Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

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Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby zavk » Thu Oct 08, 2009 3:41 am

Hi friends,

I believe most of you had heard about this?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/ ... ckson-jive

The producers of the show and the performers have insisted that it was not racist. So would many viewers, I believe. But even if it is conceded that this isn't a reflection of latent racism in Australia, it'd be hard to deny that this reveals a high degree of provincialism, if not sheer ignorance, in this country (and in humankind more generally.)

Some people have argued that Harry Conick Jr. was wrong to conflate America's history with Australian history. But the spectre of 'blackness' haunts Australia too. Moreover, if we follow this line of argument, are we then to assume that it is ok for all cultures without a black history (or any other 'colour') to lampoon those people of colour and be free from the obligation to consider the ethics of their actions?

The frontman of the group has been quoted:

"Anyone who knows us as a group, we are intelligent people, we are all from different racial backgrounds so I am really truly surprised." (http://www.theage.com.au/news/entertain ... 91299.html)

Intelligent? Why, I am surprised too.
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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Oct 08, 2009 3:50 am

Greetings Ed,

I've read quite a lot of comments about this, but I've not seen the performance.

In their defence, I think the blackening and the wigs had much more to do with trying to make it obvious they were being the Jackson Five. If it wasn't clear that it was (a white) Michael Jackson at the front, and 4 dark singers/dancers in the back, they could just as well have been impersonating a 90's boy band, for all anyone knew.

The daggy segment Red Faces on which they appeared on has always been the home of very cheap homemade skits, and they certainly used inexpensive home-style props in their act.

In the name of entertainment we see men dressed as women, women dressed as men, straight acting gay, gay acting straight... even black men acting as white women...

White Chicks (2004) - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0381707/

Where is the line drawn, and on what basis?

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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby Ben » Thu Oct 08, 2009 3:53 am

Thanks Ed
I was working last night so I didn't hear about this until this morning.
I've been apalled by what's being reported today. Not only the 'blackface' issue, but also the reporting of the details of the alleged murder of a young girl who was thrown from West Gate Bridge in the pre-trial hearing.
The blackface skit was insensitive at best. Its not like, we've had a history of harmony and racial equality with our indigineous peoples. But that's the sort of boganesque crap that we'll get if 'Hey Hey' is brought back from obscurity. Marieke Hardy wrote a great opinion piece here: http://www.theage.com.au/news/entertain ... 51254.html
Kind regards

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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby Dan74 » Thu Oct 08, 2009 3:55 am

I haven't seen the skit in question, Ed, but I've noticed a spectre of neo-PC emerging in Australian media. Chaser was always under fire for something or other, recently John Saffran and now Hey hey. Well, for crying out loud, it's comedy!

It may be bad comedy (I've never been a fan of Hey hey). But comedy by nature is hit and miss. And by nature it has to make fun of taboos, cross lines, etc. A baffoon of old was even allowed to make fun of the king! There are traditions all over the world of this kind of a release. But now it seems that comedians need to be strapped into this procrustean bed of political correctness.

I was all for PC when they spoke of gender-neutral language, or eradicating terms that are demeaning or patronising. But surely allowance has to be made for comedy. Of course some lines do need to be drawn, but I think they are being drawn way too tightly at the moment.

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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby zavk » Thu Oct 08, 2009 4:02 am

retrofuturist wrote:In their defence, I think the blackening and the wigs had much more to do with trying to make it obvious they were being the Jackson Five. If it wasn't clear that it was (a white) Michael Jackson at the front, and 4 dark singers/dancers in the back, they could just as well have been impersonating a 90's boy band, for all anyone knew.


Hi Retro

Yes, it could perhaps be true that they didn't do it with ill intentions. In fact, I don't think they did. But because they are lampooning the Jackson Five and Michael Jackson, highlighting as they have their complexions, the shadowy issue of race--the spectre of 'blackness'--was already there from the very start, irregardless of whether they intended for it to be or not.

So even if it weren't their intention to be racist, it remains the case that there was an appalling degree of ignorance and lack of ethical consideration on their part--which, of course, from a Buddhist perspective is an affliction that we humankind irregardless of 'national boundaries' are born into.
Last edited by zavk on Thu Oct 08, 2009 4:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby zavk » Thu Oct 08, 2009 4:13 am

Hi Dan

Yes, I agree with you that PC-ness can sometimes be a poor excuse for curtailing free expression.

I should perhaps clarify that in posting this, I am not seeking to apportion praise or blame on anyone. I think this incident is a stark reminder of just how pervasive avijja or ignorance is. It also underscores the need for constant ethical reflection on what we choose to do.
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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Oct 08, 2009 4:17 am

Greetings,

This incident reminds me a little of this episode of South Park.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chef_Goes_Nanners

And during the debate on whether the South Park flag should be changed...

