There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to excuse the disgrace that is that faux-patois minstrel-show garbage written by Malcolm Knox and published by Fairfax this weekend. It is a disgrace.
Indigenous people, black people, people of colour (as well as many whites) have been united in making clear since it was published that the piece is typical racism of the most quotidian kind.
The usual suspects, ie other white men with platforms, are out in force defending this colonial master routine. The piece includes words like ‘brethren’ and spelling like ‘mon’. It fetishizes facial features like white teeth of black people. It is black face in verbal form (while I thought this almost immediately, I have since seen the same metaphor multiple times on the news feed and am not claiming original thought on it).
The subject was, once again, cricketer Chris Gayle being sexist live on air. Which he was.
One relevant white man editor suggested that calling racism on Knox was a matter for people of the Caribbean. This, in Australia, where the black man who is the subject of the piece plays and was playing at the time. Where there is a strong and capable Indigenous population who know a thing or million about racism in this country. Indigenous people who are in fact the keepers of culture here.
As a white Australian, I want to draw attention to one specific underlying message of the Knox piece. The article is written on the assumption that a white man is permitted – nay, welcome – to use the technology of racism to mock a black man, presumably to defend a white woman sports journalist.
It is possible that Knox thinks he is defending all women. Yet given the gross racial stereo-typing of the piece, we can be reasonably sure that Knox’s thinking did not extend to Indigenous, black, women of colour. No. He implicitly presumes to be writing in defence of white women.
Women did not ask him to perform some gross colonial master mammy routine. We do not need Knox and his racist rubbish to ride in on a white steed and protect us from a black man. We are perfectly capable of condemning Gayle – and Briggs and Dutton and the entire ugly patriarchy – without buy-in from white men spouting racist ‘parody’ (it failed as parody too).
Remember the massacre perpetrator Dylan Roofe’s confession? I remember like yesterday when Roofe’s famous line emerged: ‘I had to do it. They’re raping our women’. It was when a tweet by Kristin Rawls scrolled up my timeline that the full weight of his message hit home. It said
White women, they keep doing this in our name. We are not delicate flowers. STAMP THEM THE FUCK OUT.
No-one is calling Knox a mass murderer, of course. To interpret the connections I am making in that way would be wilful ignorance at best, and shoot-the-messenger vengeance at worst. All I am saying, as have many others before me, is that white women have a specific role in these circumstances to call out racism where the perpetrator hides behind us.
This is not to say that white man racism is the fault or responsibility of white women. We should all call out all racism anyway. But white women are both beneficiary of and excuse for this tedious reproduction of power structures and stereotypes. This one especially – given that white men will back each other until the end of the world – is ours.
So here are a few of the more pervasive narratives. Boring and over-used as each is, it is because we keep hearing such equivalence and gaslighting that we have to keep countering it.
- It was parody
Okay. It was deeply offensive, disrespectful and poorly-executed parody. Its minstrel overtones drew on the antebellum South in the USA. Invoking white slave owners is invoking one of the most horrendous crimes ever committed on this planet, from a wide field of such crimes against humanity.
2. It was a ‘lesson’ in sexism
Step aside, Malcolm. Women are more than capable of calling out, correcting and educating on sexism. Name it, sure – then move out of the way. While intersectional feminism is not widespread or well-understood – and I still make errors of privilege, often – Knox and his cabal of clubby white high-platform white men are not defending women against sexism. They are trolling women for their own click-bait purposes.
3. It’s a free country
This is always the most dreary excuse imaginable. No, it is not. It is a free country for most white men, and most certainly for white men sports writers and major newspaper editors. White men have far fewer chains – social and legal – than any other demographic. Women, Indigenous people, members of the LGBTQI community, people with disabilities: none of us are nearly so free to exercise our rights as are highly remunerated white men with legacy media platforms.
4. Any offence is for the people of the Caribbean
No, it is not. First, it is Knox who has written an offensive piece. It is Knox, his editors and colleagues and apologists who are the problem. And, as mentioned above, Indigenous Australians are the keepers of culture in this country, whether we white folks have grasped this on our personal journey or not. It is the oldest living culture on earth. Gayle was on Aboriginal land when he spoke, Knox was on Aboriginal land when he wrote, I am on Aboriginal land right now. Stop deflecting.
5. Knox is not a racist/Knox is a fine man/Knox is a well-respected writer
This is the Tony Abbott defence of his Rhodes scholarship patron Dyson Heydon. And the George Brandis defence of Heydon. And the Peter Fitzsimmons defence of Knox. And the same wagon-circling defence by white men for white men everywhere. The defence remains breezily ignorant of the fact that calling a white bloke a good bloke is not a defence in itself. We need more evidence than the word of chaps about chaps these days. The evidence is there in black and white. Writing a racially disrespectful column is not ‘fine’ or worthy of ‘respect’.
Knox wrote a racist column. Knox is a comfortable privileged white man. High regard for his writing and position accrue to his demographic more easily than to any other group in society. I am not saying he is a bad writer, although I am saying that since last night we now know he is a racist writer.
But white women have to work twice as hard to attract the same accolades, and Indigenous men twice as hard again, and Indigenous women face even higher barriers to get anywhere in this world. The likelihood of a well-regarded white man being mediocre at best is very high. The likelihood of a mediocre white man who displays overt racism and is defended for it is also extremely high. Today has brought yet more evidence to support the likelihood of these claims.
One last comment I saw was that 2015 was the year of sexism, and now 2016 is shaping up to be the year of racism. I am not attacking this comment – I welcome white men calling out sexism and racism together. But intersectionalism tells us to turn this comment around: it is always the year of the white man, and on the evidence, 2016 will be the year of the white man again.