Mumma mia… here we go again

COMEDY is a personal thing, and I like mine political, particularly when white people come in for a pasting. Why? Because my career pretty much revolves around explaining to white Australians that we are not the master race. So I like the validation.

All that said, sadly, I never got to see Fear of a Brown Planet, the smash-hit comedy show by Nazeem Hussain and Aamer Rahman which, by all accounts, goes a considerable way to evening up the score.

In one clip on Youtube, appropriately entitled, ‘White people’, Rahman looks out through the stage lights into the audience and remarks, “We have a lot of white people here today… white people have generally avoided our show. I have a question for white people in our audience. It’s a general question that’s been on my mind for a while… what the hell is your problem?”

For whiteys, things pretty much descend from there.

Rahman reveals that his favourite complaint about other cultures from white people is that ‘Aborigines have a drinking problem.’

“You guys are from Sydney. You saw the Cronulla riots. I’m sure we can comfortably agree that no-one has a scarier drinking problem than white people. That’s why there’s no drinking (at this venue). It’s not for religious reasons. We just don’t trust white people and alcohol anymore. When white people have a party, one minute it’s a party and the next minute it’s the Nazi party. If you and your friends have a BBQ and within half an hour that manages to mutate into a 5,000 strong Hitler youth rally, maybe there’s something wrong with your culture?”

And this: “When I first saw the Cronulla riots on TV I didn’t know what was going on, I just thought it was the season finale of Home and Away.”
And finally this… at one point, Rahman acknowledges that he’s often approached by white people after the show, who tell him that he picked on white people so much that maybe he might be a bit racist himself. Rahman’s response should be printed on t-shirts and distributed to every Aboriginal Australian in the nation: “That hurts me. That really shocks and offends me when people suggest I can be racist towards white people. I can’t be racist towards white people. It’s impossible. Some of my best friends are white.”

Rahman is now doing a solo show called ‘The Truth Hurts’. It’s apparently no gentler. He recently lamented on his Facebook page how ‘brown people’ tend to arrive late to his gigs (he recommends leaving “three to six hours early” to get there on time) and how white people turn up early, and take all the front row seats.

And given the content of the show things can get a little uncomfortable for them. Hence why, apparently, Rahman has had quite a few whitefellas (and Zionists) walk out in disgust. I’m booked in for the May 31 gig in Sydney. I intend to arrive early.

But I digress. The point is Rahamn and Hussain are the masters of putting white people in their place. And that explains why, a few weeks ago, Rahman lined up one of the poster girls for white Australia, Delta Goodrem, via his Twitter account.

In case you missed it, Goodreem retweeted a photo of a group of Australian men who had dressed up for a party to coincide with the weekly airing of the TV show The Voice.

The problem with Goodrem’s retweet is that she labeled it “Hilarious”… even though one of the men in the photo was dressed up in blackface to honour The Voice co-coach, Seal.

Rahman tweeted in reply that there was nothing funny about blackface, nor about white people mocking ‘brown people’.

And then it all got a little, well, ‘Fear of the Brown Planet’.

Goodrem was inundated with tweets from people appalled by her conduct. By the following morning, she’d removed the picture, and apologised.

Enter Mia Freedman, a journalist, blogger and occasional fashion tipster who leapt to the defence of the beleaguered celebrity by posting a lengthy column on her website, Mamamia, entitled ‘The Boy Who Cried Racist’, a none-too-subtle shot at Rahman… and at the risk of preventing another Freedman meltdown, and in deference to her general air of ignorance, I’ll let the reference by a white woman to a man of colour as ‘boy’ slip through to the keeper.

Buoyed, no doubt, by her years as the high-flying editor-in-chief of such empowering magazines as Cosmopolitan, Freedman opened her column with some solid research… from the Dolly school of journalism.

“Here’s a fun fact: there are 178,000 Google results when you type ‘Delta Goodrem racist’ into the search engine. If by fun you mean batshit crazy.”

Great stuff. Here’s another fun fact: the phrase ‘bananas are racist’ returns 1,240,000 results. And ‘Mia Freedman nincompoop’ returns 104,000 results. And one more: ‘Mia Freedman five minutes of my life I’ll never get back’ brings 1,060,000 results.

