In 2009, Australia saw ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ host a 6-piece act called the Jackson Jive, as part of their ‘Red Faces’ segment. They performed a Jackson 5 tribute in full blackface. The host, judges and audience laughed and cheered, while guest judge, Harry Connick Jr. sat back in shock. What followed was a global discussion about Australia, blackface, and this show of blatant racism. There were people in Australia who couldn’t quite grasp that blackface wasn’t just an American issue, but a racial issue. We should be able to say we’ve come so far since then, but instances like Chris Lilley’s recent blackface post on Instagram make you question otherwise. If you take a second to look past the most blatant cases of blackface from Australian entertainers, you’ll see that there’s still an underlying culture of fetishising and parodying black culture at play.
In spite of learning from history, turn on Australian radio and you’ll find the most recent trend on any station is playing ‘90s hip-hop and R&B. It’s all fun and games until you stay on the station long enough to hear the DJ co-opt a fake American accent as they introduce your fave 50 Cent bop, making you wonder if that's how Iggy Azalea was born. The thing is DJs, radio and TV hosts aren’t squirming uncomfortably around hip-hop, rappers and R&B songs but taking on a more exploitative ownership of it – and at its worst, turning it into a joke. Why would they be uncomfortable when their audiences are validating their exploits with laughter? The ripple effect is blatantly clear, from radio to TV down into the clubs, in this country, hip-hop and its culture is so often met with mockery.
Last week, Craig David made an appearance on morning show Sunrise to talk about his upcoming tour. The interview was all of about five minutes long and yet there was enough time for it to turn into an uncomfortable conversation about his “8 pack”. The interviewer giggled as David looked confused about explaining his gym routine. When they finally wrapped it up, he grunted to signal the end of the interview, an appropriate response to being totally sexualised for laughs on breakfast TV.