Hey, Hey – That’s Racist!

Apparently earlier this month, Harry Connick Jr. appeared on as a guest judge on an Australian live sketch show called “Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday” involving a segment where celebrity judges rate amateur live acts. A group came on to perform a “tribute” to the Jackson Five and Michael Jackson — with the “Jacksons” in black-face and “MJ” in whiteface.

Here’s a YouTube of the entire segment, as well as the apology the show made to Connick later in the hour:

First of all, I don’t care what country you’re in, that shit is racist! Sure, America has a national history of racial insensitivity and outright oppression, but just because Australia didn’t fight a Civil War about oppression doesn’t mean that it is exempt from being  racist and offensive. A man in blackface standing alone at the North Pole is still in blackface.

After the show aired, the frontman for the “Jackson Jive” commented:

I want to say on behalf of all of us that this was really not intended to have anything to do with racism at all.

But how could you argue that the skit didn’t have anything to do with racism? Racialized make-up such as the kind donned by the self-described “Jackson Jive” is intended to caricature and mock racial physical features in an attempt to emulate a race of people, often paired with demeaning buffonery, and has been historically used around the world to diminish people of colour. What the “Jackson Jive” did is no different than Al Jolson donning blackface in The Jazz Singer or Mickey Rooney donning yellowface in Breakfast at Tiffany’s — each and every one of these people wore colour-face to play a racial stereotype for largely White audiences, and each and every one of them should have known better.

And if there was any doubt that the entire fiasco was not borne out of ignorance, consider that the “Jackson Jive” know enough about race relations to use the word “jive” in their group’s name — a clear reference to the “shucking and jiving” that Blackface minstrels performed at the turn of the last century. 

What’s truly shocking about the segment is the lack of commentary any of the two other judges made about it. Connick was clearly offended, but neither of the other judges even questioned the offensive use of blackface; indeed, the show’s host, Daryl Somers commented that the “Jackson Jive” won the variety show’s contest when they performed the same schtick back in 1998. Clearly, even only ten years ago, the producers of “Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday” saw nothing wrong with demeaning Black people around the world (and in Australia!)  by praising this kind of racism.

Later, on CNN, Somers defended the “Jackson Jive” by calling them a tribute to Michael Jackson and essentially calling Americans (like Connick) humorless for not “seeing the lightness of it”. Which sort of makes the whole on-air apology to Connick ring a little false, no? Again, that skit was funny — if you think racism is hilarious.

Sadly, while I applaud Connick for actually speaking out against the sketch and getting an on-air apology from the show, Connick hasn’t gone so far as to boycott future appearances on “Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday”. What the producers really need to do is apologize to the world’s Black community; blackface really has no place in today’s world — whether in Australia or America.

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