Rob And Karen From THAT Viral Video Are Not Unique, They Just Got Caught
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few days, you probably know about the video of the racist confrontation endured by an Aboriginal family in Mildura, Vic.
For those who did miss it however, here’s a short rundown: neighbours of artist Robby Wirramanda Knight -- Karen Ridge and Robert Vigors -- were filmed trying to tear down an Aboriginal flag mounted on the family car whilst racially vilifying him and questioning his heritage. In the face of such vitriol, Knight remained calm, even comically pointing out that the flag was “too strong for you, Karen” when it wouldn’t budge as she pulled angrily on it and wishing her “good night” as they finally departed.
This brazen attack took place in front of Knight's wife and their two sons, and the video was shared online thousands of times, causing a mass public outcry.
Following the video being released on social media, it was discovered that the couple who had attacked the family were local business owners in Mildura. Mr Vigors was the owner of two McDonald’s restaurants and Ms Ridge was the owner of Mildura Travel and Cruise. As a consequence of their actions, McDonald’s moved quickly, confirming that they had terminated their relationship with Mr Vigors and would be taking over management of these two stores. Similarly, Express Travel Group -- a peak body for independent travel agents -- confirmed that they had terminated the membership of Mildura Travel and Cruise.
To see such quick and decisive action from these organisations was pleasing and created a sense of optimism amongst many in the Indigenous community.
If there was one highlight from this entire shameful situation for me though, it was the reaction from the Indigenous community. While many non-Indigenous people expressed disgust and sorrow at this example of blatant racism, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people took “it’s too strong for you, Karen” and ran with it, adopting it as a slogan of our community’s strength and resilience. Black Twitter lit up with memes, comedy, other things that were also too strong for Karen and a remix of the flag pulling by rapper and comedian Briggs.
At the end of the day though, the reason behind the Indigenous response can be summed up in six words: Rob and Karen are not anomalies.
We often use humour to cope with the everyday experience of Australian racism. Whilst non-Indigenous people see these instances of blatant bigotry and are (rightly) outraged, Aboriginal people live them. We’re immersed in them every single day. As Briggs said, “See, we’ve been dealing with 'Rob & Karen' our whole lives. This incident isn’t unique; this time it’s just been filmed..."
It goes deeper than that though. To us, Rob and Karen are not just the next door neighbours who drop over to sling some abuse -- they’re our political system and the continual policies governments have created to breed us out or forcibly assimilate us. Rob and Karen are the media and the endless space those who choose to dehumanise us are consistently allowed to take up. Rob and Karen are our educational system and its continual reinforcement of the Great Australian Silence -- erasing Indigenous history both pre and post-colonisation.
Rob and Karen are an excellent example of the terra nullius pro-assimilation policy mindset which permeates a large portion of the national psyche and they don’t exist in a vacuum. I believe a lot of non-Indigenous people see things like this and think these incidents highlight the “real racists” society needs to deal with. They don’t actually see Australian society being, in and of itself, racist. They state that these moments “make them ashamed to be Australian” but fail to recognise that Australia's treatment of Indigenous people is something to be continually ashamed of.
Human rights advocate Charandev Singh nailed it when he wrote “Rob and Karen have been subject to more public accountability and real consequences than every cop and prison officer who has been involved in Aboriginal killings in custody since Invasion”. Apart from the recent death in custody in Yuendumu, it’s rare these deaths gain notice in Australia. Our disproportionately high incarceration rates in the first place are also of no concern to most other people living here.
Every year, as we march on Invasion Day, we’re attacked and accused by many mainstream Australians of not getting over some obscure long ago incident from hundreds of years ago. There is almost no understanding that these events impact our lives today -- from the de facto indentured servitude of the failing Community Development Program right down to a pair of neighbours who don’t believe we belong in their suburb.
Unless we start to be honest about the fact that racism in Australia is a systematic issue which permeates every corner of our society rather than mere individual acts, the next video of an attack like this will only be a few days away. Through this lack of honesty, we foster the environments and ignorance that make these attacks possible. We will always be saying “goodnight, Karen”, but never “goodbye”.
Featured Image: Twitter (@toostrong4karen)