Sorry Karl Stefanovic, Racist Cartoons Don't Belong In A Theme Park
A woman has called out Sydney's Luna Park for showcasing a piece of racist artwork in its ‘Coney Island’ section.
The illustration features a white woman at a fortune-teller machine displaying the words: “You will meet a dark gentleman soon”. Standing next to the woman is a racist caricature of a black man -- one that has long been used to denigrate black populations in Australia, the US and elsewhere.
According to the News Corp, a spokeswoman for the theme park did not wish to comment on the situation but instead asked for a disclaimer sign next to the illustration to be released to the public.
On a 2GB radio show, presenter Karl Stefanovic supported the displaying of the artwork. "I think it’s risqué... but I think the guy’s the man about town... he looks like he's going to have a great evening," he said. "For me, it's not too much of an issue. Everyone probably needs to take a little bit of a holiday."
Sorry, Karl, but there’s literally nothing ‘risqué’ about racism and the denigration of non-white populations -- especially Aboriginal people -- in 2019.
The racist stereotyping of non-white people is as old as settler Australia itself. From the very onset of colonisation, Aboriginal people were subject to unfathomable levels of violence and injustice, too numerous and wide-ranging to draw out here.
Stereotyped depictions of black people -- like the one on display at Luna Park -- aided in the dehumanisation that made all that injustice possible.
In releasing this disclaimer, Luna Park seems to be making the case that it doesn't necessarily support the artwork -- it’s simply a bit of fun racist memorabilia. As the theme park’s disclaimer sign reads: “Great care has been taken to present Coney Island to you in the same way it was presented to park guests in the 1930s and 1940s. Many of the themes reflect the customs, attitudes and culture of another time. Today some of the heritage paintings may be preserved for their social, cultural and artistic value, for your appreciation, reflection and enjoyment”.
And look, I’m not trying to get in the way of a good time. Racist artwork is obviously very enjoyable, especially for those who are the butt of the joke, or who have had to grapple with racism their whole lives.
But is a theme park really the right place for this sort of reckoning? As far as I know, theme parks are meant to be fun. If you're shelling out $150 on a family pass -- especially if you’re not white -- the last thing you need is an unwelcome encounter with a racist cartoon slapped onto a back wall.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for this sort of imagery at all. These illustrations, for example, can provide an important historical backdrop to contemporary racist events -- for example, last year’s famous Serena Williams cartoon or Australia’s love affair with blackface. But that place is probably a museum, where this racially-loaded imagery can be curated by the right people and handled with cultural sensitivity and tact.
My guess is that many people of colour and Aboriginal people, there’s nothing ‘risque’, as Stefanovic puts it, about Luna Park keeping this artwork in place. What would be risqué is acknowledging the harm that these images have historically done, and continue to do, to Aboriginal people and people of colour.
And having the guts to get rid of it.