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Australian Show Delights In Blackface, Harry Connick, Jr. Not Having It

By now your interest has been piqued by reading the title of this post. Now please allow myself to pique it further by adding that the blackface spectacle was a parody of sorts whose subjects were The Jackson 5 complete with someone dressed up as Michael Jackson in a sequined "Beat It" jacket wearing an afro with a twist: This MiJac was in whiteface. Too soon, much, "Hey Hey It's Saturday"? The Australian variety show had Harry Connick, Jr. on as a guest judge who was clearly not amused, adding "If they turned up like that in the United States, it'd be like 'Hey Hey There's No More Show'."  

I'm not going to get into the attitudes that have largely prevailed in my experiences in speaking with people who have either lived in or visited Australia. That would be like stereotyping an entire group of people unfairly--just like blackface does! Instead, let's focus on some facts: the audience of this show only seemed to express their disapproval after the The Jackson Jive got gonged and the apology the host issued after realizing this was becoming an international incident between two nations, one of which has a Black president:

Host Daryl Somers apologized to Connick at the end of the live show.
"I know that to your countrymen, that's an insult to have a blackface routine like that on the show, so I do apologize to you," Somers said..."I just want to say, on behalf of my country, I know it was done humorously, but we've spent so much time trying to not make black people look like buffoons, that when we see something like that we take it really to heart." [Connick] told Somers after his apology.

And now that we have that out of the way, we can get back to scratching our heads as to why The Jackson Jive first appeared on the show 20 years ago in blackface and why they were invited back to to the show to celebrate the once-popular show's reunion? I'm not even going to mention the work that Connick has done to help the people in his beloved home of New Orleans--a city predominately Black and irrepressibly creative--to rebuild after this country's lackadaisical response to the greatest natural disaster in our history. I'll just say that I am not surprised yet deeply saddened at what passes for human beings these days. 


"Harry Connick Jr. No Fan of Australian Blackface Michael Jackson Tribute"
[NYM]

"Australian TV show apologizes for blackface skit" [AP]

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  • http://soulrific.theinfiniteink.com Soulrific

    Heard about this news story on the Today show this morning. Was happy that Harry Connick, Jr. was upset and walked off the set of the show, but then the Today show played a clip of Harry in a MadTV skit pretending to be a Black preacher.

  • Jeddy

    Um... actually he was doing a parody of a Southern preacher, not necessarily a black one. I'm a native of Louisiana myself, and there are some preachers down here, both black, and white that have that charismatic preaching style, that was comedy. What those people did on that Australian show was completely different. That was insulting.

  • anon

    Glad Harry was able to use this as an educational opportunity for that audience. Hopefully they learned to be more respectful.

  • Amera

    Harry Connick Jr. is a class act.
    And as far as him being on MadTV, there's a difference between acting like a southern preacher and blackface.

  • Aussie

    Basically all you're blog presents is one side of the story written with the motive of getting as much rage out of your readers as you can.
    The skit was done as a humourous take of the Jackson Five. There was no racial motivation behind it because lets face it, Australia doesn't have nearly the amount of racial prejudice and history in terms of blackface like the African American slave history does (granted we have other racial problems like every country in the world).
    Jeddy I can understand how one can take offense to this however it was NEVER ment to be insulting.
    Really if anyone was to take offense to the blackface in Australian culture it would be the Aboriginals however you don't hear their outcry.

  • Proud Black Australian

    I would like to make US readers in particular aware that 'blackface' is not something that Australians are familiar with, though it obviously has strong implications in America.
    The way that this was viewed by most Australians was a group of ethnically diverse doctors doing a poor impersonation of a celebrity group.
    Many Australians are at a loss to understand why this impersonation was perceived as being racist including the members of the group. Once it was pointed out that this may potentially be offensive to Americans by Harry Connick, a live apology was immediately made.
    Harry himself has said that he knows this was not intended to be an offensive or racist skit.
    I realise that ignorance is no excuse for the hurt caused, but surely a heartfelt appology goes a long way to explaining the incident and attempting to repair any offense.
    Some Australians may indeed have issues with racism, as many other groups of people do, but I seriously feel that they are a minority.
    I do hope that this helps to clarify things somewhat.

  • Anonymous

    I am really appalled at the way aussies have been attacked by the media. I am particularly disturbed by comments made on the view by it's panel that we treat aboriginals terribly well I have never spoken to an aboriginal in any term other than politely even when I was pregnant and working as a nurse and one punched me for no reason this by the way could of happened to anyone by anyone and I continued nursing this patient as it is not in my nature to persecute someone. As in every country there is racism here but it is only a small minority in my dealings with people in this wonderful country of ours . I notice that nobody mentioned that the men that did this skit were all of ethnic background. May I further say that your country needs to clean up your own backyard first before you comment on something you know very little about. There is more racism out there than the colour of someones skin for etc over weight people are constantly victimised by all countries as well as many other people with something different about them it's about time some people just got over themelves and stop using things that are really insignificant to push your own agenda whatever it is. By the way one of my best friends is aboriginal and thirty years ago he told me that he wanted nothing to do with government handouts that he worked and had always worked and so should every other aboriginal and I say bravo to my friend as he should be pin up boy for the aboriginal people.

