Qantas has been embarrassed by a publicity stunt on Twitter that backfired. The airline yesterday issued an apology for awarding free tickets to the Bledisloe Cup on Saturday night to two Brisbane men who ”blacked up” to impersonate their favourite Wallaby.
It removed a photo on its Twitter page of the two men dressed – and face-painted – to look like the Wallabies star Radike Samo. Qantas had awarded the men the $378 platinum tickets last week.
To win, competitors had to tell Qantas via Twitter how they intended to show their support for the Wallabies at the match. Charles Butler, on his Twitter account pek-anan, promised to ”dress as Radike Samo. Complete with Afro Wig, Aus rugby kit and facepaint”. He and another man later got Samo to pose in a photograph with them in their wigs, and with their faces painted black. Qantas’s Twitter account tweeted an image of the two men yesterday, saying they had ”lived up to their promise! Good work”.
Advertisement: Story continues below However a stream of posts called the photo racist and said it was reminiscent of a 2009 Hey Hey It’s Saturday ”blackface” routine that caused a storm, and which American entertainer Harry Connick Jr – who was appearing on the show – reacted to with horror. The airline immediately took down the photo, sending apologetic tweets to people who said it was racist.
When Qantas spokeswoman Sophia Connelly was contacted by the Herald yesterday, she said: ”We apologise that the photo … offended some people.” She later rang back with a statement provided to Qantas by Samo that said he did not know what all the fuss was about. ”These guys were actually paying me a tribute. It was a bit of fun, and I think they regarded me as their favourite Wallaby. I don’t have an issue with it at all, I was glad to be in a photo with them.”
Benjamin Miller, the associate director of the Writing Hub at the University of Sydney, said there was a difference with rugby fans blacking up as a tribute to players, rather than in mockery. ”The problem for blackface for tribute is whether everyone looking at it understands it that way,” Dr Miller, who in 2009 wrote a PhD on blackface in Australian and American culture, said. ”It’s a dangerous form of tribute in that it can so easily be misread as mockery. You certainly don’t get non-white rugby fans dressing up in whiteface.”
Stephen Ryan, the chairman of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, said he was shocked by the behaviour of the men, but more stunned that Qantas ”wouldn’t have known such a stunt could backfire … It’s hard to believe that a company that has used Aboriginal iconography to try and improve its image didn’t know that this could easily be construed as racist”.
Ryan said. ”There’s nothing funny about the demonisation of indigenous people by non-indigenous people. Never has been, never will be.”