August 10, 2016 | Graham

What if Leak’s characters were white?

Apparently if you say anything critical of members of another race it is, according to a wide range of activists, twitterati, human rights commissioners and journalists, racist. That’s the only conclusion you can draw from the criticism of Bill Leak’s cartoon.

But let’s apply a test here. Something can only be racist if it is something which unfairly singles out a particular race for having a particular characteristic which it doesn’t.

I realise there is a bit of duplication in this definition, but if something is a race it has to have characteristics, so describing them couldn’t be described as racist. It would only be if you treated them unfairly for having those characteristics, or drew unwarranted conclusions from those characteristics, or imputed characteristics to them that weren’t theirs, that you could be said to have done something negative based on race.

Is it racist to say that African Americans will do well in the sprints at the Olympics? I don’t think so. Seems to be objectively true, and while it might be broadly based on race, it is not unfair, unwarranted, or a false imputation.

What about Leak’s cartoon? Well I think it can only be racist if his observations single out one race, and do so unjustly. A good test of this is whether the cartoon would be regarded as being racist if the characters were white.

That resolves itself to a question of whether white children going into detention could be the product of bad parenting. Seems to be a no-brainer that this would be the case in a wide range of cases, and a cartoon pointing this out would be a worthy addition to the debate.

In which case the cartoon Leak drew cannot be regarded as being racist, because its message does not impute anything based on racial characteristics, but family characteristics. It correctly describes a situation and suggests that the problem might lie more with the family than the institution in which they are incarcerated.

So what is going on? Why is a decent man like Bill Leak being pilloried as a racist?

I think two things are at play – tribalism and guilt.

Take a situation in what might be my family, or yours, where we might all know that one of our siblings is a dead beat. We’ll have vicious, behind the scenes gripes about them, and maybe manouever to get them out of the will.

But if someone comes along from outside the family and criticises them, chances are we will circle the wagons and turn on the outsider.

While tribalism is understandable, it can’t be allowed to ultimately dictate what happens in a democracy where everyone is held to be equal. If we have a tribe, it is Australia.

In terms of guilt, I think Leak has undermined his crusade by backing the #indigenousdads movement. I understand why good indigenous fathers would recoil at what they are seeing in the Northern Territory, but the appropriate response is not to redirect attention by saying “Look at me, I’m indigenous and I’m a good dad.”

To be blunt, that is either a narcissistic response, or one that is driven by a deep feeling of attachment to the wrong that is being done, and an attempt to deflect the guilt that one is feeling.

The correct response is the hard one. It is to say “How can I help to do something about the situation that people who are ethnically related to me are creating?”

And it is hard, because after 50 or 60 years of trying by all levels of government, that situation appears to be getting worse, not better.

My suspicion is that happens because we persist in treating those Aboriginal communities as being indigenous, rather than human. Our Aboriginal and Islander policies, while trying to be non-racist, have in fact been completely racist, unfairly imputing racial characteristics that don’t exist to communities in our nation.

Up until the 60s Aborigines were counted amongst the fauna on this continent (but see comment below by Barry York), and you can see that attitude in landscape paintings from the 18th Century on, where they are as likely to dot the background as kangaroos.

But we are still treating Aborigines as a different sort of humanity, not as capable as the rest of us.

That is where Leak’s cartoon cuts in and has such force. It is being called racist, because it actually calls out the racist attitude that many “educated” Australians, and many activists, have to our indigenous.

If the characters were white, there would be no furore. Neither should there be, seeing that they are black.





Posted by Graham at 9:55 pm | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. The claim that “Up until the 60s Aborigines were counted amongst the fauna on this continent” is false. They were counted in all censuses from 1911, but there was no legal obligation to do so. Those counted were mostly people who resided near townships and cities. Check the Census volumes for yourself and you’ll see the data on Aborigines. The legal obligation to count all Aborigines in the Census came about in the affirmative 1967 Referendum, and all were counted for the first time in 1971. It was scandalous that it took so long.

    Comment by Barry York — August 11, 2016 @ 6:51 am

  2. A couple of things are in play – those of the political Left believe that white heterosexual (preferably Christian) males are innately racist, bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic, are more likely to inflict domestic abuse, carry white guilt for whatever crimes their ancestors did or didn’t do, and possess no worth whatsoever except for paying taxes to fund Socialist projects. So a cartoon showing a white deadbeat dad with a delinquent son rings true for them, it reinforces their prejudices.

    On the other hand, the only message that the political Left take away from a cartoon showing a black deadbeat dad with a black delinquent son is that whites are being racist again. The political Left have put Aboriginals so far into a victim box that they perceive any acting out, any bad behaviour as their punching up against evil racist white majority. So every time a magistrate lets a black offender off with a warning, the victim box is strengthened. Everytime authorities turn a blind eye to the horrors that go on in Indigeneous settlements, the victim box is reinforced. Until the political Left is removed from Aboriginal affairs, Aboriginals will never be allowed to climb out of the victim box that they are entrapped in.

    Comment by Rose — August 11, 2016 @ 7:04 am

  3. Thanks Barry, see the note I have left in the article itself. I picked up the claim about Aborigines only being counted amongst the fauna from the interview of one of the instigators of #indigenousdads. I should have checked it.

    Comment by Graham — August 11, 2016 @ 7:51 am

  4. This carton will disturb some folks, force a few to take a good long look in the mirror? And stir others into a unimaginable rage, given it does what a good social commentary cartoon is supposed to do?

    Make some folks take a good long hard look at themselves, and their flawed rationale and attitudes?

    Instead of the usual blame shifting, it’s all whitey’s fault verbal vomit?

    And possibly underlines the point that those lads, recently in the news as incorrigible juvenile delinquents, Weren’t born bad to the bone!

    But what you get, via years of parental neglect and traditional routine abuse, neither you or I would not likely tolerate even if it were dealt out to a flea bitten cur?

    I can’t even begin to imagine what the answer is? Perhaps tough love that culminates in brutalized boys leaving an institution or prison farm with a useful trade, a brand new attitude and few really pleasant memories of their time and the folk who turned them around with a modicum of reward based TLC?

    Even so, no picnic! But life changing reeducation and resocializing that can only end, when they’re completely rehabilitated by just doing the hard yards?

    Rather than some completely arbitrary time that terminates with the job half done and an even more resentful recidivist sent somewhere to happen?

    I just know it can’t ever be the environment and the incorrigible folks who created the problem initially and only ever think of their children as property to be fought over?

    Nor the inherently violent knuckle dragging neterendals charged with rehabilitating these boys!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — August 11, 2016 @ 10:57 am

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