  • Badger(Australia)

    While I understand that traditionally any blackface done in theatre was derogatory, it depicted African Americans and a lower class of people and while I understand how some sensitive people may be offended by this. This blackface routine was not done in a derogatory manner, they did not have the exaggerated lips drawn on, nor did they portray the Jackson 5 nor any member of the African-American ethnic group in a derogatory manner and depict them as a lesser class (which what blackface did traditionally), which they are most definately NOT, nor ANYONE for that matter. I suggest people look up the definition of racism before calling this racist. Now days blackface, when used, is done in a satirical fasion, times change, definitions change, what something meant as early as 30+ years ago means something completely different now says. For example the words 'gay' and 'faggot' traditionally meant something completely different to what it is commonly used for today. Move on, things change. Let's concentrate on getting off this planet and exploring space. Listen to BIll Hicks and love.

  • Chad V.

    If you understand that "traditionally any blackface done in theater was derogatory" then you ought to understand why we, as African Americans are so upset. It's not a matter of whether or not the skit was INTENDED to offend or not, the fact of the matter is, it DID offend.
    This IS racist, and until you're in a situation where something that was done historically to make your people or your culture look bad, then you may not be in the best position to say whether or not it is racist. And please understand that this isn't about "which country handles racism better..." because it's not about that. This is about having a better understanding of what upsets people from a different background than yours.
    There's an ol' saying that says "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." You know better now. So do better.

  • Satchelmouth

    Probably one of the most telling things coming out of all this is Australians coming out in droves to defend their use of black face as not being racist. They just. don't. get. it. Casual and ignorant racism is still racism. The ridiculous excuse they also make that some of the people in the skit were not white is excruciatingly stupid. It is still racism not matter who the perpetrator is and it stinks of some weird white guilt persecution complex.
    The saddest thing is racism is so ingrained in Australian culture that they cant even take a step back and realize what they are doing.

  • Sea Eagle

    Chill out guys, I'm an Aussie from Sydney, work for an American company, love Americans and Bon Jovi is my favourite band. Australians are definetly not racist.

  • Nonplussed

    Harry Connick Jr. is a gentleman.
    They could learn much from him.

  • AB

    Maybe the solution is to have a compulsory course dedicated to American Political Correctness? And all countries must undertake these lessons to avoid offence.
    I am Australian, and yes I think that the producers of the show probably should have considered their audiences and the context in this day and age before going ahead with the skit. However, it was not intended to be subversive, it was simply brainless.
    I read an article on CNN.com which stated, "The show's host, longtime Australian TV presenter Daryl Somers, may have compounded the problem by twice referring to the performers as "boys" -- a historically derogatory way of talking to or about black men."
    My solution to CNN - write to the Oxford Dictionary and have the word boys removed altogether to avoid any potential racial attacks.
    I'm quite sure that referring to a group of males as boys is kocher not only in Australia but in the states so really, is it necessary to flog the dead horse any further?
    Australians are not racist and Americans couldn't care less about the indigenous Australian's till now anyway. Our governing parties are constantly coming up with new solutions to better the relations between the aboriginals and anglo saxon Australians. How is this different to America's history?
    Quit generalising about Australians because of one mistake, that is racism.

  • onlooker

    It is interesting to read the reaction and comment by so many who have most likely never seen the program "Hey Hey It's Saturday" and not ever heard of it until now. It is a variety program and it has a segment called "Red Faces" where just about anyone can do a skit and then be judged by a panel of typically three people. It is basically a copy of the Gong Show. One of the judges, Red Symons, is the "hanging" judge and very rarely ever gives a score higher than 2. He also is in charge of the gong that he belts to signal that he has had enough of the performance and it is this premature end to the performance that the audience always boos. They quite often begin their booing before the gong has been hit, as they are able to see Red get up and prepare to hit it.
    The audience on this occasion was as usual booing the premature end to the skit, NOT their disapproval of the skit as the comment in this article is suggesting;
    "...the audience of this show only seemed to express their disapproval after the The Jackson Jive got gonged..."
    Nobody booed the act in sympathy with Connick.
    The performance was an impersonation of the Jackson 5 with the group in costume and makeup which strangely enough included black facial makeup because the Jacksons are of that ethnicity, and wigs which were almost identical to how the Jacksons looked back then.
    The skit contained no racial or racist slurs and did not denigrate anyone. Oh, and just because the actors were all of non-caucasian background is irrelevant to any arguments.

  • http://www.vibeconductor.com/blog DJStylus

    I love when white people who aren't American and know nothing of American history want to tell us what racism is and that we need to "move on", "get over it" and that "no one was denigrated." Your white priviledge and provincialism is showing.
    Ignorance isn't an excuse for doing something foul nor does it erase the impact of the foulness.
    That being said, I see the apology as genuine and hope that the Aussies learned something. It was resolved as best as it could be. In that respect I agree with Proud Black Australian.
    And since I'm not Australian, I won't claim to be an expert on what white folks did to aboriginals, although I would accept some knowledge dropping from Proud Black Australian.

