Australian Racism and Sport
Unless it’s of little consequence I don’t like to comment on a topic until I’ve had time to digest and appreciate its complexity, and to look at a majority, if not all contributing factors and points of view. Otherwise, my view will have little intrinsic value. I’d only be adding to an already deafening chorus of bullshit interspersed with a few notes of reasoned commentary.
So having had ample time, the following is my take on the issues surrounding the treatment of Adam Goodes by AFL crowds, the media and the Australian population at large. I didn’t plan on this site incorporating my political or social views, but hey – I need an outlet to vent on this matter.
First of all, let me preface this by saying non-Aboriginal people do not get to decide what is or isn’t considered racist by Aboriginal people. It is neither your responsibility or privilege. Racism is defined by those who are its victims, not its perpetrators or potential perpetrators.
Secondly let’s get another important matter out in the open. Australia is not a multicultural society. What we have is a 227 year old monocultural society (white Australia), which continues to exist and is begrudgingly being forced to share real estate with a more recent 75 year old multicultural Australia, which at least exercises a vague acknowledgement of the prior 60,000 years.
Australian government, media and vital services are run by a monoculture, which undervalues women, misunderstands who or what multicultural Australia is, and sees Black Australia as an inconvenience, to be mentioned only when forced to negotiate mining leases.
Many liberated, fair-minded Australians of Anglo-Celtic and European extraction have left behind the ideals of white Australia, but a greater number have yet to throw off the white hoods. We live in a construct of white Australian origin where anything new, or different is met with suspicion and xenophobia. Where anything old and considered redundant is met in the same manner. Every generation sees White Australia reeling against a new tide of new ideas to struggle against. Tolerance of Makassan visitors, of Catholicism and Judaism, African convicts, Women’s liberation, Chinese rights on the gold fields, Japanese pearlers, Middle Eastern cameleers, post war European influx, Vietnamese boat people, Middle Eastern refugees, South Sudanese refugees, sexual liberation, Gay rights and so on and so forth. It doesn’t matter what shape or form those differences take – they will be challenged, attacked, and intolerance will be defended, at least for a decade or two, before racism, sexism, homophobia and the fear of difference is pushed back into the closet, without being destroyed, waiting to be employed by the ignorant masses once again when a new favourite enemy is found on the horizon.
This divisive approach to anything new is exercised with zeal within white Australia. Categorising people is a pastime for white Australians, which has spread and become a problem for multicultural Australia as well. Not only are we “Aussies” (white), “Wogs”, and “Abos”, we’re also westies, housos, bogans, and more. Whilst many reading this will rally with me against racism, how many of us are also comfortable using terminology like “bogan” in reference to what we might consider a subculture, whilst knowing deep down it’s an insult to a lower socio-economic section of society? Sound familiar? None of us are guilt free.
Being white means that by default, you are considered “normal”. You are an “Aussie”. You are not “ethnic”. The media that you own tells you how good you are. You can be a drunk, a rapist, a murderer, or a drunk rapist murderer and you won’t be presented as being representative of all white people. What’s more, if it did happen, you’ve had so much positive reinforcement that you wouldn’t believe it anyway. For Aboriginal people, we only see ourselves on TV when we have committed a crime. There are no mainstream programs that highlight the positives in our community, nor is there interest from the rest of Australia in seeing it. If we see a black face in advertising or local programming, despite their small community in Australia the agency will have hired a person of African ancestry, because in this country at least, this is seen as the less threatening option for enabling diversity.
Why is this relevant to Adam Goodes? Well, this is the crux of the matter. This is what Adam is up against. The ongoing, generational mistakes being made by white Australia, and that aremore and more apparent within multicultural Australia as well.
Every morning when an Aboriginal person wakes up we look in the mirror and we see the product of our ancestors love, their culture, and for most us – their skin colour as well. Being Aboriginal, and taking pride in who we are is at odds with how this nation within a nation views itself. We don’t fit in with the plan! We were supposed to have died out in the 1800’s, not rapidly multiplied!
