Matchbox 20 singer Rob Thomas issued two apologies after making a racist joke onstage in Australia.
In a YouTube video of the singer’s Feb. 19 show in Melbourne, Australia, Thomas can be heard joking about how much alcohol he drank on the flight over.
“When you get on the plane on the way here, you start drinking,” the “3.a.m.” singer said, leaning over a piano on stage. “And then I drink until I think I’m Australian. And then I keep drinking until I think I’m a black Australian.”
Following the statement, boos could be heard in the background. While the YouTube video ends there, Thomas claimed he said something else following the joke: “And then I drank so much I thought I was a little Australian girl.”
The remarks touched on deep issues in Australian race relations, including the battle against stereotypical portrayals of Indigenous Australians as drunks.
“So @thegame gets denied entry to Aus. But @ThisIsRobThomas can stand in front of 14k people and dismiss it’s Indig. population as drunks?,” tweeted Australian hip hop star Briggs. Others echoed the sentiments.
Thomas, 44, issued two apologies, the first of which was made the same night as the Melbourne show. In it, Thomas claimed the joke was unintentional and stemmed from his lack of understanding about the cultural context in Australia.
“Please understand that although it is no excuse, I was completely unaware that in Australia there is a polarizing social issue happening right now involving indigenous people and alcohol,” Thomas wrote on his Facebook page. “When I was made aware of it, the ground fell out beneath me, and I realized that people may now see me as the exact opposite of who I am.”
He went on to say he was “completely gutted” about the impact of his words.
In a second apology posted the following day, Thomas took the opportunity to further explain himself and the intent of his humor.
“I said I drank until I thought I was Australian. Then I drank so much that I thought I was a black Australian and then I drank so much I thought I was a little Australian girl. These were 3 things I chose at random to represent 3 things I’m not. I’m not Australian. I’m not black and I’m not a little girl. Again, if I had any idea of the stereotype I would have chosen another example. There was absolutely no malice even in jest,” he wrote.
“I am truly sorry for how this came across, most of all to the indigenous people here. Australia has been so good to me for so long that I’m embarrassed I don’t know more about the history and the culture,” Thomas continued. “While I’m here I’m going to use this opportunity to rectify that. I promise you this!”
Thomas has since reached out via Twitter to Indigenous Australian photographer Barbara McGrady, perhaps to make good on that promise.
Maybe Thomas could also consider this suggestion from Australian Aboriginal health organization NACCHO and hold a benefit concert for the organization?