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Another Delta storm in a teacup

By Dilan Thampapillai - posted Monday, 20 May 2013

One of the realities of our contemporary media cycle is that every few days there is a minor storm in a teacup over some high profile person making a gaffe on social media. The inadvertent gaffe is usually met by some level of annoyance or outrage. An apology is hastily given and all is quiet until the cycle repeats.

So last week some fans of Delta Goodrem tweeted her a photo in which one of them was dressed up in blackface. The man in blackface was pretending to be Seal who is Goodrem's fellow judge on The Voice. Delta retweeted the photo with an approving comment.

As most people know, blackface is offensive because of the racist history associated with it. In recent years controversies over the Hey Hey Its Saturday skit and Qantas's Radike Samo tweet have demonstrated that there are sensitivities on this issue.


Delta's gaffe was met with outrage on Twitter. Comedian Aamer Rahman probably took things too far by referring to Delta as 'stupid and racist'. More sensibly, Nazeem Hussain and Michael Brull pointed out that what Delta thought was funny could be perceived as racist.

Delta subsequently apologised.

The matter should have ended there, but then along came Mia Freedman who defended Delta on her blog MamaMia.

It was a remarkable post for a number of reasons, not least because not even Delta was defending Delta. Even though Freedman conceded that blackface is racist she tried to suggest that there is a 'respectful' way of doing it.

Mia Freedman wrote, "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."

The minor problem being that most people won't be able to immediately tell the difference.


It is also worth pointing out that if you do something that people are likely to be offended by then you shouldn't be surprised when they say as much.

That said, there is a real difference between accidentally doing something that can be perceived as being racist and deliberately doing something racist. There is a difference of intent, but not necessarily a difference of effect. Some people of colour, and even a few who aren't, are probably going to feel a bit slighted by seeing a white person 'blacked up' even if it is being done to 'respectfully' impersonate Seal. That's just a fact.

Freedman also wrote, "Let's not be The Boy Who Cried Racist. It's too important an accusation to throw it around so carelessly."

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About the Author

Dilan Thampapillai is a lecturer with the College of Law at the Australian National University. These are his personal views.

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