Australia, with it’s violent, tumultuous past rooted in colonialism, conquest and undeniable racism, stands today as a moderately well functioning example of a modern, multicultural society. That said, incredible sensitivities still exist within the society slowly moving away from it’s racist past. Though they are never too far from the headlines in Australia, one recent event has brought issues of race and racist perceptions to the forefront of both traditional and social media across Australian society.
On the 4th of August, to coincide with National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day, newspaper The Australian published a cartoon by cartoonist and satirist Bill Leak. The cartoon depicted, barefoot and beer can in hand, an aboriginal man being delivered his son by an aboriginal police officer who advises the father that he must talk to his son about personal responsibility. Leak then has the father retort with “Righto, whats his name then?”.
The cartoon was widely condemned as racist and perpetuating negative stereotypes, with the federal indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion branding the cartoon as “appalling” a depiction of “racist stereotypes” (Johnston, 2016).
Condemnation was widespread, with most media commentators, government officials and indigenous organisations turning on Leak and The Australian (Australian Broadcasting Corporation News, 2016). One of the most interesting reactions to the cartoon came from outside traditional media, though. In response to the implications of the cartoon, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander families took to social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter to reinforce the reality of most indigenous families. Pictures of happy, healthy, successful children and their parents flooded social media under the aggregator “#indigenousdads“.
However one stands on the controversy surrounding the original cartoon is irrelevant in the face of this particularly effective campaign. As well as being a specific response, the campaign was a grassroots movement of pride that would stand against negative stereotypes; particularly, as described by Chelsea Bond, Senior Lecturer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies at UoQ, “that Aboriginal dads can never be top blokes, because violence, abuse and neglect is so ingrained in Aboriginal culture” (Bond, 2016).
How effective was this campaign though, and will it have a lasting effect? As well as being disseminated widely on twitter, the campaign was featured frequently in mainstream, traditional media outlets, featuring on the front pages of Australian and international news websites, even garnering mentions and interest from those seeking to defend the cartoon that caused the original controversy (Kenny, 2016).
Dissemination, then, is not a problem for this particular campaign. Instead, to assess the success of the campaign, one must assess the lasting influence of it. Without any effective survey of public opinion of the matter, especially in such a short time period from the launch of the campaign, it is difficult to draw a definitive conclusion on this particular interventions effect. Instead, we must look at similar previous social media campaigns and draw comparisons between the two in the hopes of understanding the future effect of the #indigenousdads campaign.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to find an appropriate and measured example of a similar campaign. Where other campaigns have called for mass activism in political spheres to great effect, for example the Arab Spring (Davison, 2015, pp. 30- 33), #indigenousdads does not directly call for any specific, physical action. Instead the campaign is a push to change attitudes and images of Australian indigenous parents. It is because of this, the intangibility of the effect, that the outcomes of the campaign are hard to measure even with appropriate ethnographic and research initiatives.
At this stage, it is almost impossible to declare the effect of the campaign on society in general. Though not wanting to leave you on that particular note, it is worth mentioning that unlike many media campaigns, #indigenousdads was a response to a media expression and should be judged in comparison to what inspired it. As a response to the original cartoon the campaign was an incredibly effective protest, demonstrating the inaccuracy and danger of the stereotype promoted. It is this, the ability of grassroots users to communicate en mass with the larger public that makes social media campaigns valuable to a cause. The personality, charm, genuine love and pride displayed by those contributing to the campaign broadcast a positive image to effectively counteract a negative one. For this alone #indigenousdads should be considered a success.
2016, Bill Leak cartoon in The Australian an attack on Aboriginal people, Indigenous leader says, Australian Broadcasting Corporation News, viewed 10/8/16 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-04/cartoon-an-‘attack’-on-aboriginal-people,-indigenous-leader-says/7689248
Bond, C 2016 “The white man’s burden: Bill Leak and telling ‘the truth’ about Aboriginal lives”, The Conversation, 5/8/16, viewed 10/8/16 http://theconversation.com/the-white-mans-burden-bill-leak-and-telling-the-truth-about-aboriginal-lives-63524
Davison, S 2015, ‘An Exploratory Study of Risk and Social Media: What Role Did Social Media Play in the Arab Spring Revolutions?’, Journal of Middle East Media, vol. 11, pp. 1-33.
Johnston, C 2016, “Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion condemns ‘racist’ Bill Leak cartoon”, Sydney Morning Herald 4/8/16, viewed 10/8/16 http://www.smh.com.au/national/is-this-bill-leak-cartoon-in-the-australian-racist-20160804-gqkub9.html
Kenny, C 2016 “Outrage over Bill Leak cartoon misses the point”, The Australian, 9/8/2016, viewed 10/8/2016 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/chris-kenny/outrage-over-bill-leak-cartoon-misses-the-point/news-story/db1a205b2d78ff61a309ced66df226ae