Thomas apologized on Facebook following the Saturday night show in Melbourne, where he made a joke about dealing with jetlag by drinking. “And then I drink until I think I’m Australian, and I keep drinking until I think I’m a black Australian,” he told the crowd.
The joke was viewed by some Australians as derogatory toward the country’s Aboriginal population. Aborigines are the poorest ethnic group in Australia, and many remote indigenous communities have high rates of substance abuse.
Thomas said he was unaware of the cultural sensitivities surrounding indigenous Australians and it wasn’t until after the show that he was told he had said something considered racist.
“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 in a Facebook post. “Everyone who knows me is aware that for the past 20 years I have been a fervent supporter of civil rights, so I am incredibly embarrassed by my ignorance.”
Thomas is touring Australia to promote his new solo album, The Great Unknown. He has seven more shows to play, including a Wednesday performance in front of Sydney’s famed Opera House.