All Together Now: Jen, you’re a comedian and you are going to be working with All Together Now on our Firth Year Anniversary [event], so we would just like to discuss with you a bit about why you wanted to be involved in the anniversary celebrations?
Jen: Well Jennifer Wong originally told me about it all and I think it is important. I like to talk about things on stage with comedy that I think need to be discussed and aren’t, and sometimes people joke off and pretend that they don’t–that they aren’t problems.
But obviously racism in Australia is [a problem] and it is nice to sort of bring it to the forefront and to be part of it. I think it is important to be part of it, you know? It is easy to sit quietly and be like ‘Well I don’t think racism is good’ and all those types of things. But, unless you are actually doing something sometimes it is kind of pointless.
All Together Now: How do you then incorporate racism into your comedic acts or other taboo issues?
Jen: I like to talk about stuff people won’t talk about and so, I talk about things that have happened to me personally or my family and I just discuss it in a normal way like how we are talking now. I don’t like making them a big deal on stage because that doesn’t help to open the conversation up. So, I like to talk about bigger topics the same way I talk about going for coffee, cause then it is just speaking about it in an effortless way. That’s kind of how it should be brought up I think.
All Together Now: So, people are more receptive to the discussion then if you were, like, yelling or talking at them?
Jen: Yeah, I don’t like to scream it at people because I think, I mean what’s the point? Because if you are being that aggressive people who don’t agree with you are going to switch off to the conversation. So, if you just talk about it in a relaxed way at least it might trigger something in someone’s brain or they might talk about it with someone else or it just kind of puts it on the table as a conversation that should be had.
All Together Now: So, how have you personally dealt with incidents of racism in your life?
Jen: Well, we were talking about this before, I look white. I am white. I have European parents. They are from Hungary and Italy. They both came to Australia on boats when they were younger. And in High School one of my them very close male friends didn’t know that and I didn’t think it was a big deal…It came up one day because someone made a racist comment about someone else coming on a boat.
I said, “Oh, both my parents actually same here on boats you know?” And he found that at and he literally stopped speaking to me. And it wasn’t even casual jokey racism where you may question like ‘Oh he’s being silly and trying to tease me and it’s kind of hurting.’ No—it was…blatant! He was just like, “Oh my god! You are gross! I had no idea you were one of those people.” I was so young I didn’t know what to do with it.
All Together Now: It’s the shock.
Jen: Yeah! Cause I was like ‘If I’m getting this, looking how I look from someone who I considered quite a good friend…then what the hell is everyone else getting?’ Do you know what I mean?
All Together Now: Yeah, yeah.
All Together Now: It was weird. He’s a moron and obviously hated himself a lot but yeah I just didn’t know what to do with it. It was the weirdest—it was really odd.
All Together Now: It is very unusual when someone is so open and blatant about it.
Jen: Yeah, that’s what’s so shocking!
All Together Now: [It’s like] ‘What? I can’t believe this is happening?!”
Jen: In the beginning, [I was thinking] ‘Oh, it’s just a weird joke that he’s not letting go of?’ The logical part of your brain would be: Why would someone’s opinion of you do a 360 purely because something that doesn’t really matter to me? But then you realise: Oh it matters to them, in a really strange way that I don’t get in any way.
I just didn’t know what to do with it as a young person. It was just gross.
All Together Now: Obviously, how important do you think to the Australian society is to to have an open conversation on racism and how it is effecting us?
Jen: Very very important. ‘Cause Australians, like, mask it in other things. They try and mask it in humor and they try and–
There’s loads of, like, casual racism that happens. I mean I worked with a girl the other day who made some comment about Asian people. Like, and I was sort of stumped; like are you serious?
‘Cause it’s so common that people just say things that are inappropriate. So, unless you call them on it they don’t even notice. (yeah) And when I did, cause I was sort of quite shocked; are you seriously saying that to me? And then, I thought about it: ‘Even if she was jocking it is still doesn’t make it okay. It’s still totally messed up.’ You know what I mean?
All Together Now: Yeah, of course.
Jen: But, because we are so attuned to, like, ‘Well they’re just kidding when they say something completely horrible’ it sort of justifies it in some weird way. Which it doesn’t.
I think there needs to be, like, a shift in the mentality towards it…because you never know who’s around you never know…it’s, I mean, for the main reason that it’s completely wrong. But then–
One of the girls I work with, um, her mum’s from Malaysia [and] her dad is German. Looking at her you wouldn’t know her mum is from Malaysia. And we work in a place–er, at the airport, so loads of people come through. And you wouldn’t believe the amount of comments she gets that are racist towards just Asia, again, just the whole place.
And she just stands there gob smacked; just like, you know?
And it’s just done so casually. Cause they’re like, ‘Oh it’s harmless because it’s just between you and me, and you’re not Asian. So, who cares?’ It’s like, well not really! You know?
All Together Now: Yeah! Thanks very much for your time Jen and we look forward to seeing you at the Fifth [Year] Anniversary [event].
Jen: Thank you for having me.
Want to listen to the audio? You can do so here.
Week 2 – New York:
I’ve been spending this week in New York, visiting with some very inspiring people who have dedicated their life to work to achieve racial justice.
The message I have clearly heard this week is that to reduce racism in the long term you must address institutional racism. Addressing interpersonal racism is a good start – you need to start somewhere – but for sustainable, long term change policies and practices need to be made more equitable.
For example I met with Tiffany Warren, the Founder and President of AdColor which works to celebrate, inspire and champion people of colour working in the advertising, marketing and related industries. Frustrated at being one of the few people of color in the industry, Tiffany started out by organising an awards event. Over the last eight years she has grown the organisation to include the AdColor Diversity Summit, AdColor University to train people working in the industry, and AdColor Futures to train and inspire up-and-coming leaders of the industry.
Later on, I met with Maya Iwata, the Director of Development at Race Forward. I really admire this organisation, which takes a very evidence-based and mature approach to racial justice. Their main areas of work are research, publishing the very popular Colorlines online journal, and training for racial justice. Race Forward’s report on Moving the Race Conversation Forward analysing the mainstream media’s reportage on race issues is a must-read. They also present Facing Race a biennial national conference, which is the largest multi-racial and inter-generational gathering for organizers, educators, creatives and other leaders.
I also met with Sandy Bernabei from the Anti-Racism Alliance which is a New York grassroots movement for racial equity, and is the local organising arm of group of the national organisation Peoples’ Institute for Survival and Beyond. Sandy highlighted the importance of training activists before they begin organising so that every activist understands the country’s history and has a basis for action.
So later this week I will be meeting with Jessie Daniels. Jessie is one of the founders and authors behind Racism Review, another fantastic online journal about race and racism. Jessie also wrote the book “Cyber Racism” which explains how white supremacists use the internet to spread messages of racial hate and offers ideas for countering this.
There are many more amazing racial justice organisations in the United States, but unfortunately this leg of my trip is about to come to an end. At the end of this week I will be travelling to London where I hope to learn more about how British and European organisations effectively address racism. More soon!