A Few Words on Adam Goodes and Racism in Australia

A large and vocal proportion of Australians have convinced themselves that it’s perfectly OK to relentlessly boo a proud Indigenous athlete.

They angrily deny all allegations of racism, saying instead that it’s Goodes’ character that prompts their abuse.

They point to his decision to publicly call out a 13-year-old girl at the MCG for calling him an ape – during ‘Indigenous Round’, no less – displaying an alarming lack of sympathy for what it must feel like to be on the other end of a racial taunt.

They say that because he has a white father, he is not qualified to lead a national discussion on race relations. As if his blood must be 100% pure Aboriginal to take an honest stand against racism.

They claim he was an undeserved recipient of the 2014 Australian of the Year award. They say his acceptance speech was ‘divisive’.

And in what is perhaps the most laughable ongoing justification for booing Goodes, they maintain that he stages for free kicks.

For the last fucking time, Goodes doesn’t play for free kicks more than anyone else. There are plenty of statistics available to prove this fact. You just think he does, because you’re always watching him. Because Goodes is very visible, isn’t he? Every single move he makes, I bet you’re watching him.

When the fans see Goodes, they feel something. They probably don’t even know what it is, but it’s definitely something. He provokes a visceral response, as many Indigenous athletes do. We see ‘them’ – and we instantly know ‘they’ are different. Different to ‘us’, the white, entitled audience.

‘They’ have a ‘magical’, ‘mercurial’, ‘delicious’ quality to their play, so we’re told. We either love them or loathe them, but rarely anything in between. For years, Indigenous athletes have been spoken about using these same aforementioned terms – an issue that Goodes himself has taken umbrage with before. We do not see them as equals, on or off the field. We still see them as ‘other’. We celebrate their differentness only when it’s convenient to us.

AFL is ‘our’ game – and Indigenous players bring a dash of spice to an otherwise bland dish.

How quick we are to jump to our feet as Lewis Jetta sets off on a thrilling 100 metre sprint, or snaps a goal from an impossible angle. But to conduct a defiant war dance out of solidarity to Goodes? That’s going too far, pal.

Stay silently mercurial; know your place.

*  *  *

There are a lot of Australians who feel this argument is futile. They’re exasperated. In this country, it’s damn near impossible to have a rational debate about anything anymore.

There are two types of Australian: 1) the wilfully ignorant and 2) the frustrated idealist. And they really don’t like each other.

The wilfully ignorant Australian spends his or her weeknights on the couch, watching an interchangeable mix of home renovation and cooking reality programs, where other white faces compete against each other on shows hosted by other well-fed white people.

When it comes to engaging with other human beings outside the work place or immediate family, Facebook is their social media platform of choice. Here, they can opine on anything they like, without the risk of actually learning anything. ‘Goodes embarrassed a young girl who didn’t know any better!’ they shriek, utterly oblivious to Goodes’ dignified comments directly after the incident.

The wilfully ignorant Australian takes an unshakeable hardline view on any controversial topic, refusing to cede ground at any juncture.

A recent example would be in regards to the Bali executions. The complete lack of empathy for two men who had completely rehabilitated themselves – and had devoted the rest of their lives to helping others – was staggering.

“But they knew the consequences!” 

“Do the crime, do the time!”

“Just get it over and done with.”

Just imagine if these young Australians were actually white, rather than of sub-continental/Asian origin! Then, the wilfully ignorant man/woman might have actually paused to think to themselves: what if this was my son?

Thankfully for them, they never had to consider such a hypothetical.

The frustrated idealist, on the other hand, uses Twitter more than Facebook, where they can follow thought leaders and stay abreast of current issues. They spend a lot of time sharing petitions on Change.org. They strive desperately to get their Tweet on Q and A.

They do their best to shoot down the one-dimensional arguments from the wilfully ignorant, but in the end, it proves futile. At this point, they’ll seek comfort in each other, quickly settling on the appropriate #hashtag to best highlight their cause and feel connected.

The broader point here is that these two sides will never meet. The wilfully ignorant will never engage in rational debate. They know how they feel and that’s all that matters. The frustrated idealist is unable to elicit any empathy from the wilfully ignorant – and the debate descends into mud flinging: “right-wing” vs. “leftys”. Bogans vs the Bourgeoisie.

Australia, to its own detriment, is turning into America. And not the good parts of America – the NBA, Louisiana hot wings, Madison Square Garden – but the bad parts.

Why must everything be an alpha showdown?

*  *  *

For over 200 years, we have conveniently chosen to ignore the plight of Indigenous Australia.

Those of us who identify as small-l liberals (on social issues) feel guilt and shame for what happened in decades past. Obviously, we ourselves weren’t directly involved in the systematic genocide of an entire culture (something John Howard could never get his head around), but we nonetheless recognise that ‘Australia’, as we know it, has a dark and fucked up history.

If you can’t see that there is a strong element of racism at play here, then quite frankly, you don’t understand the history of Australia. You can’t see that connection because you’re not of Indigenous heritage. You’ve never been marginalised by society based on the colour of your skin.  You’ve never had someone tell you, effectively, to keep your mouth shut on the things that matter to you most.

Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generation during his first term in office. It was a symbolic gesture, but a significant one. An acknowledgement from our national leader that bad things happened in the past and that we are deeply sorry.

But the past few months have made it clear that while we’re prepared to offer a symbolic apology for past atrocities, we’re a long way from understanding what does and what does not constitute racism. It might help if our Prime Minister could display some statesmanship on this issue, but he’s afraid of alienating his political base.

I’ve been in Asia on business for the past week or so. And as I’ve followed this ‘debate’ from afar, it’s the lack of compassion that I’ve found most concerning.  It’s somehow OK for people to vilify Goodes and everything he stands for as long as you add the disclaimer “I’m not racist”.  It’s literally the only thing you need to do.

It’s somehow OK to say you boo him because he’s a ‘cheat’, or because he ‘humiliated a 13-year-old girl’, or because he’s simply ‘just a flog* of a bloke’. To completely assassinate his character in cold blood, and dismiss his on- and off-field activism entirely, is somehow not racist?

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got an distant relative with Aboriginal blood, mates that are Aboriginal, or you “dated a black girl for a couple of years,” as one social media user said earlier this week in order to justify his anti-Goodes stance.

If you’re booing Adam Goodes now, you’re doing so despite being perfectly cognisant that it hurts him deeply, because he interprets it as an assault on his very identity. You are basically telling everyone else that you are incapable of feeling empathy. It’s hostile, it’s brazen, and it needs to stop now.

In light of recent developments, any such booing from now on should be taken as unambiguous, defiant racism. There is no longer any question about this.

By Dave Edwards

* I don’t think there’s a single word I hate more than ‘flog’. 

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