Racism and Sexism in the Media


Rugby star Sam Thaiday (above) who is Torres Strait Islander, made a sexist and racist comment during The Footy Show, a very popular, long-running TV show that is dominated by White male athletes and comedians who are infamous for racism and sexism. Thaiday “joked” that he once had dated “dark women” as part of a “jungle fever phase” that he then grew out of (his wife is a White Australian woman, with whom he has children). 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commentators, artists and researchers were swift to condemn Thaiday’s words. Their activism was effective: they called on action from Deadly Choices, an Indigenous-led health initiative in Queensland that promotes Thaiday as one of their key ambassadors. This led initially to a statement denouncing Thaiday’s damaging message, and today they announced that Thaiday was removed as their ambassador. 

This critique by Indigenous women in particular was successful, leading to an apology by Thaiday and media coverage. (A statement from the Footy Show or its parent Company, Channel 9, is yet to be released.) I want to focus here on the media coverage. 

News.com.au was one of the first major media to pick up the story, lifting material completely from Indigenous people on Twitter. None of these commentators were asked for an interview, even though their ideas make up the entirety of the story.

This is not unusual but it should not be accepted as normal. 

Mainstream media ignores people of colour, especially Indigenous people, choosing to hire White writers who poach ideas and words directly from people of colour’s social media. Most of the Indigenous people in this article are writers, academics or public figures; asking for an interview at the very least is common courtesy, or commissioning an article from them would be easy.

This story requires a nuanced discussion like that happening on Twitter, led by Indigenous women, who are asking important questions about racism and sexism in broader Australian society, as well as internalised racism and how Indigenous men speak out against patriarchy. Fulbright scholar Alison Whittaker writes

“#SamThaiday is this week’s reminder that patriarchy in our mobs isn’t a side effect of colonisation — it’s at colonisation’s very core." 

Australian racism is embedded in social institutions, including the media that televised Thaiday’s exchange without rebuke, and traditional media that scavenges content from Indigenous Australians without payment. 

Titans of Australian media are currently fighting a massive industrial action, with Fairfax announcing 125 editorial redundancies. This is a national crisis for quality journalism. It is exactly the time for traditional media to display stronger ethics, not to recycle the exploitation of marginalised voices.

Here are just a few Indigenous women researchers and writers who cover sociological topics for you to follow on Twitter: Chelsea Bond,

Summer May Finlay,

Marlene Longbottom, Colleen Lavelle,

Amy McQuire, Alison Whittaker,

Celeste Liddle,

Marcia Langton,

Eugenia Flynn,

Nakkiah Lui.

Photo: News.com.au [Image: close up of Thaiday’s face, on the field]

Ethics, Scicomm and March for Science

On 13 April 2017, an article in Science Magazine featured the academic research planned about the March for Science, and interviews with one of the march co-chairs. The journalist reported that George Mason University was seeking email addresses of supporters for a planned study.


Scientists around the world who have been holding the march organisers accountable criticised the ethics of such a proposed study. This eventually led to the organisers requesting a correction from the journalist.

How did this major error happen?

It’s the latest in a long line of problems, and a damaging cycle that the organisers have established since the march was first promoted.


SciComm Cycle

Step 1: The March for Science releases a piece of science communication (scicomm). The statement, interview or social media post reproduces problems in science. This includes sexism; racism, ableism; erasure of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people (LGBTQIA); and other discrimination of underrepresented minorities (URM).

An example of this is from 25 January 2017, one day after the march formally started. Alycia Mosley Austin, a Black woman expert who works as Associate Director of the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience, offered advice for scientists new to activism, noting that the organisers were already making missteps and that they should be working with established social movements.

Another example of a scicomm fail was pointed out by women scientists, on the 27 January, who noted sexist patterns in communication just three days after the march began

Again on 28 January, four days after the march was set up, disability scholar Kim Sauder, noted that the organisers were excluding people with disabilities from their communications and planning. There are endless examples of such problem communication.

Step 2: Minorities and White women respond to scicomm problems, en mass. This sometimes goes on for days, while the organisers ignore discussions for as long as possible. In the meantime, hundreds of URM provide scientific resources and expert advice on how to fix the problem the organisers created. Minorities patiently explain issues and scientific evidence for why this latest problem is damaging. They use the hashtag #marginsci

Step 3: The communication problem becomes so big that the organisers cannot ignore it any longer. They issue statement/ retraction/ revision.

Examples of this include: sexist discussion of the gender pay gap, racist dog whistling, and ignoring accessibility (see the history).  This also includes various media interviews where the march co-chairs and committee members had reinforced and fed into an anti-diversity discourse, by saying that the march is not political and that it is about science – but not scientists. The latter distinction effectively means that discussion of equity and diversity issues in science has been unwelcome.

Step 4: Having finally reacted to critique by scientists, the march goes back into the same cycle, to produce the next scicomm problem. The previous steps are repeated, sometimes within 24 hours. Barely a week goes by without a scicomm fail.

Why does this cycle happen? From the beginning, URM asked the organisers to work with experts to fill gaps in their knowledge. For example, social justice activists; equity and diversity practitioners; and to recruit experts in scicomm and media strategy.

In fact, most of the URM encouraging inclusion for the march via the #marginsci tag are scicomm experts. including Dr Stephanie Page, who established the hashtag, and who volunteered early as a march committee member.

Why do organisers resist this advice? The answer is of course part of the cycle itself: fundamentally, the organisers have shown a profound lack of understanding of the knowledge, skills and contributions of URM. If diversity were truly and actively valued, the organisers would be more responsive and reflective about their actions and missteps.

