Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Flying In The Face of Blackface

And there it is, all the proof that some need about the state of race relations in Australia. A highly offensive skit played out on national television and then sensationalized thanks to global media coverage because a celebrity judge happened to be from a country where such antics died out over half a century ago.

My heart was indeed pained to hear of the infamous "Jackson Jive" skit on Australian television. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts. I wrestled with the thought of canceling that portion of the trip altogether, extending my stay in New Zealand and only stopping in Sydney long enough to catch my flight to Dallas. Most assuredly others here in the United States would have done exactly that or the "Toldja So" crowd simply reaffirming their intention never to set foot in Australia so long as they live. Then I remembered something a mentor once said.
Individually we are poor, he intoned, but collectively the economic power we carry is impossible to ignore. Is it likely that the borders will be closed and ambassadors recalled between Australia and the United States? Hardly, hearty soul. The simple truth is that without individual travel and cultural exposure there is no opportunity to disprove the negative connotations explicit in ignorant, "innocent fun" such as this. In other words, without dialogue and interaction on common ground the only image they will have is the one they create themselves, as wrong and wrong-headed as it can be.
In to the teeth of this firestorm I am flying today, and on Emirates, no less, the flag carrier of the Middle Eastern nation of the United Arab Emirates. I've just wrapped up ten glorious days in New Zealand driving around the North Island and visiting old friends. My onward itinerary on this two-week vacation only includes three days in Sydney where I'd hardly spent any time previously. I'm looking forward to time on the beach, Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, the Olympic Village, paying my respects to "Dame Crackers" and exploring the music scene post-Little River Band, Men at Work, AC/DC and INXS.
A half century ago is still not all that long in the United States where such matters continue to play out in the work place, the market place and the neighborhoods of this land. Does that mean our Australian cousins are at least 50 years behind the advances realized in America? Can we or even should we use the same scale of history to assess what's going on in the land Down Under?
Again, hardly. I'm not going to Sydney, Australia with suitcases full of pamphlets, affidavits and banners for change. I haven't booked a hall for speeches and testimonials and have no expectations to hold a press conference or have a walk-on at some early morning talk show to give my views on race history and Oz-US relations. I'm a tourist bringing sensible clothing, my iPod and a camera, as any holiday maker would, along with my good character, sense of purpose and, dare I say it, irrepressible optimism!

I'll see what I see when I get there.

Gotta go!

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