Bashing Blackface While The Real Structures Of Racism Endure

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Another day, another blackface scandal. Settle in for a long ride because they won’t stop while the lies of nation persist, writes Amy McQuire.

Over the weekend, yet another blackface scandal broke. It must be at least the third this year, almost time to begin a running tally. This latest outrage came in the form of the Frankston Bombers Football and Netball Club on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.

The club reluctantly apologised yesterday after Aboriginal musician Briggs posted a screengrab of their Instagram page to Facebook, where they had uploaded several pictures of their members dressed up in blackface.

The party theme was to imitate your favourite musician, inevitably allowing an opportunity for blackface – the war paint of racists the world over.

Briggs was understandably offended, and said so on his page, which predictably attracted the ire of white commentators outraged that their infantile need to engage in racist humour should dare come under scrutiny.

Comments like “oh my god, it’s a footy club dress up, it’s a bit of fun and a laugh with no racist intent at all”, attracted 300 likes, and encapsulated the type of remarks typical of white people who can’t see the irony in lecturing everyone else on what racism actually is, despite never being the victim of it themselves.

We are all familiar with this argument by now. You’d think racists would come up with a bit of creativity.

The club were unique, however, in following up with an expletive-ridden message left on Briggs’ phone, which he also posted to his Facebook page. After media attention, the Bombers followed up with its own statement wishing to “assure supporters, sponsors and the wider community that the club is no way racist and unreservedly apologises for any offence that has been caused.”

I guess that means this scandal is done and dusted.

But it’s only been about three months since the last Blackface scandal – when Briggs and fellow First Nations musician Thelma Plum called out two men who had painted themselves black and donned red loincloths to mock Aboriginal people. That scandal attracted an even greater deal of media attention.

It hit the news just before US singer Rob Thomas apologised for making a racist remark during a Melbourne concert. Around the same time, Opals basketball star Liz Cambage also hit the headlines for calling out her teammate Alice Kunek after she posted a photo of herself in blackface.

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I can completely understand the anger these incidents provoke, because they are constant reminders of how deeply ingrained racism is in this country. I can understand the outrage from First Nations peoples. It becomes exhausting seeing how ferociously racism is defended by white people who will never experience it.

Unfortunately, these scandals only ever last for a couple of days. They dwindle and die after the apology, where nothing is resolved. And then they crop up again like weeds in some other party around the country. Meanwhile, when they do, Blackfellas are again forced to deal with the prejudice, ignorance and outright hatred because nothing was ever really resolved.

I just wonder how these continual blackface scandals impact the collective psychology of our peoples, who are not just dealing with the daily occurrences of racism, but the deeply entrenched structural racism that corrupts our institutions.

Calling out one football club over their ignorance only individualises the problem.

It makes it seem as if racism can be stopped by individuals who change their minds, or who are pressured into quietening their prejudice, when really they are simply cogs in the machine.

Australia is propped up by racism – the power structures of this racism have never been dismantled because of the collective failure to deal with the lies at the heart of the nation – the genocide and invasion of this country.

The individuals in blackface have no power except to make us angry. They are by-products of a racist machine, and until that machine itself is dismantled, it will continue to produce them.

Calling them out for their individual idiocy ultimately does nothing except silences them for a while before the next scandal erupts.

You could argue of course, that we can do both at the same time. We can call out the idiots in blackface and also actively work to dismantle their manufacturers. But so much energy gets wasted on the former, on arguing with people who have had their ignorance instilled since birth, that sometimes I wonder if there is a point.

And I wonder how these small fights affect us psychologically as we wage the bigger battle.

The media also thrives on these scandals, and presents them as individual acts of racism, misinterpreting the true scale of this problem.

Meanwhile, as a whole, it is apathetic when Aboriginal people are victims of even more insidious acts of racism. Like deaths in custody, missing and murdered Aboriginal women, the underpayment of wages, stolen wages, stolen children, the list goes on.

I guess this is because it means confronting even more disturbing truths. Too much work for white media.

Sometimes it’s easier to write about some idiot in black make-up than the power structures that enable that racism to exist and thrive.

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Amy McQuire

A Darumbul woman from central Queensland, Amy McQuire is the former editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine.

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