In order for Australia to begin to come to terms with how to be accepting, rather than merely tolerant, it needs to take stock of its past, and know where it has made its mistakes. This is why this topic is so hard; it means white Australians accepting that they have inherited their position of power through the crimes of their ancestors, and that multicultural Australia cannot accept the values of the older white Australia. It means knowing that “sorry” is a display of empathy, in the same way that “Lest we Forget”, or “I’m sorry for your loss” means you care. It means that even if you don’t think you’re a racist, you probably are. Because your lack of being offended by a statement has no bearing on how those words will impact another person. It’s about how others feel. Not you.
A crowd filled with predominantly white people booing a black man, claiming that their actions do not equate to racism, and that it is a display of distaste for the man’s actions as a football player of less than sterling quality, is a disturbing demonstration of how strongly maintained the old world views of white Australia continue to dominate this continent.
“But the AFL is home to 71 other Aboriginal players, and none of them are copping such abuse, so how is this racism?” Really? Is that how this is being seen? That none of those Aboriginal players are now being forced to deal with the fact that the insecurities of white Australia are likely to result in the retirement of their brother, a spokesman for our people, and Australian of the Year? That this matter doesn’t affect those players now? It is not the job of football players to have to act as representatives of an entire people. Adam broke away and chose that role for himself, and his pride in his culture is not an invitation or justification for racism.
Once again white Australia is feeling uncomfortable. Someone has spoken out, acted as a tall poppy and is defying the station in life that the powers that be have assigned him, and the ignorant masses are doing what they always do in this situation. They are lashing out. They are clinging to any excuse, no matter how feeble. They will suggest that Adam’s style of play is the problem, whilst statistics put the gentleman in the middle of the pack. They will claim it is because he had objected to a 13 year old girl calling him an “ape” 3 years ago during a round which was dedicated to the celebration of the contribution to the AFL of Indigenous players. Sure, you might then find some empathy with the girl for her being ejected from the stadium, but at that age you either know what racism is, or you’re wearing the same brand of blinkers that the rest are guilty of wearing. If sympathy should be given to the girl, whom Goodes spoke to and came to an understanding with, why is it not coming from the media, and from the fans, who keep bringing her into this story, using her as justification for the espousing of ignorant and racist views?
People continue to also ask, why is it that this has been a problem in the AFL, whilst the alleged problem child of the sports world, the NRL, has been untouched? Well, that answer is reasonably easy to find as well, when you know the game’s history.
The NRL has never needed Nicky Winmar to defiantly point at the colour of his skin, in the face of racial taunts from the crowds, because rugby league owes its very existence to acceptance of diversity. It was borne of the brutality of the class system of England, as a form of rebellion against southern so-called gentlemen and their abuse of working-class northerners. It is a game that embraced diversity from its beginning, giving us the first Aboriginal captain of Australia in any sport, the first black man to captain Great Britain in any sport, the first Muslim to captain England and the first openly gay player. When Uncle Doug Nicholls was being forced out of Carlton for not being accepted by his teammates, rugby league was already awash with black players. It’s the sport that was home to the French resistance against Hitler during WWII and the one that embraced gypsies and players of Middle-Eastern origins. When an Aboriginal player does a war dance as a celebration after scoring a try, the crowd supports them, rather than fearing for their lives that an invisible spear might have their eye out. Racism exists in the game, but as less of a factor than you’d find in the general population, perhaps because its one of Australia’s most diverse communities and places of work.
The AFL have a long way to go to match the NRL in this regard, whereas in many other factors they are light years ahead, but the media has always been terrified of upsetting what remains a game with little diversity in its ranks. For a game that prides itself on how it allegedly treats Aboriginal players, why is that of the 71 players on AFL club books, that only 3 of them in 2012 were from the game’s heartland of Victoria? Why has that number dropped dramatically over time? Could it be the fact that the game is busy following white Australian made stereotypes and going out of its way to find “real blackfellas” outside of urban Australia, where most Aboriginal people actually live?
Waleed Aly, you’re usually right mate, but I can’t agree with you on this one. Australia is not tolerant. Australia is a nation divided, and the old money half of the equation is racist to the core.
Hell, I didn’t want to write all of this, but I figured that if I simply summed up my thoughts as a single line on twitter or facebook with “fuck white Australia” and “fuck the AFL”, my point may have been missed.