My point being, if by ‘fun’ you mean, ‘using a totally irrelevant Google search to try and make a ridiculous point about an otherwise indefensible issue’….

Freedman was just hitting her stride.

“Stop this madness. PLEASE. WE. MUST. STOP. IT. I missed this story when it originally happened because I must have blinked momentarily and that’s all it takes for confected outrage to explode on social media.”

Right. So there you have it folks. Those of you who felt genuinely affronted by Goodrem’s endorsement of racist blackface got yourselves into a lather over nothing. Your anger was “confected”, according to Freedman.

At this point, I should make an admission: I knew precisely nothing about Mia Freedman prior to this column. Indeed I’d never even heard of her. I don’t own a television (and if I did, I would gouge my own eyes out with a spoonful of vinegar before I’d watch morning television, on which Ms Freedman apparently regularly features), and I’ve never really felt the need for advice on how to get a boy at school to like me… hence I’ve never read Dolly, or Cleo, or Cosmo, or whatever other magazines from which Freedman earnestly believes she’s waged a war to empower women with hair and make-up tips.

So I did a bit more research of my own. Freedman’s Wikipedia entry is particularly enlightening. At the very top is a Wikipedia warning: “A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject. It may require cleanup to comply with Wikipedia’s content policies, particularly neutral point of view.”

In other words, Wikipedia thinks Freedman wrote her own entry. Possibly because it’s quite lengthy, somewhat flattering and surprisingly detailed (including this ironic line: “Freedman has stated that she is not the author of a book called “Boned” that was released on June 2, 2008. ‘Not me, I’m afraid. I put my name to everything I write.’” Except perhaps your Wikipedia entry?

In any case, the point of my research is this: Freedman’s mother was a psychologist and art gallery owner. Her father worked in Finance. She went to Ascham School in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, one of the wealthiest schools in one of the wealthiest regions in one of the wealthiest countries on earth.

So of course, Freedman is in the perfect position to lecture people of colour on how they should feel about the sting of Australian racism and disadvantage.

Over to Freedman: “Blackface IS racist, no question. But to me (admittedly, a white girl so I welcome comments from those with a different perspective…), there is a huge difference between painting your face black to mock an entire race and painting yourself black to respectfully dress up as someone who has black skin.”

And of course, Freedman is right. There is a difference. But there’s not a lot of currency in comparing someone who set out do something racist and hurtful with someone who didn’t set out to do something racist and hurtful, but ended up doing something racist and hurtful anyway.

To the people who were hurt and offended by the act, the intent makes little difference.

And that’s the central point here: People like Freedman will never understand what it feels like to be ground down every day by insensitive white people doing insensitive white things.

But the irony of a socially and economically advantaged white woman devoting an entire column to defending the actions of another socially and economically advantaged white woman, without seeking the opinion of a single person of colour throughout the entire article, shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

Maybe she doesn’t know any people of colour? Or maybe some of her best friends are ‘brown people’? Who knows. But what does appear to be lost on Freedman is that she doesn’t actually get to decide what is and isn’t racist.

Indeed, allowing advantaged white Australians to define racism is like letting an alcoholic define sobriety.

And therein lies the part where Mia Freedman – and most of the rest of the nation – part ways with people of colour who are sick to death of ignorant Australians putting their racism down to ‘the Aussie sense of humour’ or ‘it wasn’t intended to offend’.

Well, it does offend, and even though it is ‘the Aussie sense of humour’, our humour is known around the world to be rooted in racism. I understand that people of advantage have a hard time understanding how people of disadvantage might feel about things. And I’ve struggled for years to come up with an analogy that white Australians will understand on matters of blackface and racism.

This is the best I can come up with: If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of bad policing – an arrogant cop who treats you like a child – it’s an experience that sticks with you. The reason why is simple: one person in the exchange had all the power. And it obviously wasn’t you. So it stings a lot more, and it’s maybe even going to change the way you feel about police generally.

But imagine if you didn’t just encounter one cop having a bad day once in your life – imagine if you encountered it almost every single week? Or every single day? Imagine how you would feel about police? And imagine how sensitive you would be to police behaving badly?

