Race, ethnicity and the media

Race and ethnicity have long been an issue represented within the media, and it plays an important role in the ways in which we understand race and ethnicity as part of our identity, our history and our everyday lives. Race classifies people based on physical characteristics, and ethnicity delineates nationality, cultural background and belief systems (Critical Media Project, 2013).

Back in 2009, the hit show ‘Hey Hey Its Saturday’ aired its second reunion special, where ‘The Jackson Jive’ appeared on one of their talent segments. The show was heavily scrutinised, as they happily put five men in black face makeup and fake afros to perform a Jackson Five routine. Much to Harry Connick Jr’s disgust, who was a guest judge on the show at the time and whose father was district attorney in the race-torn city of New Orleans for 27 years (Overington, 2009), this form of ‘black humour’ has a very negative connotation, both in America and the rest of the world (Mahony, 2009).

Entertainment known as ‘blackface’, portrays white actors dressing like black people by “exaggerating the size of their lips, wearing torn clothes and using burnt cork or show polish to blacken their faces” (Mahony, 2009). Back in high school, I remember studying one of Shakespeare’s plays “Othello”, and the 1965 film was based around the actor, Lawrence Olivier playing Othello in ‘blackface’. At the time I suppose I didn’t think much of it, I just that it was an unusual portrayal of the character, however I can now see how disrespectful and unappealing to most this form of ‘entertainment’ really is.

Lawrence Olivier playing Othello in ‘blackface’ in a 1965 film

After the ‘Hey Hey Its Saturday’ skit, many Austrlian took to social media, suggesting that the skit wasn’t racist, it was harmless, funny and a tribute to the Jackson Five.  One of the performers spoke out and said “The worst consequence of what we did is that the skit has raised the question of are Australians racist. We’re genuinely horrified that our mistake could cause people to think that” (Mahony, 2009). I feel that no matter how funny or harmless people think this form of ‘entertainment’ is, it should not be displayed across our media platforms in any way, especially living in such a culturally diverse nation as we do.


Critical Media Project, 2013, ‘Race and ethnicity’, The Critical Media Project, viewed 11th May 2014, <http://www.criticalmediaproject.org/cml/topicbackground/race-ethnicity/>

Mahony, M, 2009, ‘What’s all the fuss about “blackface”?’, Crikey, viewed 11th May 2014, <http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/10/08/crikey-clarifier-whats-all-the-fuss-about-blackface/>

Overington, C, 2009, ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday blackface skit makes some red faces’, The Australian, viewed 11th May 2014, <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/hey-hey-its-saturday-blackface-skit-makes-some-red-faces/story-e6frg6n6-1225784618497>


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