Racism in Australia has been at the forefront of national discussion over the last few weeks, particularly following Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes performing an Indigenous ‘war dance’ at ANZ stadium two weeks ago.
For the 35-year-old sportsman, it was an expression of his cultural pride, but one that was condemned by many misunderstood supporters.
‘It’s a very Australian thing to pretend to be colour blind or race blind,’ former Channel V host Yumi Stynes reflected during a recent appearance on the ‘I’m Not Racist, But…’ panel at Sydney University during National Reconciliation Week.
Explaining there is ‘this idea we are all white or we wish we were’, the mother-of-three who is proud of her mixed Australian and Japanese heritage said people of colour are almost made to feel as though they should ‘apologise’ for being different.
‘The one message I’ve got is to stop saying sorry… we’ve got to stop apologising.’
Many people feel more comfortable if they don’t draw attention to someone’s ethnicity during the course of a conversation.
But according to Yumi, ‘If you ask anyone of colour, most of them love talking about race’.
‘You’re trying to separate race from the person but most people of colour feel they are integrated.’
Sydney based journalist Benjamin Law shares a similar sentiment, reflecting on his experiences growing up as a young boy of Chinese descent in coastal Queensland.
‘A lot of my friends saw credit in what Pauline (Hanson) campaigned’, he revealed, making reference to the infamous One Nation political party founder with a non-multiculturalism stance.
‘When I started protesting my friends, they would say “don’t be stupid man, we don’t see you as Asian”.’
‘Years later I realised how bizarre that comment was,’ Benjamin admitted, after treating their remarks as complimentary at the time.
In hindsight, his message to his friends is, ‘You don’t see race – what happened? (You’re) simply insisting you’re colour blind’.
‘Racism comes in all flavours, shapes and forms,’ according to Benjamin, and being a media personality himself, seeing a greater representation of the country’s multicultural population on television is important to him.
The ‘Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East’ author has been filming a comedy series to be screened on SBS, titled ‘The Family Law’ will an all-ethnic cast.
It’s ‘yellow all over the screen,’ he explained to the audience about his show about a Chinese-Australian family living in Queensland in the 1990s.
However despite his latest project, Benjamin added: ‘Even after this show is going to be made, there’s still going to be this poverty of diversity’.
‘We need to acknowledge even when something is achieved,’ the MC of the night Gretel Killeen told Benjamin in response, giving a nod to his production and the fact that progress is happening, even if so slowly.
Yumi agrees that greater diversity of talent onscreen is essential to Australian media.
Reflecting on Channel Ten’s reality show ‘I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here’, she said, ‘Can’t they put on brown person on there?’, suggesting Jessica Mauboy, Adam Goodes, Guy Sebastian and Waleed Aly as ideal candidates.
When watching a television show with an entirely caucasian cast, Yumi says her initial thought about the onscreen characters is: ‘You are not my mirror’.
And she urges television executives, writers and casting agents to alter their mentality, for the sake of future generations of Australians from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds, who will turn to the media seeking self-reflection.
‘If you show a kid this mirror they’re going to wonder where they got lost,’ she explained.
The ‘I’m Not Racist, But…’ seminar was hosted by the National Council Of Reconciliation during National Reconciliation Week and Vivid Sydney.
Joining Yumi and Benjamin on the panel was Dr Adam Geczy, a Senior Lecturer, Sculpture and Art Theory at The University of Sydney, and Nakkiah Lui, writer of ABC’s Black Comedy.
The panel discussion was hosted by television presenter and comedian Gretel Killeen.