Racist Humour in Australian Advertising: Reflections from the Sociology of Whiteness

Below is a great post by sunili on “casual racism” in a recent advertising campaign that has thankfully been banned by tv networks. To situate it for non-Australian readers, here’s the background. There is an electronics entrepreneur in Australia called Dick Smith. His company is Australian-owned and his advertising campaigns often rest on notions of patriotism. His latest ad was an attempt to cash in on Australia Day, coming up on the 26th of January. It has caused tremendous controversy because it is based upon sexist and racist “jokes.” The ad features cringe-worthy dick jokes as well as asylum seekers literally arriving on Australian shores. A stereotypical Afghan/Islamic man is handed a Dick Smith’s food product, as Smith says “And the taste is a beauty, why else would thousands be trying to get here?” The “asylum seeker” looks to the camera and says “I love Mr Dickssss.”

Dick Smith has defended the sexism and racism in his ads to the Sydney Morning Herald, saying:

one of the reasons that asylum seekers come here [to Australia] is because we have good food. So I can’t see what’s really wrong with that.

Guess what? Asylum seekers come to Australia for asylum, to escape prosecution and political turmoil, not to eat Australian food specifically and certainly not to help Dick Smith reduce their plight into a racist skit.

The entire ad campaign is offensive and ridiculous, but the asylum seeker angle is socially irresponsible, given that Australia has an ongoing debate about asylum seekers, which are based on fear and racism. Negative stereotypes, including those perpetuated by “jokes,” have a real consequence on the lives of refugees in Australia, including on their employment prospects. Media that replicates race and gender-based “jokes” actually rest on racist and sexist notions, as the humour is a direct interaction with cultural stereotypes.

Sunili has written to the ad director, who defended the Dick Smith ad saying it was not meant to be racist. As Sunili points out, racism, whether intended or not, whether as a joke or as malice, is still racism:

There are two huge problems with casual racism and racist jokes:

jokes that are based on racist stereotypes and the normalisation of casual racism trivialises the huge problem of what you describe “malicious” racism and the harm that that racism causes because people go “oh c’mon it’s just a joke love, get over it!” when the basis of that joke is something that is deeply not funny and terribly hurtful; and

making jokes and then defending jokes that are based on racist stereotypes normalise a harmful practice that has and continues to effect a lot of your fellow Australians, and it gives the really vocal, nasty, malicious element of the community the ammunition it wants to make racist jokes in a nasty, malicious way.

I have discussed the sociology of “unintentional racism” with respect to history and music on my other blog. I noted that the reason why non-white people, particularly those in positions of privilege, are able to claim that they fail to see racism in their words or actions is because racism is institutionalised. It is so firmly entrenched in society, that people claim not to be aware of it, even when they participate in it. This is why whiteness studies are so important: people who belong to a dominant white group have trouble owning up to racist discourses. As Dick Smith says, “I can’t see what’s really wrong” with his unintentional racism. 

Check out Ruth Frankenberg’s work on white American women and Margaret Wetherell and Jonathan Potter’s work on racist discourses in New Zealand. These studies show that ordinary folk who see themselves as highly tolerant and forward- thinking citizens actually use racist language and they replicate racist ideologies without being able to discuss this as racism.

You should also read Sunili’s post in full.


Dick Smith is a bit of a tool but he made this ad for his food products for Straya Day and it’s awful and racist and you can google it if you want but I sure as hell will not be linking to it.

I contacted the director of the ad via Twitter and engaged in a bit of discussion about how problematic it was. He responded, firstly by calling me “Sunil”, EPIC AWKWARD TURTLE, but then saying that the ad wasn’t racist because there was no malicious intent to be racist.

This was my response to him.

Read More

HT @26pgt for the link to sunili’s post.