Image

When the turn of Stan's team comes, Chef and the rest of the adults find out that it had not even noticed that the flag was racist, thinking that the issue at hand was capital punishment. Chef realises that, when the children looked at the flag, they only saw five people, with no regard to their colors, and is touched: he realises that, in believing the whole town racist while throwing the slur "cracker" around, he was being the racist one.


Metta,
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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby Senex » Thu Oct 08, 2009 5:45 am

South Park can get away with making fun of pretty much anything because they make fun of everything, they don't just hunt after one group.
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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby Jechbi » Thu Oct 08, 2009 7:22 am

retrofuturist wrote:Where is the line drawn, and on what basis?

I would think historical context is an important consideration. This is not the same thing as men dressed as women, black men dressing as white women, etc. There are certain things that, due to their historical context, you just don't do. Like display a noose in the workplace. Or perform in blackface. It sends a chilling message of (at best) callous disregard for those who must still live with the reality of racial discrimination.
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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Oct 08, 2009 7:42 am

Greetings Jechbi,

Yes, but those are predominantly American cultural considerations associated with blackfacing.

By way of contrast, consider Britain's highly successful and long-running series...

The Black and White Minstrel Show (1958-1978)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_ ... strel_Show

Which was obviously produced and broadcast in an era after the events of the "historical context" you refer to.

Something must have happened in the 30 years since the Black And White Minstrel Show... the question is, is it some kind of enlightenment regarding race, or is it rampant political correctness? Or is it a concern about rubbing it in the fact of an entertainer, raised in the South, who was inspired by black performers and therefore has an acute awareness of this "historical context".

I don't think there's a clear answer to that question either way, it's probably a bit of all three.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby Ben » Thu Oct 08, 2009 8:08 am

Political correctness?
Paul, I think the event that happened in the last 30 years was the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation and the resultant realisation within the community that some forms of behaviour are unconscionable and should be sanctioned.
Kind regards

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tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Oct 08, 2009 9:06 am

Greetings Ben,

Ben wrote:Political correctness?


Yes... that's one factor in this.

Baa, baa rainbow sheep
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article ... sheep.html

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby zavk » Thu Oct 08, 2009 10:19 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

retrofuturist wrote:
When the turn of Stan's team comes, Chef and the rest of the adults find out that it had not even noticed that the flag was racist, thinking that the issue at hand was capital punishment. Chef realises that, when the children looked at the flag, they only saw five people, with no regard to their colors, and is touched: he realises that, in believing the whole town racist while throwing the slur "cracker" around, he was being the racist one.



:rofl:

I have to watch this episode. Great insights here. This episode reminds us that racism, sexism and so forth are not self-evident but conditional and relational. Whether we think of ourselves as superior to others or others as inferior to us, what we are and how we behave is influenced by others and we in turn influence others. Chef had come to an important realisation about the underlying complacency and insularity that provides the basis for discriminatory behaviour.

--------------------------

If I may press my point further. Let me say plainly: I DO NOT think the act was intended to be racist. It was a silly oversight. I think we need to look beyond all these arguments about whether it is racist or not. What I take issue with is not the 'racism' of this incident, but the ensuing comments and responses to this incident. More precisely, I take issue with the unexamined premises of these arguments.

People have argued that Australia does not have the same black history as America, or the connotations of blackface minstrel shows do not apply in Australian contexts, or that Harry Connick Jr. (and others who complained) failed to get 'Australian humor', or that the global reaction is just overwrought political correctness. Now, I think these arguments have certain merits. They are not entirely unreasonable.

However, I think that they are unskillful because even as they attempt to demonstrate how racism is conditional, they fail to acknowledge the conditionality of their own positions:

    1.) They gloss over Australia's troubled history with its own 'blackness'--this is something that Australia still hasn't come to terms with.

    2.) They mistakenly think that it is possible to invoke the representations of the 'blackface' without the related connotations that come with it--it is not possible to neatly compartmentalize meaning by saying that 'Oh when I use these words or images only this meaning is involved and nothing else.'

    3.) In saying that it is just 'Australian humor', they posit a problematic homogenized 'Australianness' that overlooks the diversity of ethnicity and cultures that makes it impossible to take for granted what 'Australianness' is.

    4.) In saying that people around the world have overreacted, they mistakenly think that Australia can somehow step outside the relationality between nations and cultures in this globalised age.

These arguments do go some ways in demonstrating how the incident is not necessarily racist, but they are themselves rooted in complacency and insularity. They leave the underlying problems of complacency and insularity unacknowledged, unexamined and uncontested.

Fine, I accept that it is not an intentional act of racism. But even as we pursue these arguments about American black history, Australian humour, and so forth, we need to engage with them skilfully so that we do not merely mask--or worse, reinforce--the root problems that caused the debacle in the first place.

