnicity. Just because the buffoons involved in this farce “didn’t mean” to racially villify African-Americans provides no excuse. White Australians need to understand how the rest of the world views this kind of stupidity and how it fuels more malevolent racist elements. And the claim that being sensitive to other cultures’ views on racism is somehow “Politically Correct” and thus suspect doesn’t wash. Political correctness is mostly just avoiding behaviour that makes one look like a insensitive fool.

And another:

Thu 08 Oct 09 (12:02pm)

Thank you, Harry Connick Jr. (and thank you too, Caroline Overington) for calling this idiocy out and letting everyone know how ridiculous and offensive that stupid skit was…. as usual, no matter how disgusting and offensive something is, there will ALWAYS be the clueless supporters who accuse the people rightfully outraged by that skit as being “the real racists.” It would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.  Anyone who thinks that this has not given Australia a MASSIVE black eye and that this won’t make it’s way back to America is deluding himself. Considering that 90% of Australian television is comprised of American television shows and American talent, I think this country would try to do a hell of alot better about understanding the racial dynamics of the world before putting out such backwards, ridiculous programming.  As for the claim that the men are minorities themselves and thus not racist, unless you’re black you have no business in blackface.  Period.

NB: The image is from Wonkette. I hope they won’t mind. I use it to demonstrate that I do have a sense of humor with regards to how much people – including blacks – resort to using the “R Word” when they have poverty of thought. Just say what you really mean, because none of us will ever agree on what racism is.

UPDATE: Some Australians are salivating at this Harry Connick Jr. sketch in which he is performing with a black comedian and portraying a southern preacher in a sketch for Mad TV. They are calling him “Harry the Hypocrite.”  First, he’s not in minstrel black face. Second, he doesn’t seem to be stereotyping a black preacher. He seems to be stereotyping a southern preacher. The man is from the Deep South. He is stereotyping his own. I’m not offended. I would be honest if I were.

More importantly, even if Harry Connick Jr. were in an offensive sketch, it doesn’t make the ‘Jackson Jive’ any less tasteless.

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2 Responses

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  1. Tillman said, on October 8, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Hey Hey it’s Saturday has always been inherently offensive.

    Not because it’s racist but just in a Lleyton Hewitt sort of way.

  2. Condor said, on October 9, 2009 at 5:08 am

    Oh my goodness!

    In the few years I have been amazed how close Australia seems to my Virginia home.
    Almost every day I read on American online news Web sites about a person, place or thing happing in Australia. It tops the lists of all Americans I know and have met as the #1 place they must visit. Our world has become one community and I like many Americans consider Australians our far away neighbors.

    So, let’s be honest. Everyone knows black face is offensive to Americans.

    Prior to the ‘Jackson Jive’, I didn’t have an opinion of Harry Connick Jr.

    Now I do. Bravo Harry!

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