BY MIA FREEDMAN
Here’s a fun fact: there are 178,000 Google results when you type ‘Delta Goodrem racist’ into the search engine.
If by fun you mean batshit crazy.
Stop this madness. PLEASE. WE. MUST. STOP. IT.
I missed this story when it originally happened because I must have blinked momentarily and that’s all it takes for confected outrage to explode on social media.
Here’s what happened in case you too were blinking:
Four fans of the show got dressed up as the Voice judges (Delta, Seal, Ricky and Joel) for a fancy dress party. Or just for fun. Whatever. They were all white men so the one dressed as Seal painted himself black and the one dressed as Delta wore a blonde wig. I am not about to speculate on their sexuality but one dressed as Ricky.
The other night, Delta retweeted the photo to her followers, adding her own comment: “That is hilarious!! Hope you had fun! Ha!!”
The ‘offending’ Tweet is here:
Delta immediately received a social media backlash with accusations that the guy dressed as Seal was in ‘blackface’ and thus racist. Tweets like this began to ping:
(The original tweeter of the photo, Will Johnson, replied to Aamer Rahman saying: “Just relax. This was just a dress up party and we wanted to go as something topical. Nothing more to it.”)
The claim by many was that Delta’s retweeting of the image was seen as an endorsement of racism.
Thus: Delta is racist.
There is so much wrong with that last paragraph that we must pause to briefly unpack it.
For those not familiar with the significance of ‘blackface’ it refers to the theatrical make-up used by white entertainers so they could crudely mock people with dark skin. It began in the 1920s and was popular until 60s when the black civil rights movement in the US helped white people understand how grossly insulting and racist it was.
Sounding familiar? This issue blew up in Australia a few years ago when a ‘comedy’ act on Hey Hey It’s Saturday featured blackface performers (right). Back then, media website Crikey detailed the history of blackface and explained why exactly it was offensive:
“The portrayal of black people in these [historical] shows depicted them as “buffoonish, lazy, superstitious ‘coons’ who were thieves, pathological liars and lascivious devils bent on destroying white female purity. These were not light-hearted skits referencing black culture, “blackface” theatre depicted black people in “a degrading manner under the auspices of being accurate portrayals of black people”.
Blackface IS racist, no question. But to me (admittedly, a white girl so I welcome comments from those with a different perspective, please leave them below), 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.
There is also a man in the group dressed in drag to impersonate Delta. Is that sexist?
There’s a man dressed as Ricky Martin. Is that homophobic?
As the only straight white man in the group, it’s presumably impossible to be offensive by dressing up in a Joel costume.
The vitriol was so intense, Delta was forced to delete the tweet and release a statement to insist she is not indeed racist:
“In reference to a parody of the four coaches that was on Twitter, my retweeting was not intended to cause offence in any way.”
When writing about the story, News Limited have this written note -in bold- on all their online news websites: Editor’s note: This website has chosen not to publish the photo, as it may offend some readers.
I’m having one of those ‘has the world gone mad?’ moments. Look, I do think it’s fantastic we’re now having conversations about racism, sexism and homophobia that we never would have had a decade ago. I love that these terms are being used to measure, filter and judge words and actions that once would have passed without comment let alone condemnation.
I also understand that different people have different thresholds; something I consider sexist may not push your buttons and vice versa.
But this is what I worry about: using words like ‘racist’ to describe the retweeting of this photo diminishes and dilutes the power of that word. I worry that by over-using it, we render it almost meaningless.
Does anyone truly believe Delta is racist? Or the guy dressed up as Seal? Come on. Let’s not be The Boy Who Cried Racist. It’s too important an accusation to throw it around so carelessly.