Media marginalisation of “the Other” in Australia.

‘The fact that they co-host the same show yet only one has been the subject of pointed attacks in the media makes it hard to argue that the problem, from the perspective of long-term TV insiders, isn’t one of race.’

– from ‘Why you should care about the casual racism on television; comparing the reaction to Waleed Aly’s Gold Logie nomination to the reaction to colleague Carrie Bickmore’s.

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Back in 2010, I wrote this post titled ‘People like us: media representation and social cohesion’. In short, the post is about the importance of seeing the full diversity of a country’s population reflected in the cultural media landscape; how good storytelling and media representation can foster understanding and respect for fellow citizens, and a sense of belonging and inclusion for otherwise marginalised people.

In that post, I quoted something Waleed Aly (whom I have been critical of on various occasions) said in his interview with Andrew Denton on program Enough Rope – about the importance of positive Muslim “role models” and icons in the media and public life, at a time when mistrust and marginalisation of Muslim people had taken root in Australia:

“I think we like to see reflections of ourselves in the public space and Muslims have been really short on role models in the public space in Australia or even in the western world. We’ve had some very successful Muslims. John Ilhan, the late John Ilhan’s a very good example of that. But at the same time his real name was Mustafa and he had to become John to become a success.”

“And when you see him [Bashar Haoli, first top grade Muslim AFL player], out there, and you see him do that, you suddenly for a moment have this belief, this realisation that I could do that, if I had the talent. But the thing that’s stopping me is that I’m no good, not that I happen to be a Muslim or that I come from a Middle Eastern background, and that’s incredibly powerful. It’s so powerful, I don’t think people who don’t have that problem who have never encountered not being represented in the public space in some way understand how debilitating that can be.” [emphasis mine]

Fast foward to April 2016, and public intellectual+professional print/radio/television broadcaster of many years Waleed Aly – along with broadcasting veteran and avant garde icon Lee Lin Chin – have become the FIRST EVER non-white Gold Logie nominees (in a list that includes 6 people). The Logie nominations are awarded based on a popular vote by citizens who care enough to cast votes in this popularity contest.

The response from media gate keepers and segments of the (white) media establishment to the announcement that these two public figures were on the list was… incredibly telling. Karl Stefanovic,  2011 Gold Logie winner who has attempted with some success to put himself forth as an enlightened person in regards to Indigenous relations and gender equality, couldn’t help but betray a sizeable blind spot he has in this pathetic Today show exchange with two other well-paid white public figures:

Ben: “Where is Lisa Wilkinson’s Gold Logie?”
Karl: “Lisa’s too white.”
Ben: “Is that it?”
Karl: “That’s it.”
Lisa: (laughing) “I got a spray tan and everything, still didn’t make it. What can you do?”
Karl: “Logies controversy. Boom.”

In the segment later defended by the host network as not about race, Stefanovic also joked that despite being white “on the outside”, he was “dark on the inside”; then was hailed by co-host Ben Fordham as a trailblazer. Meanwhile, the usual suspects in the media establishment reacted to the announcement of the two highly accomplished non-white broadcasters being nominees as if a political leader had tried to steal an election.

New Matilda published this rebuttal pointing out the rank hypocrisy, inconsistency, racism and Islamophobia that characterised the bizarrely heated (but not surprising) reactions to Aly and Lin Chin being nominated. I just want you to ponder, for one minute, what it might be like to live as a brown-skinned person in a country in which one of the only public figures who looks like you, and that you may identify with – an accomplished, law-abiding centrist intellectual – is attacked based only on his status as a non-white man.

Regardless of what other privileges of citizenship you have, do you think it does an individual’s or community’s psychological state any favours to live in a context in which any success that non-white (or non-majority) people enjoy is denigrated, mocked and blamed on the ego-preserving concept of “reverse discrimination”? Or blamed on affirmative action – an often necessary policy approach to redress well-established pro-white hiring and selection bias? Even when the non-white people in question were actually selected based on popular public vote?

Think about how the reaction to these two media figures might mirror the marginalisation of unapologetically non-majority people in Australian society at large. And I use the term unapologetically in a positive sense. Both Aly and Lin Chin have been on our screens for ages. Lin Chin has endured much abuse for her ethnicity, voice, looks and style over her career; yet continues to kick ass as an avant garde icon. Aly has endured a lot of racist abuse, but continues to speak out against racism and a range of social abuses.

Perhaps the “issue” unconscious racists are having is not that mild-mannered Aly and non-political Lin Chin are not white – I can imagine the same people and news organisation wholeheartedly embracing and supporting a non-white person who attacks others who speak out about racism, cultivates a conventional style and uncritically supports the status quo and nationalism (they gave one such person her own column and regularly consult her for these kinds of opinions).

Maybe the real root to the aversion to Lin Chin and Aly is that they have not shed the things that make them ‘the Other’ in many people’s minds – whilst simultaneously owning their identity as Australians. As it should be.

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Interesting fact: the proportion of Australians born overseas has hit a 120-year high (March 2016 ABS statistics) and Screen Australia recently announced a research project to ascertain just how diverse cast and storyline diversity has been in Australian television drama over the last five years. I’ll write about this in an upcoming post.

And I’m sorry this post was late – it’s been a crazy, but intensely creative, week.

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