If you have been watching TV lately, you will have noticed that many advertisements include at least one black or brown person. Some of the family scenes, such as a black and white couple with kids that are clearly unrelated to either, are artificial to the point of absurdity. Actors with black or brown faces must be getting plenty of work.
Increasing sales is not the only purpose of these ads though; what they are doing is virtue signalling about diversity. It is the same reason there are many more black and brown presenters at the ABC and SBS.
Diversity is a bit like equality – despite multiple definitions, everyone thinks they know what it means. The definition driving certain advertisers and the ABC and SBS is racial diversity. That is, diversity based on race.
Discrimination based on race was once the definition of racism. I spent some months living and working in South Africa during the apartheid era and saw that up close: separate bus stops, separate queues at the post office, different rules for blacks, whites and coloureds. It was utterly obnoxious.
Some now say racism does not include discrimination in favour of non-white people, and that it includes Islamophobia, despite Islam being a religion which, like Christianity, is practised by many different races. I disagree; dealing with people based on the colour of their skin will always be racism and totally obnoxious. And signalling about it is certainly not virtuous.
That said, diversity itself is not the issue. As a country of immigrants Australia is incredibly diverse, something we might expect to see in our media. It is not healthy for either our democracy or civil society if people assume we all think the same because they never hear alternative views.
And that’s the point – it’s what we think that matters, not what we look like. Focusing on race, particularly the appearance of race, does not reflect our diversity. We should be hearing and seeing diversity of views.
This is particularly lacking at both the ABC and SBS, where viewpoints are only tolerated within narrow parameters. You might hear a range of views about how to redistribute wealth, whether Trump is worse than Hitler, or if climate change is a moral or an environmental crisis. But you are not likely to hear diverse views on privatising health services, female initiated domestic violence or restrictions on smoking.
And notwithstanding the brown and black faces, you also won’t hear such things as Indian immigrants discussing the merits of Australian coal exports to their former country, Aborigines debating how private enterprise can close the gap, or why so many Christian immigrants voted against same sex marriage.
Nor is that likely to change; there are no conservative hosts on TV or radio news or current affairs on the ABC or SBS, and their producers typically invite guests whose views conform to their own. They’d rather have a brown face than a contrary viewpoint.
In fairness, both the ABC’s former and current managing directors acknowledge the organisation lacks diversity of views, as does its Chairman, Ita Buttrose. But the ABC is not run by the MD or the Chairman – it is a workers’ collective. Nothing will change unless it is forced on them.
That begs the question: if the ABC and SBS were to commit to genuine non-racist diversity of views, what would it look like?
To start with, I suggest embracing the sentiments of the civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King, who said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.” That should put a stop to virtue signalling based on what people look like.
They should then make it their mission to reflect the diverse views of the community, including those in the outer suburbs, regional towns and country areas. If ten percent support Greens policies, let ten percent be reported instead of eighty percent. If thirty percent think the Prime Minister is incompetent, let’s hear that no more often. And of course, if sixty percent of people want more action on climate change, let’s also hear from the forty percent who don’t.
There is no single way to present diversity but focusing on views would be a lot more genuine than showing black and brown faces.