So this is what I take issue with: that people are speaking from positions of insularity and complacency to argue against charges of racism. This does not skillfully address the issue for as South Park reminds us, it is insularity and complacency that provides the condition for racism, (hetero)sexism, and all that in the first place.

OK, I shall stop my rant. Perhaps, one reason I'm upset by this incident is because I left my Southeast Asian hyper-materialistic country of origin to escape these attitudes of insularity and complacency that grip the society there. But I suppose these are the underlying conditions of samsara and they are everywhere. The only thing we can really do is cultivate self-reflexivity and work on these problems within ourselves. I have perhaps let myself get overly affected by the perceived lack of self-reflexivity in others. :soap: :cry:

A good time to practice some metta...... :meditate: :heart:
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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby Ben » Thu Oct 08, 2009 10:38 am

Its been discussed right now on Q&A on ABC1
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Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
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saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Oct 08, 2009 11:08 am

Greetings Ben,

Let us know the gist of what they say!

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby christopher::: » Thu Oct 08, 2009 11:42 am

Hi all. I just read the article and looked at the first minute of the clip. A question... why is the host apologizing to Harry Connick?

I saw fat white men with natty hair wigs. They looked more like Australian aboriginals then the Jackson five, imo. The issue is not if a white American is insulted, but whether this is offensive to black Australians, isn't it?

How are things going in your country with issues of racial equality?

In the US we seem to have made some progress. There are many black actors, actresses, singers, polititians, managers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc. And especially on TV and in movies great efforts have been made to portray black Americans in ways that break stereotypes.

The situation has not been as good for Native Americans, imo. We still have sports teams called the Indians, or Redskins, with racist mascots. Sadly, for our aboriginal folks they still must deal with some of the highest rates of poverty, unemployment and other social ills. Many black communities still suffer as well.

So now, even with a black president, we have a long way to go with issues of racism. Its good to continuously reflect on these issues, i think.
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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby Ben » Thu Oct 08, 2009 11:55 am

Hi Christopher, Paul

christopher::: wrote:How are things going in your country with issues of racial equality?


It still exists, unfortunately. It tends to erupt from time to time. And I guess that's because there's been some progress in some areas.

You'll get a range of views regarding racism in Australia as per the first few minutes of tonight's episode of Q&A. As with any episode of Q&A, which is a panel discussion with audience participation, you get a range of views represented.
http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/
Kind regards

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby christopher::: » Thu Oct 08, 2009 12:28 pm

Ben wrote:It still exists, unfortunately. It tends to erupt from time to time. And I guess that's because there's been some progress in some areas.

You'll get a range of views regarding racism in Australia as per the first few minutes of tonight's episode of Q&A. As with any episode of Q&A, which is a panel discussion with audience participation, you get a range of views represented.
http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/
Kind regards

Ben


Hi Ben. Thank you. For some reason the video isnt playing here, in Japan. I noticed on the discussion board most seemed to be defensive of Hey Hey...

But that's the same here. Some of the most racist talk i've seen from Americans have been posts on Youtube video discussion boards.

:computerproblem:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby Ben » Thu Oct 08, 2009 1:34 pm

hi christopher
I dont think the video will be up for another day.
Kind regards
Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: Global disbelief over 'blackface' skit on Australian TV

Postby Jechbi » Thu Oct 08, 2009 3:41 pm

Hi Retro,
retrofuturist wrote:Yes, but those are predominantly American cultural considerations associated with blackfacing.
That's a good point. I was under the impression, however, that Australia has close cultural associations in this regard with the U.S. in terms of its sophisticated entertainment industry as well as in terms of sensibilities regarding skin color. I might be wrong about that. Maybe this kind of thing is not regarded as offensive in Australia.

retrofuturist wrote:By way of contrast, consider Britain's highly successful and long-running series...

The Black and White Minstrel Show (1958-1978)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_ ... strel_Show

Which was obviously produced and broadcast in an era after the events of the "historical context" you refer to.
From that link:
The show's premise began to be seen as offensive on account of its portrayal of blacked-up characters behaving in a stereotypical manner. A petition against it was received by the BBC in 1967,[4] and since cancellation it has come to be seen more widely as an embarrassment, despite its popularity at the time.[5][6]


retrofuturist wrote:Something must have happened in the 30 years since the Black And White Minstrel Show... the question is, is it some kind of enlightenment regarding race, or is it rampant political correctness?
In my personal opinion, the notion of "political correctness" is a red herring that some people use to attack the underlying motivations of those who object to things like blackface skits. It's pretty easy to fling the accusation of "PC" against someone who objects to an offensive remark about race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. I figured someone here would use the term eventually.

Bottom line: This type of performance does awaken very hurtful feelings among people in the U.S. and elsewhere on the globe. I feel it should be discouraged, not defended.

With respect.
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