Blackface/ Red Faces: the potentials of humour for anti-racist action — ASN Events

Blackface/ Red Faces: the potentials of humour for anti-racist action (14665)

Scott Sharpe 1 , Maria Hynes 2
  1. UNSW at Canberra, Canberra BC, ACT, Australia
  2. School of Sociology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia

Among incidences of everyday racism, offensive jokes are writ large as a way of establishing and maintaining social norms and policing the boundaries of who is and is not welcome within the social body. In light of the use of humour as a normalizing force, its possible deployment toward anti-racist ends constitutes an important research problem. This paper examines an incident of 'humorous' everyday racism in the form of a blackface performance on the family variety television show, Hey, Hey It's Saturday. The incident was notable because it was an occasion where humour was also used in an anti-racist action. It is a common assumption that the serious nature of racism as an empirical problem necessitates a serious response and 'speaking out' against racism is assumed to be the best way to ensure racism's social unacceptability. But are the only options between the morally good action of speaking out unequivocally or the morally suspect one of prevaricating and thereby risking condoning the incident of racism? This paper draws attention to the ambivalence inherent in humour and how this might be utilized to execute less confrontational but no less powerful forms of anti-racist action.