reality tv

OPINION: Omar and Oz had the conversation about race that every person of colour dreads.

Listen to this story being read by Shannen Findlay, here.

The first time someone told me I spoke "good English", I was around seven years old. My hand clasped in my mother's own brown one as I beamed up at her. 

Their words meant exactly what I thought they did. "You don't talk like them." 

The first time I told someone a comment they made about me was offensive to my race, I was 13 years old and speaking to my best friend. She shrugged and changed the subject without a beat. 

The first time I sat down with someone I loved and let them know I couldn't keep loving them if they insisted on speaking about my culture the way they did, I was 20 years old. 

This season, history unfolded before us as The Block's very first Muslim contestants told their boss, their friend and their fellow co-star that his words were not only hurtful, but stereotyped them. 

This season, Omar Slaimankhel and Oz Malik had the conversation most of us dread.

Watch the trailer for The Block Tree Change. Post continues after video. 

Video via Nine.

"The word dodgy is coming out a fair bit, which is completely against what Oz and I do," Omar told Foreman Dan Reilly, who thought the boys were trying to "hide their mistakes."

Omar was born in Afghanistan and came to New Zealand as a refugee. Oz is Lebanese Australian.

"We're extremely grateful to get on the show and actually express ourselves. The fact you keep mentioning [us being dodgy], which is most likely going to play on TV, and it's just going to look like again 'It's two w*gs again doing dodgy s**t on TV. And that part is the most hurtful part to us."

Of course, offending Omar and Oz was never Foreman Dan's intention. Good, kind, fair people never mean to cause harm, even if that's exactly what they've done.

And of course, Foreman Dan isn't a bad guy – if I'm being honest, he's one of my favourite people on The Block. He's hilarious and kind and blisteringly honest. He's competed on the show twice before so he knows it's difficult. He gives countless chances to his contestants because there is no challenge like The Block challenge.

Omar and Oz speak with Foreman Dan on The Block. Image: Nine. 


The thing about being casually ignorant is that good people are all too capable of doing it. When you have privilege, thinking without considering the implications of race is normal. Believing your intent overrides the impact is normal too.

While Foreman Dan's intention may not have been to hurt, that was still the outcome. 

"It was a conversation that needed to happen; for us, it’s not about playing the racism card – it’s about just calling out behaviour that people don’t realise is offensive," Omar later told Sydney Morning Herald.


He told cameras that as a young kid, he'd experienced racism for being Afghan. And, unfortunately, growing up didn't change that fact.

"I'd be standing on the footy field and I'd be getting... I can't even say it on TV the stuff that we were getting called," he said.

So far, what we've seen on The Block of Omar and Oz is mostly good. They take criticism on the chin. They encourage their competitors. They've even made friends with the show's formidable Foremen and they've completed challenge after challenge with a smile on their faces. 

The conversation around them hasn't really involved much chatter about that though.

Instead, it has fixated on the fact other contestants think they're not playing the game fairly. On the audit actioned by a fellow competitor just in case Omar and Oz have done something wrong. On Omar's past instead of his devout devotion to his family and The Block competition. I'll admit, as a writer deeply obsessed with The Block, I've discussed this too. 

The simple fact of the matter is, Omar and Oz haven't done anything wrong. The speculation from their fellow competitors about them being "dodgy" was unfounded. The audit revealed no wrongdoing on the boys' part in the slightest. 

The rumours surrounding the pair having a revolving door of tradies weren't true either. 

The boys have had their 'redemption' on The Block, but what about the damage that's already been done? What is to be said for their own competitors and friends calling them "dodgy" when it's not only an unfair stereotype but completely incorrect? What does that say about those who judged Omar and Oz when they had no reason to?


When Omar and Oz confronted Foreman Dan, they were really speaking to the whole of Australia and we were all forced to reckon with the reality that people of colour on TV face. 

We were forced to see the impact of being type-casted and stereotyped. 

We got to see that for some, this isn't just a TV show where one man simply makes a comment two other men didn't like. We saw what it is really like for people of colour in Australia, and Omar and Oz were the ones to call it out. 

While their reputation may have been at stake, they didn't just speak up for themselves. They spoke up for families that look like them, children who look up to them and the wider community cheering them on. They spoke up for a whole group of people who finally felt seen, heard and understood. 

This season, The Block became the platform for two Muslim men to speak about race in a way that is so rarely discussed on national TV. While I wish they didn't have to have that awkward conversation at all, I feel grateful we all got to see and learn from it. 

Feature Image: Nine.

As one of our readers we want to hear from you! Complete this survey now to go in the running to win a $100 gift voucher.