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