Racism and me.
Hmmm. Yes, it’s one of those thoughtful posts which is possibly going to be too much about me and not enough about anything else. But really, if we can’t be introspective then we can never learn, become better people or you know, walk backwards in the rain on a Saturday evening.
So yes, this post has come from a situation here in Australia which has come to international attention. To précis the thing quickly, an Australian Rules Football player (I should add a quick note in that my team the Bulldogs is having a much better this year this year! Touchwood….) of indigenous heritage has been getting booed frequently and mercilessly by crowds of late. His name is Adam Goodes, and he plays for the Sydney Swans.
I’ve watched and loved Aussie Rules Football for 25 years now and I have never seen someone booed the way Goodes has been booed. The only fans that don’t boo him are the Sydney fans. What is uglier than the booing is the debate that it has sparked.
To let you know more about Adam Goodes, he’s won the premiership with Sydney twice, and he’s one the Brownlow Medal, for the season’s best and fairest player, twice also. In 2014 he was awarded the ‘Australian of the Year’, there aren’t much higher honours here. So you may think, why on Earth do people boo him at games?
It seems to centre around a couple of things that he’s done on field. 1/ He pointed out a girl in the crowd at a game last year that was calling him an ‘ape’. 2/ After he kicked a goal in Indigenous Round this year, he did a little war dance as celebration.
Some people weren’t happy with his acceptance speech as Australian of the year. It was considered by some disingenuous of him to accept the award when he doesn’t celebrate or view the day as the bulk of white Australians do. Personally, I think this is an inspirational speech and worth a listen to.
A week and a half ago the booing reached epic proportions at a game in Perth against the West Coast Eagles. He pointed a man out for telling him to ‘go back to the zoo’. He took a week out of the game.
People therefore labelled him a ‘sook’ and told him to man up. The debate is raging about whether the booing is racist – some claim it’s because he stages for free kicks (who doesn’t these days in professional sport) or that he’s a dirty player (I’ve never thought so and was surprised to hear that but hey, only been watching footy for 25 years).
So what do I think? Let me flash back to Burkina Faso in 2006. I walked around the streets and heard, under people’s breaths, the words ‘Le Blanc’ uttered frequently. Yes, I was being labelled (and not unreasonably) ‘white’. It left me feeling very uneasy. Sometimes people looked at me or pointed at me and said ‘l’argent’. This means ‘money’.
I don’t actually want to talk about the people making these comments. The context does not compare to that in Australia and it certainly left no scars. But the feeling inside is relevant. A sick, uneasy, unwanted feeling. Mild of course, think of what white men represent in Africa.
Racism is something this country needs to learn how to deal with. Someone with a different skin colour to the still majority white in Australia may well feel this feeling every single day of their life. And it’s not for perpetrator of racism to say whether they are racist or not.
Back to the points above. The girl who called Adam Goodes was 13 years old. People claim that SHE is the victim here because she is so young. Security took her away from her seat at the game and detained her. Maybe that was a bit tough on the kid but if this stuff is not pointed out, well it will continue to happen. What chance have we got of racism disappearing if no one calls people out on it? To my mind Goodes, despite the inevitable backlash he has faced, is actually taking a stand against racism, and also being a leader for the indigenous community here in Australia. And if people are booing him for that, well then there is clearly a racial element to the booing.
Adam Goodes ended up chatting with the young girl, and she wrote him a letter thanking him. Some people still think Goodes should apologise to her and her family.
The social media storm whipped up over this booing has been nothing I’ve seen before. Some of it has been really disturbing. On the weekend, the Swans played without Adam Goodes to a large crowd in Sydney. At the 37th second of the 3rd quarter they all cheered for Adam Goodes. His number is 37 by the way. All the captains of the different sides stood up for him. Some sides even wore their indigenous round Guernseys. The Bulldogs captain went to the bounce wearing number 37 on his back instead of his usual number two.
I’ve read a lot of international stuff condemning racism in Australia, and I don’t disagree. But they are so quick to point the finger at Australia as racist but not consider the way so many communities with roots from so many countries live together in harmony here too, especially in a place like Melbourne. Melbourne is, I believe, one of the world’s most multi-cultural cities. And the way the fans and players stood up for Adam Goodes, Indigenous Leader and games record holder for the Swans, showed me that it ain’t all bad.
The thing for us white folk is, we’ve never really experienced racism as a continuing part of life. We’ve never walked a mile in the shoes of an indigenous person, or a refugee or migrant to our shores. And until we take time to really imagine what it would be like to do so, then how can we even empathise?
If you’re interested, have a look at Jane Elliot’s amazing Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Experiment which gives people an insight on what it is like to experience racism as an everyday thing. Please comment thoughtfully, and May the Journey Never End.