Respected Ballarat Aboriginal elder Ted Lovett has condemned two young men for dressing up in blackface as indigenous Australians for an ‘Aussie Icon’ party at a Ballarat football club.
Mr Lovett said men’s choice of costume was “disappointing and insensitive” because it ridiculed the heritage of his people.
"Their joke for the day was at the expense of Aboriginal people," Mr Lovett said. "It doesn't matter which way you look at it, it's racism all over again."
He said it was another example of highlighting the insidious dangers of “casual racism”.
"I'd like to see these young men put themselves in a black man's skin for the day and then they can tell me racism doesn't exist," Mr Lovett said. “Do you ever see an Aboriginal painting their skin white to make fun of a white Australian?”
Mr Lovett said “blackface” costume had long been offensive to Aboriginal people, with its roots linked to an America theatre tradition starting in the 1830s where performers would blacken their faces for the enjoyment of white viewers.
The roles that were played in blackface were typically racist stereotypes.
He said the incident showed how far Australia still has to go in challenging intolerance and racism.
“We all bleed when we cut ourselves don’t we? We don’t bleed the colour of out skin,” he said. “Why is it okay for a person’s race to be singled out just to get a laugh?”
However Aboriginal elder Murray Harrison raised concerns about people attacking the two men on social media.
He said it was impossible to determine what their motives were for dressing in the costume and there may have be no racist intent.
“It's not constructive for people to be personally attacking these young men," he said. " What we need is more education and acceptance of diversity.”
In the case of two young Ballarat men appearing on social media in blackface, and the inevitable outcry as to whether it was inappropriate, insensitive or ‘just a bit of fun’, it might be worthwhile to look back on some previous episodes of the practice in Australian history, both recent and historical, and reflect on why we think it’s funny. Or not.
Victorian Aboriginal Affairs minister Natalie Hutchins also weighed in on the debate, voicing her dismay at the actions of the young men.
“I can't believe this is is still happening,” she said. “What these two men did is totally inappropriate but the excuses being offered up by some in the wider community are even worse.”
Ms Hutchins said dressing up in blackface was never acceptable.
“Telling Aboriginal people how to respond.. to grow a sense of humour is offensive and obnoxious,” she said. “As the oldest continuous culture in the world, Aboriginal cultural heritage deserves our respect. And until that happens, stories like these demean us all.”
Ballarat Aboriginal woman, Sissy Austin, who shared the Facebook post before it went viral said it was “absolutely disrespectful” to objectify a culture and the issue of racism in Australia is shameful and unjustifiable.
No one can justify separating blackface from its history of oppression,” she said. “Australia as a country needs to wake up. The education system needs to wake up. Education is a powerful weapon and if only our education system had within it its own countries true history. Ignorance is no longer an excuse in 2016.”
TWO Ballarat men have sent social media into meltdown after dressing up in blackface as indigenous Australians at a dress-up party at the weekend.
High-profile indigenous leaders have lashed out at the duo, including the likes of recording artist Thelma Plum, who performed in Ballarat last night, and indigenous rapper Briggs.
The photo emerged on Sunday afternoon after the man who held the party posted images of the men in costumes.
“'These 2 legends had the best costumes last night, I reckon they nailed the "Australian Icons" theme perfect! Top stuff lads!' read the post.
The photo was reposted by a number of indigenous rights activists, slamming it for being overtly racist.
Among those was indigenous artist Thelma Plum, who regularly has her songs featured on Triple J.
Plum labelled the duo as “gronks” – another word for an idiot.
Briggs, a staunch campaigner for indigenous rights, was also quick to slam the photo.
In an expletive-ridden post, the Shepparton-based rapper labelled the pair as “redneck scumbags”.
“F... these, dumb, redneck scumbags. Anyone who wants to stick up for this kind of b…….. can swiftly go f... themselves. Anyone who wants to harass the person who originally called them out can direct all their attention to me,” he said.
However, there were also a number of people that leapt to the defence of the duo.
Among the thousands of comments to flood social media, many people claimed the duo were not intentionally racist and the theme of the party was ‘Australian icons’.
”I wonder if dressing up as Chinese or Japanese or Jamaican or any other country at a around the world themed party would be racist?? Cause last time I checked it wasn't - this isn't any different,” one user posted.