Australia: 'One of the most comfortably racist places I've ever been'.

Is this really what people think of us?


“Australia turned out to be a sensational place. Albeit, one of the most comfortably racist I’ve ever been in.”

That was what British comedian and and news correspondent John Oliver had to say about Australia after a recent visit here.

Oliver has been a regular on US nightly news program The Daily Show since 2006. He is even set to take over Jon Stewart’s hosting duties when the show’s famous figurehead takes time off to direct a movie later this year.

Basically, he’s a pretty big deal. Nominated for numerous Emmy and Writer’s Guild awards, he’s extremely influential and highly regarded among the predominately left-wing and educated Americans who watch the show.

And he thinks Australians are racists. Well that’s not very nice.

On his popular weekly podcast called The Bugle: Audio newspaper for a visual world, Oliver spoke to his co-host Andy Zaltzman:

You can say what you like about Australian racism, Andy: it’s undeniably specific. I had a couple of Australians, more than one, complain to me about all the ‘Lebos’ in the country – referring apparently to the Lebanese. Who the f–k is annoyed by Lebanese people?

…You have to admire the attention to detail. Not just ‘all those Arabs’ but, ‘the Lebanese’… How many Lebanese people Andy, can there actually be in Australia? There’s only just over 4 million Lebanese people in f–king Lebanon. And the one thing Australia cannot argue is “There’s no room here, in this country.” Cos that land is f–king gigantic.

That aside, fantastic place Andy, can’t wait to go back.

Yes – it’s kinda funny.

He is an award-winning comedian.

But, are we just laughing uncomfortably because we suspect it might be true? At least… a little bit true? 

The Australian media have certainly never been faced with any shortage of awful racist incidences to report on.

In November last year, Mamamia reported on the racist abuse of a French woman on a bus in Melbourne. That

The Daily Show’s John Oliver.

video went viral around the world. In February, Mamamia editor Jamila Rizvi wrote about the racist taunts directed at ABC newsreader Jeremy Fernandez, when he was travelling on a Sydney bus. That incident made national headlines again. Earlier this month, the racial abuse of a group of Asian tourists on a Sydney bus was captured on video. It too went viral.


Okay serious face again: Let’s not forget the Cronulla riots of 2005 and the violent attacks on Indian students in Melbourne in 2009. Both incidents that made international headlines and painted a picture of an Australia that demonises foreigners and is struggling to embrace its increasingly multicultural population.


…No wonder people think we’re racist.

But, despite the disgusting nature of those and other incidents like them, surely it’s unfair to paint all Australian citizens with the same brush? Last year, in an attempt to prove that Aussies get an unfair wrap when it comes to the racism tag, journalist Joe Hilderbrand produced a show called “Dumb, Drunk and Racist,” but he was surprised by what he found. Mamamia interviwed him at the time and he had this to say:

What did amaze me was that I thought it would be a bit more understated. I thought there would have been a bit of “I’m not a racist but…” I wanted to expose some of the myths that absolutely everything is racist or prejudice or ageist or whatever and I have to say, I was genuinely shocked when I saw just how fierce and nasty and not funny at all, a lot of the racism we saw was.

We generally saw plenty of stuff that was just out-and-out disturbing, out-and-out ugly and nasty. We had people throwing out the most outrageous racist abuse in the street, completely unprovoked and it came out of nowhere.

Do people like this give us all a bad name?

But Hilderbrand went on to add: “We also met some of the most amazing and inspirational, intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate people as well.”

Well, at least some good eggs managed to make an impression. Obvioulsy not as lasting as their racist counterparts, however.

So, do the racist bogans drown out the rest of us? Are they making us all look bad?

Discussing John Oliver’s podcast comments on morning radio’s 2UE, Paul Murray indicated that in the media, it’s easy to take a few of the worst people in country and use them as examples of the collective population:

… just popping into Australia for a couple of days and probably shoving a microphone in front of the right people’s faces… It’s a bit like – and I’ve done this myself working in radio and tele – you go to a place like America and you find the dumbest, weirdest people you can and you go “Look, look! See? Dumb Americans!”

They probably went and found some nasty people – here in Sydney or other parts of the country.

Every country has its awful, racist extremists. But those people aren’t racist because they’re American or Australian or English or Kiwi. Those people are racist because they’re just crappy people. And you can find crappy people anywhere.

But what about the casually racist stuff? Does it have to be extreme to give us a bad name? We all know someone who loves to tell an Aboriginal joke, or stereotypes those of Asian heritage like there’s no tomorrow. Are those ‘casually’ racist people also out of line? Are they also to blame for our supposed ‘bad’ reputation?

Maybe it’s not just the extremists who are uncomfortably forcing us all into this ‘comfortably racist’ pigeon-hole.

John Oliver is an intelligent and informed comedian. His comments about Australia were mostly made in jest. But it’s often said that behind every joke, lies a hint of truth.

So what do you think? Are Australians “comfortably racist,” or were John Oliver’s comments totally unfair?

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