Regrettable Mistake ... or Racism? Investigating the Adut Akech Bior Controversy
A question: until recently had you ever heard of South Sudanese-Australian model Adut Akech? No, me neither, a fact I suspect is due to a combination of our innate racism and philistinism, or so she probably would have us believe. Last week, Akech, the “ambassador” for Melbourne Fashion Week was the subject of a feature article in Who Australia magazine. Unfortunately, the image accompanying the story was that of Flavia Lazarus, a Ugandan-Australian model.
In an Instagram post, Akech attributed the error to racism. “I feel like my entire race has been disrespected,” she stated, also adding, somewhat ironically, that the magazine’s mistake was “not intentional”. What began as a bad case of “Don’t you know who I am” has now resulted in outrage publicity across the globe. Who has apologised to her, as has Melbourne City Council’s press agency, OPR, said to be responsible for the error. So too has Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp, who has since met with Akech, saying that council will work to ensure “these acts of discrimination, whether intentional, blasé or blindly, do not keep happening”. Oh, the humanity!
Despite ostensibly accepting these apologies, Akech said they were “not going to undo anything”. Well no, short of conjuring up Dr Who’s TARDIS I do not see how they can undo the mistake. “Australia you’ve a lot of work to do and you’ve got to do better and that goes to the rest of the industry,” she declared. I have no idea what she expects the rest of us to do. Would it make her feel any better if Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologises on behalf of the nation for this administrative error, or if say we arranged for Cher to dress up in fishnet stockings and sing If I Could Turn Back Time on the deck of the HMAS Canberra?
Lazarus also reacted strongly to the error, saying it was “so embarrassing” and had brought her to tears. This is not doing anything to dispel the stereotype that models are prima donnas. Only last month it was a far happier Lazarus reacting to the news that she would feature in Melbourne Fashion week. “It is crazy,” she said. “I almost felt like ‘how is this happening?’”
If I may be so bold, it is happening because Lazarus, like Akech, was fortunate that Australia granted her refugee status when she was just a child. As a result these women have realised dreams that would have been impossible had they remained in their native countries. A token acknowledgement of this would be nice, but just consider this undated interview Lazarus gave online journal Where Are You From?. During this she complained about the rigours of working in retail and the “predominantly white middle-aged women” who would compliment her and ask whether she was an immigrant or born in Australia. “White Australia only understands what is beneficial for them,” she stated.
No doubt her colleague Akech would agree. “Overseas a lot of people are getting called out for it so a lot of people are scared to be the ones getting called out for racism or not having enough diversity in their shows or their campaigns,” she stated this week. “That fear has not reached Australia yet and therefore Australia is still kind of behind.”
Interestingly, Akech’s use of the words “scared” and “fear” inadvertently reveals what is central to so-called anti-racism campaigns: they do not rely so much on education or goodwill to spread their message. Rather, they are punitive in the sense that allegations of racism are a powerful weapon, irrespective of their veracity. Consequently, individuals and organisations will do much to placate and indulge those prone to making them, thus creating a lucrative industry for grievance caterwaulers. This is exacerbated in turn by the fact there is little or no deterrent for making false allegations of racism.
We saw an example of this only last week in the case of Yak Dut. In 2017 the Kenyan-born man, 22, violently assaulted two female Victorian police officers after a pursuit that began when they tried to book him for driving with a flat tyre. Striking one in the head, shoulder and face with a roundhouse kick, he referred to them as “slut dogs”, saying police were “racist c**ts”. One of the officers required surgery and spent eight weeks recovering. In addition, Dut later threatened to shoot both officers with their firearms, saying if necessary, he would do it at their homes in front of their mother, partner and children.
He also told police “I will get away with anything because I’m black. I will play the race card.” Pleading guilty last week, he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment but was released due to time already served and given a community corrections order, which the judge said was “essential for your successful rehabilitation”.
Then there is the case of South Sudanese-Australian Adau Mornyang, another model and former refugee, who was found guilty this year of a felony charge of interference with a flight crew member and a misdemeanour assault. In January 2019 on a Melbourne to Los Angeles flight an intoxicated Mornyang slapped a United Airlines flight attendant in the face and kicked an air marshal in the chest. During the unprovoked attack she referred to a crew member as “f…king white trash bitch” and a “white-ass bitch”.
When another crew member had tried to calm her, she accused him of racism, saying he “was not talking [like that] to any of the white passengers”. Despite the charges carrying a maximum of 21 years imprisonment, she was fined only $2840 — which was waived — and ordered to perform 100 hours community service.
As for the purveyors of racially-based victimhood, they zealously guard the doors to this exclusive club and all the benefits membership entails. This week a joint ANU/University of Western Sydney survey of around 4600 primary and high school students in NSW and Victoria revealed that one in three had experienced racial bullying or racial discrimination from fellow students. Among those who had suffered, however, were students of Anglo-Saxon heritage. Appearing on The Drum this Tuesday, ABC Radio National presenter and Beverley Wang indicated their inclusion was “problematic”.
“For me as a person of colour I think that’s a bit of a flag and sometimes needs some clarification”, she stated. “We need to … draw very clear boundaries about what is racism and what is bullying.”
Normally I would say that this is a spurious distraction designed to avoid acknowledging inconvenient truths; however, we cannot discount that the white supremacist literature we took in as children has skewed our judgement. I am talking about children’s author Enid Blyton, creator of beloved books such as The Faraway Tree and the Famous Five series. This week it was revealed the Royal Mint had blocked a release of a Blyton commemorative coin, fearing a “backlash”, as the author — who died in 1968 — was supposedly “a racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer”.
Commenting on the decision, a spokeswoman for the Royal Mint said: “The point of the advisory committee is to ensure that themes commemorated on UK coins are varied, inclusive and represent the most significant events in our history.” Yes, sadly whoever authored that drivel presumably would be the first so say Blyton’s writing was substandard.
We can look forward to more dogmatic insistences about racism, whether real or imagined, the intention being to indoctrinate the listener and reinforce minority privilege. Wang, who also presents the ABC podcast “It’s Not a Race”, stated during her recent appearance on The Drum that racism was “the air that we breathe and the water that we swim in”. It is “omnipresent to those of us who experience it,” she added.