Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Old Black Joe

Most of you will have heard that old US ante-bellum song of the "romantic" South written by white Northerner Stephen Foster. The chorus line is,

"I hear the gentle voices calling, Old Black Joe."

Those gentle voices sprang immediately to mind when I read the editorial in today's SMH about Frank Sartor's "inelegant" gaff.

The background. Frank Sartor, former Sydney mayor now State Planning Minister, wants to "redevelop" one of Sydney's inner city "boroughs", in the way of the growing trendy districts, known as Redfern. Redfern is inhabited primarily by Aboriginals and poor whites, most on some kind of public assistance or other, or so the reputation goes. It would not be too unkind to think of it, for context to this story, as a ghetto along the lines of, say, Watts in L.A.

Mick Mundine is an Aboriginal leader in Redfern. Sartor was on Koori Radio, an Aboriginal radio program, talking up his plans to revitalise Redfern and Aboriginal housing in particular and seeking community involvement in the process when he made the comment. "Get off your backside Mick and bring your black arse in here to talk to me about it." (Australian media has been rather precious about actually printing that quote, so I found it here:

The apologies and apologists sprang immediately to battle stations, as you might well expect. Amongst the latter is this from the SMH editorial, entitled "Mr Sartor's inelegance" (

"But Mr Sartor's words, which look so damning set out in print, were spoken without malice. To listeners they seemed to have been intended almost fondly."
And that's when the tune began to play in my head: "I hear the gently voices calling, Old Black Joe."
I jotted off a letter to the editor, but I doubt they'll print it. Here it is:
"When the Southern Master fondly said "Boy, come here" to the elderly Black hand, it was not "mere" racism; it was the object-oriented, paternalistic demand of the proprietor speaking, and utterly devoid of malice. I heard Mr Sartor's radio remarks. I did not interpret his summons of Mr Mundine to be "intended almost fondly", as you have editorialised. I heard "Massah" calling. Mr Brogden's remarks were racist and sexist, but not the attitude of a slave owner. You cannot unring that bell. Malice is not the issue."
That's almost as strong a slap as Sartor's flippery.
File that editorial under "they still don't get it".

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Blogger Cian said...

Cripes, Thats sickening, didnt read the SMH editorial on the topic at all. It seems that in australia there are powerful forces still refusing to move to any form of racial equality particularly regarding Aboriginies.

21 September 2005 at 9:08:00 pm GMT+10  

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