The evolution of racist language in Australia

3 minute read

Prue MacSween is a loud and opinionated journalist and social commentator. She has a very public profile and she uses that profile and the platform she’s given as a result, to say what she wants, when she wants, with seemingly little consequence. She’s no stranger to controversy, and in fact, it’s probably her propensity to offend and alienate, that gives her the arena in which to spout her racist stream of consciousness. In short, she’s a ratings winner. But at what cost?

MacSween has a long history of casting aspersions and spitting venom at individuals and community and sub-cultural groups that she either does not understand or blindly refuses to understand. She has degraded ethnic groups, she has disrespected women in the military, she has attacked Australian parents stating that ‘they’re lazy’ and don’t know their responsibilities, and she has made inflammatory and deeply offensive comments about indigenous Australians and the stolen generation. And yet, MacSween continues to have a platform to express and share her views, with seemingly little consequence.

Most recently, Prue MacSween appeared on Nine’s Today Show where she stated that divisive Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios ‘should have been slapped as a child.’ She continued to say that ‘he’s a spoilt little Greek brat who’s probably being treated like a Prince’ and that ‘…Greeks do spoil their kids…’ And if the abhorrence of these words wasn’t enough to turn viewers away, in an attempt to recover, Prue unwittingly dug deeper into her casually racist repertoire to follow with her claim that she actually loves the Greeks and loves souvlaki. And again, this woman, with all of her baseless views, uneducated opinions, and complete lack of cultural sophistication, continues to have a platform to speak in this way with seemingly little or no consequence. Because we let her.

As it turns out, Kyrgios is an Australian tennis player. And interestingly, he is labelled an Australian tennis player when he’s winning; because we love the glory. But when he’s losing, in game and in attitude, people like Prue MacSween comfortably shun him and call him anything but Australian not realising that by doing so, real damage is being done to the Australian image and psyche; more than any damage, a young and emotive tennis player can do.

Now this isn’t about defending Kyrgios in any way. His behaviour at the Italian Open was so obviously out of line that it hardly warrants discussion. As such, Prue MacSween could have expressed her outrage in any number of ways that would not have pained Australians of Greek and non-Greek heritage alike. She could have said that she was disappointed in him or that his behaviour was inappropriate and should have no place in the game of tennis. She could have called him juvenile, a sore loser, or an example of bad sportsmanship. None of these labels would have caused an entire community to recoil and pulsate in united disapproval and derision. But the moment that she called Kyrgios a ‘spoiled little Greek brat,’ she spoke from a place of racial superiority and racial intolerance.

The kind of casual, run-of-the-mill racism that Prue espoused so unabashedly on the Today Show was cringeworthy, yes. But more than that, it has again highlighted the importance of language and the dangers of leaving comments like Prue’s unchecked. Met with seemingly little consequence, this form of racism, can take on a disturbing trajectory. It can easily be trivialised and turned into a joke, and it’s difficult to take a joke seriously. From there it can very quickly move toward tolerance and acceptance, and, before you know it, it isn’t really racism at all. When in fact it is.

Kyrgios is Australian, and like many Australians, his heritage is colourful and unique. His mother is Malaysian and his father is Greek. But none of this has any bearing on tennis or how he plays it. He is an adult and like any adult is accountable for his actions and inactions. The ethnicity of his parents has no relevance to his performance as a tennis player. What Prue MacSween said was, quite simply racism at play. And so long as we have a society of people with views like Prue’s and people willing to air those views and give them a wide audience, racism will not only remain in this country, but it will flourish and thrive.

This article was first published on Neos Kosmos