Recently, during the normally benign blather and cheesy product endorsements that make up the bulk of morning television, things really blew up when one chat-show panelist accused another of making racist remarks.
Things were only made worse by the fact that the one being accused of racism was an older white woman known as the “queen of daytime TV,” and that her accuser was Yumi Stynes, a young woman of color.
The Twittersphere and mainstream media blew up with all the usual angsty stuff about what actually comprises racism and lots of “how dare she say this or that”, etc.
But one reaction caught my eye.
It was penned by the former producer of the very show the altercation took place on. Robert McKnight was the executive producer of Studio 10 from 2013 until 2017, and in an extraordinary blog post he revealed that he would never allow Yumi Stynes on the show when he was in charge because she’s too opinionated.
“Morning television is like having a cup of coffee with a friend,” he wrote, “viewers do not want to watch world war three erupt.”
That’s interesting because he doesn’t say he would never have Kerri Anne Kennerley, the aforemented queen of daytime television, on his show. No, he wouldn’t have Yumi Stynes on his show because you can never tell when she’s going to call out fellow panelists if they’re sounding racist.
Never mind that Kennerley used ill-informed racial stereotypes and generalizations in a way that was dismissive of the real human problems she was raising. Never mind that she clearly didn’t do it to help indigenous peoples, only to ridicule protesters who had marched in solidarity with their First Nations sisters and brothers.
Kennerley is a white women using her second-(or third)-hand knowledge of black women as an excuse to attack those commemorating invasion day.
But according to McKnight, Yumi Stynes is the problem.
Similarly, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour was in Australia recently to speak at a thing called the Australian Tennis Open’s Inspirational Series. I’m not sure if the folks from the Australian Open found it inspirational when Wintour took the opportunity to call for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed because of the tennis legend’s views on homosexuality.
“I find that it is inconsistent with the sport for Margaret Court’s name to be on a stadium that does so much to bring all people together across their differences,” Wintour said in her speech.
Margaret Court was the Serena Williams of my parents’ generation. She is one of the most successful players of all time, and unquestionably Australia’s greatest female player, having racked up a record-breaking 24 major titles. These days she’s a fundamentalist Pentecostal pastor with very conservative views on the family. In her campaign against same-sex marriage she has made a number of ill-considered remarks that the LGBTQI community found offensive.
Again, like the Studio 10 situation, instead of seeing this as an opportunity for an informed discussion, people just wanted to shoot the complainant. Former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott accused Ms Wintour of getting her facts wrong (without mentioning which facts she had wrong), and then told her that we don’t need foreigners coming to our shores to give us “ignorant lectures.”
It seems morning television isn’t the only place that’s like having a cup of coffee with a friend that doesn’t want world war three to erupt. The whole country is like that.
Whether Yumi Stynes or Anna Wintour are right in their assessments or not isn’t the point. The point is that they both raise important questions.
It’s quite reasonable to ask whether it’s appropriate to feign an interest in indigenous issues in order to oppose an Australia Day protest.
It’s also reasonable to ask whether the personal beliefs of sporting personalities (or politicians or business people, for that matter) should effect whether we name our buildings after them.
But are we going to have those conversations? Nope.
In 2017, Aboriginal journalist Stan Grant asked whether it was correct that a statue of Captain James Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park should be inscribed with the words, “DISCOVERED THIS TERRITORY 1770”.
It too was a reasonable question since Aboriginal peoples have lived on this “territory” for between 47,000 and 60,000 years.
Did we end up having a reasonable or informed conversation about that issue? Again, no.
Grant was attacked in the media. People were silenced. And a year later someone who felt powerless about the situation vandalized the statue with the words, “No pride in genocide.”
We are the land of the comfortable cup of coffee. We characterize any difference of opinion as “world war three” and those who raise objections are vilified or silenced. But gagging people only leads to a more combustible situation later.
Albert Einstein was right when he wrote, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are incapable of forming such opinions.”
But here’s the really concerning thing about all this. When we silence dissent and vilify those who object, we are inadvertently siding with the status quo. Desmond Tutu once pointed out that if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. Likewise with important social issues. Neutrality is an affirmation of the present state of affairs.
Captain Cook is still the “discoverer” of an already inhabited land.
The queens of daytime TV and Australian tennis continue their reigns.
Outspoken people are so annoying. Believe me, I know. They make us feel uncomfortable. They question the stuff we have just learned to live with and not really think about. But if we follow Robert McKnight’s formula and simply silence anyone who is going to stir up dissent we’re not just avoiding conflict, we’re aligning ourselves with the status quo.
I’m not ascribing prophetess status to Yumi Stynes or Anna Wintour (especially not after her cosy association with Harvey Weinstein). I’m simply suggesting we listen with open hearts and consider whether we have something to learn from them.