Nominees for the 2016 TV Week Gold Logie: (from left) Carrie Bickmore, Essie Davis, Grant Denyer, Scott Cam, Lee Lin Chin and Waleed Aly. Photo: TV Week
The thing about living in a society that has never properly acknowledged, let alone come to terms with, its racist foundations is that it doesn't take much for its repressed undercurrent of racism to bubble and froth its way to the surface.
To wit, a mere seven days after its near-meltdown over a university accurately describing Australia's history as an "invasion", the Daily Telegraph this week had conniptions because a whopping two out of six nominees for this year's Gold Logie are people of colour.
In a classic whinge masking as a piece of reporting, the Tele employed the old journalist's trick of finding anonymous sources who say what they think.
It begins reasonably enough. The headline, "The Logies: Embarrassing Gold nominees get poor reception from television industry" implicates the entire nominee list. But, because this is the Tele after all, things quickly take a turn when it becomes apparent the only unworthy nominees are The Project host Waleed Aly, and SBS's Lee Lin Chin.
One "well-placed TV insider" rails, "What has Waleed ever done? Because he does an editorial slapping someone down every now and then, does that qualify him for a Gold Logie?" Another "TV industry source" sniffs in the general direction of Lee Lin Chin who "has developed a huge cult following on social media… you have to wonder how many of those people who voted for her actually watch SBS World News."
Sure, it's the Tele and we can dismiss it as yet another of its attacks on anything that sits outside its white bread comfort zone. We can talk about how it exists to stoke the fear of white people alarmed at seeing brown and Asian people outside of taxis and ethnic restaurants.
Except it also shows how teeth-grindingly difficult it is to overcome centuries of racism and privilege. Remember, just two of the six nominees are people of colour. Two. But for the Daily Telegraph this is clearly too many.
While the race-baiting Murdoch press is one thing, the real clincher is the telling words of former Gold Logie winner Karl Stefanovic and his Today Show co-host Lisa Wilkinson. "She's too white" Stefanovic quipped on air when asked why Wilkinson didn't receive a nomination, to which Wilkinson added "I got a spray tan… and still didn't make it".
Yes, I understand it was meant as a "joke". I also understand that Mariam Veiszadeh, someone I respect enormously, came to Wilkinson's defence, saying on Twitter that she'd spoken with Wilkinson and "she didn't mean it like that".
I have reached out to Wilkinson for clarification on how she "meant it", but, in the absence of a further statement, her comments must be taken as they are. And, as they are, it appears that she joked about darkening her skin to curry favour.
The implication being that the non-white nominees – all two of them – got their nods unfairly and at the expense of white people. The four white ones obviously earned theirs "on merit".
If just two out of six is enough to compel childish outbursts like this, how will the Telegraphs and Stefanovics of this world react if we ever attain anything approaching actual equity?
It's the same old story every time a historically marginalised group makes even the slightest progress. Any disruption to the status quo is viewed not only as an insult but as a takeover.
As women, for instance, attain a greater presence in the media and in the workplace, they are regarded by men as taking up more space than they actually do. Geena Davis once pointed out how crowd scenes in movies usually comprise 17 per cent women. That's roughly one in six. Any more than that, and women are perceived to be outnumbering men. This is what Davis said to NPR in 2013:
"My theory is that since all anybody has seen, when they are growing up, is this big imbalance… that's what starts to look normal. And let's think about - in different segments of society, 17 per cent of cardiac surgeons are women; 17 per cent of tenured professors are women. It just goes on and on. And isn't that strange that that's also the percentage of women in crowd scenes in movies? What if we're actually training people to see that ratio as normal so that when you're an adult, you don't notice?"
The same can be said when it comes to the visibility of racial minorities. The gross imbalance in representation has come to be viewed as normal so that even two out of six – just 33 per cent – is enough to inspire a tantrum in a newspaper and cause TV personalities to joke they were overlooked on account of their whiteness.
Including, mind you, a white personality who himself once took aim at the overwhelming whiteness of our media landscape. Clearly, Stefanvoic thinks we ought to have some non-white faces on TV. But how many? Perhaps one out of six - the magic 17 per cent- would have been acceptable.
This is why we can't trust those who have benefited from privilege to be the ones tasked with ending it. Stefanovic was widely applauded – including by me – for his comments on race. But if this episode teaches us anything it is that those who have most to lose from equality cannot be objective about it. Because those who have benefited most from this unequal system – white men followed by white women – are so accustomed to the world looking a certain way that any change to it comes as an attack.
To those accustomed to privilege, every step towards equality may indeed resemble oppression. But to the rest of us, it's a marathon without an end.