Well, racism works exactly the same way. Which brings me to the point of what racism really is, and how many Australians mistakenly believe it’s only about race.

It’s not. Race is only part of the package.

It’s about power. The power of one group over another. The group just happens to be defined by race, or sometimes simply skin colour or religion.

And in Australia, white people overwhelmingly hold all the power. We are the ‘dominant species’ and unfortunately, we collectively wield that power over people of colour – be they Aboriginal, Indian, African, Asian, whatever – every single day.

Our first weapon is always our humour, but that’s never an excuse.

Australians routinely fail to grasp this fact about racism and power. That’s why when stories of blackface come up, Australians respond with comments like ‘Well the black guy in the movie White Chicks dressed up in whiteface, that’s racist as well’. Or ‘Some black guy called me a white cracker… that’s racist as well’.

No, it’s not.

It may be rude, it may be ignorant, but it lacks the most important ingredient of racism – power.

And speaking of things lacking, back to Freedman’s column… which lacked not only empathy and common-sense, but a basic sense of history.

“….this is what I worry about: using words like ‘racist’ to describe the retweeting of this photo diminishes and dilutes the power of that word. I worry that by over-using it, we render it almost meaningless.”

I think by ‘we’, Freedman means ‘us whiteys’, because people of colour don’t think it’s over-used. They think the act of it is over-used, and the basis of it misunderstood.

And then there was this: “I’m having one of those ‘has the world gone mad?’ moments. Look, I do think it’s fantastic we’re now having conversations about racism, sexism and homophobia that we never would have had a decade ago.”

Really Ms Freedman? Are you sure? I’m pretty certain if you do a Google search you’ll find that Aboriginal people have been talking about racism for quite a while. Indeed all people of colour have been railing against – and talking about – racist Australia for decades… and decades and decades.

John Pilger’s Secret Country was released in the early 1980s, more than 30 years ago. Aboriginal leaders like William Ferguson and Jack Patten were talking about Australian racism in the 1930s – more than 80 years ago.

This is not a new discussion Mia Freedman – it’s just new to you. And it’s great you’re finally engaging in the debate, but can I respectfully suggest that your noob status in this area is a bloody big pointer – in flashing neon lights – as to why you should stay quiet and listen a little more before you weigh in.

And that explains this line in her column: “Does anyone truly believe Delta is racist? Or the guy dressed up as Seal? Come on. Let’s not be The Boy Who Cried Racist. It’s too important an accusation to throw it around so carelessly.”

I don’t know if the guy who dressed up as seal is racist. I’ve never met him. But I know for a fact that he’s ignorant. And I don’t know if Delta Goodrem is racist either. But she is ignorant too. And so are you, Mia Freedman.

Indeed, you’re a beacon of ignorance, because Goodrem made a mistake, corrected it and apologised. You, by contrast, wrote a lengthy blog defending the actions that Goodrem had already acknowledged were wrong.

That so many people of colour object to blackface should be a simple indication to people like Goodrem and Freedman that in this day and age, it’s no longer acceptable.

The fact is, people of colour are fast reaching breaking point. And so as the onslaught of Australian ‘I’m not racist but…’ grows, so too does their frustration and their sensitivity to it.

There is, of course, a simple solution. Australians can just stop dressing up in blackface. It’s not like you’re being asked to slaughter your favourite pet. Or stay sober on Anzac Day.

You’re simply being asked to stop smearing yourself with black boot polish to ‘honour’ people you think are neat.

If that’s a struggle for you, then I’d respectfully suggest that you suffer from what I like to call ‘mind-numbing stupidity’.

Finally, some advice to Freedman: Let’s not be the Advantaged White Woman Who Sits In An Eastern Suburbs Café Telling People Of Colour How They Should Feel About Racism.

And one more piece of advice: If you really want to start to understand how people who’ve spent their life on the receiving end of racism feel about it, get yourself a ticket to Aamer’s Sydney show. He doesn’t really need any more material – Australian racism is in abundance. But can I suggest that the view from the front row is very good.

* Chris Graham is a freelance journalist based in Sydney. He’s the former and founding managing editor of Tracker magazine.