opinion

Haven't these footy players learnt anything after the Serena Williams cartoon?

The latest Australian race controversy has happened on ‘Mad Monday’ this week – the end-of-season celebration for football players, which usually involves heavy drinking and extreme costumes.

Three amateur football players decided to paint their bodies black to impersonate Serena Williams, her sister, Venus Williams, and Aliir Aliir, a Sudanese Sydney Swans player.

Yes, they went there.

Beau Grundy, a Tasmanian Penguin Football Club player, posted an image of the trio in a Mad Monday Facebook page, with the caption: “Williams sisters and Aliir Aliir #madmonday”.

Um, #facepalm, more like it.

The image Beau Grundy posted. Source: SBS.

The photo was also shared on Grundy’s Facebook profile, but it has since been deleted.

One would think that that after the drama caused earlier this month by the Herald Sun's highly controversial cartoon of tennis champion Serena Williams, that Australians might pause to consider the effects of their behaviour when referencing people of colour... but alas, no.

Despite the cartoon attracting worldwide condemnation, and social media backlash, for being racist, and seeing influential people such as author J.K. Rowling and Waleed Aly criticise it for being a racist stereotype full of unconscious bias - here we are again.

These bright sparks just couldn't give it a rest for a moment.

In a statement, the club said the incident did not happen on club premises and it was completely unacceptable behaviour. It also said their actions were not intended to be racist and they apologised for their lack of judgement.

Considering the passionate international and national debate we've literally just had about how to not be offensive when referencing people of colour, I'm not sure that's a good enough excuse.

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Of course, it's not the first time that footy players/Australian sportspeople have been caught with their hands in a pot of blackface paint.

In 2016, Victorian football club Frankston Bombers apologised after players dressed in blackface and plastered proud photos of themselves on social media.

Last year, model Sophie Applegarth shared photos of herself and a friend on Instagram dressed in blackface - again, as Venus and Serena Williams - later stating she had no "racist or malicious intent".

But despite all the backlash, it seems that nothing is changing. No one is learning anything. This week's Mad Monday incident proves that the message about why blackface is so inappropriate, is just not sinking in.

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Because the problem with blackface is embedded in American history - starting 400 years ago, with African slavery.

Why should that matter now? Because it's a fight that's still ongoing in the form of movements such as #BlackLivesMatter today - and it's about a group of people that the Williams sisters - the people being parodied - are a part of.

Here's a quick explainer of the history of blackface: it became popular in the 1820s in America with the first minstrel shows.

Minstrel performers were white people pretending to be black - doing 'black' things in a 'black' way; using accents, exaggerated behaviours, and ridiculous songs to mock people of African heritage.

Performers used burnt cork or shoe polish to paint their skin black, leaving wide areas around the mouth to give the appearance of oversized lips.

It wasn't satire; it was outrightly cruel, and outrageously unfair.

Blackface was always a form of entertainment based on ridicule, and that's why when it happens today, it's offensive.

So that's the history; now let me make the 2018 position really simple:

Skin colour is not a costume.

A costume doesn’t have to be an exact replica. People are so much more than their skin colour.

Let your costume/attitude does all the talking. Don't be lazy with black face: use your imagination.

I have gone to parties dressed as Madonna and Ellen De Generes, and it did not even cross my mind to make my skin appear fairer for the occasions. If anyone wondered why I had chosen to come 'dressed as a white person', they certainly didn't tell me.

A couple of years ago, my little nephew went dressed as Harry Potter's Dumbledore for Book Week. There was absolutely no discussion about him not being able to go dressed as his hero because he was the 'wrong' colour.

Because he's a kid, not a colour.

It may seem unfair to these players, that they have to think about an issue that doesn't affect them.

But even at the end of the season, even in their off-season, Australian footy players are still represent a beloved code, and so they are still role models to our kids.

Like it or not, that's the way it is. Their behaviour matters.

So go ahead, gentlemen: dress up, drink up (responsibly), have fun, post photos....but you can do all of those things without a lick of black paint or brown shoe polish in sight.

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