Friday, October 16, 2009

The role of black face

There's been an outrage about an act involving Black Face in a revived television show Darryl Somers. Australians are seen as being backward and insensitive about the way comedy can ridicule people of different colour. It certainly doesn't place Australia in a great light to be seen as living in this neverland of the Deep South. But I do wonder whether there is potentially a worthwhile purpose in black face. I'm thinking particularly of its version in Cape Town, where people under apartheid known as Coloured were inspired by the American minstrels to create their own version of black face. There's something about this form that acknowledges inauthenticity while engaging with difference. I'd be hopeful that there's a way in which black face can help Australians engage with the difference between non-indigenous and indigenous. We've already seen with the Chooky dancers how effective 'white face' can be. If this was loosened up and there be a testing experimental attitude to it, it would help us come to terms with the essential inauthenticity of white existence in this country, where the best option might be to find ways of assimilating into indigenous culture, but in a way that acknowledges its secondary nature.