The discussion about ethics and science communication that led on from this scicomm fail was important, demonstrating why URM have come to distrust the march organisers. In particular, we discussed examples of how social science expertise had been minimised, ignored and dismissed by the march organisers. The fact that the organisers are placing themselves in the position of gatekeeping research about the march, and providing special access to some researchers over others, is an ethical issue that needs close attention.

See the full conversation below and more on my blog: The Other Sociologist.

Images: 1) screen grab from the interview. Text of note reads: But the team, from nearby George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax, Virginia, has asked the organisers for access to the email addresses of those who have joined the march online. 2) Large crowd of protest in a park, look forward and carry signs.


SciComm Cycle of the March for Science

Woman of colour reads her phone in front of a laptop

Over the next couple of days, in the lead up to the March for Science, happening globally on 22 April 2017, I’ll be republishing a few of my articles and analyses of the March here on my blog.

On 13 April 2017, an article in Science Magazine featured the academic research planned about the March for Science, and interviews with one of the march co-chairs. The journalist reported that George Mason University was seeking email addresses of supporters for a planned study.

George Mason University requests email addresses of march followers: Source screengrab via Science Magazine

Scientists around the world who have been holding the march organisers accountable criticised the ethics of such a proposed study. This eventually led to the organisers requesting a correction from the journalist.

How did this major error happen?

Two days later, on 16 April, the March for Science was forced to issue a public apology after appropriating African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in a now-deleted tweet (below). This was heavily critiqued, especially by Black researchers, who pointed out the hypocrisy of using AAVE when Black scientists had been marginalised by the march, and received abuse for speaking out on inequalities within the march. Black scientists were also ignored when they encouraged the organisers to work with established social justice groups, including Black Lives Matter. Cultural appropriation of AAVE is doubly offensive in given these patterns of exclusion.

These are just two recent examples in a long line of problems. The organisers have established a damaging cycle of communication failures and weak apologies since the March for Science was first promoted.


Continue reading SciComm Cycle of the March for Science

How to Improve Ethics in your Workplace

Social science research shows that the public’s mistrust of corporate ethics is not a given. It exists because many businesses are perceived to only pay lip service to corporate responsibility.

Social scientists work with businesses to examine patterns of ethical attitudes and impact ethical behaviour.

We do this through research, such as surveys and interviews with all management and staff. In particular, we establish the types of employees vulnerable to ethics abuse, either by not being adequately protected or educated about their rights and responsibilities.We then put in place a plan for ethical change.

Read more: Social Science Insights.

In this video, I discuss the careers panel that I sat on as part of the annual conference for The Australian Sociological Association (TASA). I focus on the panel discussion about how to translate theory into practice when you’re working outside academia. I also cover workplace ethics in the video, as well issues about managing professional identity outside of academia and the importance of networking. I was asked about how I manage my research consultancy business. I talk about how to market yourself and how to establish a professional reputation with prospective clients using social media.

Read a summary of the video on Sociology at Work.


“Here is how the internship scam works. It’s not about a “skills” gap. It’s about a morality gap. 1) Make higher education worthless by redefining “skill” as a specific corporate contribution. Tell young people they have no skills. 2) With “skill” irrelevant, require experience. Make internship sole path to experience. Make internships unpaid, locking out all but rich. 3) End on the job training for entry level jobs. Educated told skills are irrelevant. Uneducated told they have no way to obtain skills. 4) As wealthy progress on professional career path, middle and lower class youth take service jobs to pay off massive educational debt. 5) Make these part-time jobs not “count” on resume. Hire on prestige, not skill or education. Punish those who need to work to survive. 6) Punish young people who never found any kind of work the hardest. Make them untouchables — unhireable. 7) Tell wealthy people they are “privileged” to be working 40 hrs/week for free. Don’t tell them what kind of “privileged” it is. 8) Make status quo commentary written by unpaid interns or people hiring unpaid interns. They will tell you it’s your fault. 9) Young people, it is not your fault. Speak out. Fight back. Bankrupt the prestige economy.”

The moral bankruptcy of the internship economy | Sarah Kendzior (via brutereason)

solarbird added: see also the intrinsic fraud of the prestigious internship. (via solarbird)

Justice for Dr V: Journalism Ethics and Transphobia

Storify is closing down. This is an archive of my post, Justice for Dr V: Journalism Ethics and Transphobia. First published on 20 January 2014.

Dr V (Dr Essay Anne Vanderbilt) is a transgender woman who invented a golf club. Journalist Caleb Hannan outed Dr V’s transgender identity even though he understood she did not want this to be revealed. She consequently died by suicide. These are my tweets showcasing the best articles on this story. #JusticeForDrV.

Continue reading Justice for Dr V: Journalism Ethics and Transphobia

On our latest blog post, I discuss managing ethics in the workplace. Within academia, you can’t conduct research without ethics approval from your university. Outside of academia, some research organisations will have ethics protocols in place, but most workplaces are unlikely to stipulate ethics in the way we see it in sociology. Ethics is more than just doing what we think is right. Sociological ethics is about following the consensus of our discipline.This includes:  a code of professional integrity; guidelines for how to carry out, use and communicate our findings; protocols for how to manage relationships with research participants, clients, stakeholders and funding organisations; and our rights and obligations to all living beings, resources and the communities involved in and impacted by our work. Read more on how to manage ethics in the workplace over on our blog.

Earlier today I spoke on a careers panel at the #postgraduate day for The Australian Sociological Association. I’ll do a full post on this later but for now I wanted to share a couple of the questions we were asked. These ranged from specifics like how to set up a business to broader questions about how to manage #ethics and how to maintain a professional identity. One of the key themes from the panellists was learning to translate #theory into practice and networking. I spoke about writing for your future clients via a specialist blog and using #SocialMedia. #sociology #visualsociology #career #work #students #monashuniversity