  • http://soulbounce.com ill Mami

    "The performance was an impersonation of the Jackson 5 with the group in costume and makeup which strangely enough included black facial makeup because the Jacksons are of that ethnicity, and wigs which were almost identical to how the Jacksons looked back then.
    The skit contained no racial or racist slurs and did not denigrate anyone.
    "
    REALLY???
    I guess if any of you apologists saw me in person, I would look like this to you. Instead of being on the defensive because you feel your country was is being unfairly attacked, maybe you should ponder the fact that Black people's innate greatness will always attempt to be disproven with insults such as dressing up as "buffoons." Fortunately, we are not going anywhere. This very Soul music website proves this.

  • Joe

    In reading through the comments, i realize how ignorant and how lost man many people are. Specifically the recurring statement of "the guys who were performing the act were of ethnic background"
    I feel bad that there are so many ignorant people (specifically white people) who don't understand that they themselves are apart of an ethnic group.
    But they don't realize it because whiteness is the "norm" and they spend there entire lives thinking ethnicity is everybody else who is not white. Which generalizes other ethnicities into one group, and gives the perspective of oneself an unconscious-like sense of white privilege.
    Ethnicity as an example: would be like President Obama and First Lady Michelle. Now pretty much everybody agrees Obama is the first black president, however black people acknowledge the fact more often that whites, that the president is just as much black as he is white, (and vice versa).
    another ethnicity example : the ethnicity for Barack and Michelle is totally different, Although Barack Obama is the first black president he is not the descendant of any Black American slaves, where as Michelle is a descendant of Black American slaves. Two different ethnicities.
    So, i hope all people (white people specifically) will take some time to think and learn what their ethnic background is, and accept it, value it, and embrace it.
    all I'm trying to say is EVERYBODY is of Ethnic Background!
    (i cant believe people dont understand that, its so sad)
    And i'm only 19, i even understand that

  • huny

    what australian message board or google group are we being linked on? I find it dizzyingly ironic mad australians are all of a sudden using soulbounce as their sounding board.
    listen, I hate blind defense of anything. and some of yall aussies are blindly defending a derogatory and insulting occurrence just because it happened in your country. even the most ignorant white americans can't deny blackface is equivalent to a racial slur. reading up on blackface on google for ten minutes hardly makes you any authority on the matter so perhaps you should defer and learn something instead of clutching to misplaced defenses. "anonymous" claimed we're commenting on "something [we] don't know about"? while she comments on OUR blog about blackface - which SHE knows nothing about? that's epically hypocritical.
    additionally - there is not one negative sentiment about australia expressed in this blog post or anywhere else on our website. there are no generalizations of australians. but you roll up in here and insult ALL americans for being rightfully dismayed by such an ostentatious display of ignorance? on a black american blog? after your countrymen panned a very beloved and celebrated group of black americans? and then you use whether your aboriginal homie is upset as your barometer? stop the madness.
    here are a couple of facts: 1. our blog is not your little sounding board to go off about american media. we don't care what cnn.com said to piss you off. 2. there is NO such thing as non-derogatory blackface. sloppily smearing oily black makeup on your face and putting on a cheap clown wig to pretend to be black and calling it harmless entertainment IS the 100% exact same thing as the blackface that was around decades ago - that blackface you claim has...evolved?
    my god.

  • huny

    hi joe, I get that you're trying to be all kumbaya and stuff, but you're actually wrong. ethnicity encompasses race and culture, it can encompass religion, etc. to say barack and michelle obama are two different ethnicities is to first deny he's black altogether. being descended from slaves or not doesn't necessarily dictate ethnicity. thats a slippery slope, homie.

  • Joe

    @huny: hey, I understand your point and how what i wrote can be interpreted in that way. First, I personally understand what ethnicity means, and how it also includes the aspects of race, culture, religion,etc. I harped on the racial aspect of ethnicity as a response to what i had read in other folks comments, and tried to give my explanation or view point on that aspect of ethnicity as directy as i could, because i was in a race against the clock, to get to class on time.
    So i was unable to get in to the deeper detail that i would have like to have done, and i should have re-worded my comment, now that i look at it. like i said i was in a rush, so i wanted to make big points using big examples. I really wish i could have used "two different ethnic backgrounds", rather than two different ethnicities at the end of the paragraph, discussing the First couple.
    I see how my words can be misinterpreted in what i was trying to make a point about. And in NO way was i trying or tried to denounce President Obama's being black at all. I was trying to merely make a point and tried to give a decent example. once again I really wanted to go into more detail and explanation, but i was against the clock.
    I totally see how you can look at my comment, and declare it a slippery slope. I would too as i look at it now. poor choice of words, and not enough explanation reasoning, behind the examples.
    Peace and Kumbaya (haha)

  • http://www.soulbounce.com Ro

    DJStylus: "Your white priviledge and provincialism is showing."
    Exactly.



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