If you live in Australia the chances are high that my heading will make sense to you, even if you live in the non-Aussie Rules Football states or you don’t follow any of the football codes. If you are overseas let me take a little time to explain.
I was going to post about mutton birds and about dogs and ladders, but I am compelled to write in support of Adam Goodes. The other subjects will keep.
Adam Goodes is an Aboriginal man who is, rightly, very proud of his heritage and takes a stand against racism. He was the Australian of the Year in 2014. He is a very talented football player and has won the Brownlow medal, the AFL’s Best and Fairest award, not once but twice! He comes across as a thoughtful, intelligent person who wants to use his status to do some good.
Not a person who would be booed at footy matches, but unfortunately he has been, for too many weeks now.
The booing stemmed from two incidences. The first happened two seasons ago when, during a game, Goodes pointed out a person in the crowd who was calling racist names. She was evicted from the ground. Goodes did not know at the time that she was a thirteen year old girl. Later he said that he did not blame her and that she was an innocent who should be supported, not criticised. As well, they talked on the phone. She apologised and said that she understood why the word was racist and hurtful. There was much commentary about why Goodes was wrong to call out the young lass, even though she seemed to come away from the experience with a deeper understanding. And it was the media that showed her face, who exposed her to the wider audience.
The second incident happened this year in Indigenous Round. Sport, and especially Australian Rules Football, is one of the few areas where Aboriginal/Indigenous people are celebrated and have their talents recognised. During Indigenous Round all players wear special jumpers, the games are begun with Welcome to Country Celebrations and the indigenous players are centre stage. After scoring a goal against Carlton, Goodes did a dance, throwing an imaginary (of course) spear into the crowd. The feelings against him escalated from there. Now it has got to a point where he has had to take time off, not playing this weekend, and rumours are that he will retire at the end of the year.
But it is also at the point where people are expressing their outrage against the racism in the booing. But before I get to that, let me tell you a little about the debate that is happening.
The main argument against Goodes is that the booing is not racist. Those who make that argument (including well known right wing commentators) say that many players have been booed and that this is just another example. My counter to this is that those other examples didn’t arise out of an Aboriginal man showing pride in his heritage. They are booing a man who is standing proudly for his people. That is racism. Also, racism is how the victim perceives it. If Indigenous people are calling this racist then it is.
Then “they” say that he shouldn’t have done the dance. But we don’t object to the New Zealand rugby teams performing the Hakka before games. And really, who could get intimidated by an imaginary spear?!
Part of the argument is that Goodes is just whinging, that he should put up with the racism from the crowd and not retaliate. But why should he? Why should anyone — Aborigine, Muslim, Jew, Chinese, anyone — have to put up with abuse and bigotry? I also wonder whether the people say “put up and shut up” tell their children to put up with bullying. Or are they parents who tell their children to stand up for themselves and what they believe?
Australia has always had a deep vein of racism. The initial founding of the country was based on the dispossession and slaughter of Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islander people. Unfortunately we are seeing that racism is still alive. Stan Grant, a journalist and Indigenous person, has written a must read article on the impact of racism on him and his people.
However, there is also a very strong tradition of fighting against racism and standing with the oppressed.
Just one example is the strike at the outback station Wave Hill, where the Aboriginal stockmen walked off the job, demanding equal pay. Support from the wider population, such as protests and fundraising, was profound. The union movement was instrumental in taking the Aboriginal leaders of the strike around the country, building up support for the strikers. The strike became the basis for Aboriginal Land Rights.
Now we are seeing a depth of support for Adam Goodes. And so many recognise that they are also taking a stand against racism. There have been many heartwarming examples of standing with Adam such as the young children with 37, Goodes’ number at the Sydney Swans, marked on their arms or the crowd at the Swans game applauding for a minute during the game. These articles give some of the flavour.
Now the question becomes “What next?” I hope that Goodes can return to the field to the applause he so richly deserves. I hope that the spectators in the crowd can isolate the booers with applause and open discussion.
But it has gone beyond this. The #istandwithadam campaign is about not tolerating the racism with Australian society. It is about combating the casual racism that happens. But racism is so much more than taunts and sledging, as offensive and hurtful as they are. It is systematic. We need to increase the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islanders, raise their education standards and decrease their numbers in prisons. Celebrate the resilience of their culture that has continued for over 40,000 years.
And racism in Australia takes many forms. All are unacceptable. We need to welcome refugees, not incarcerate them in hell holes like Manus Island and Naru. We need to recognise that Muslims are not terrorists and that Chinese are not here to take our houses and jobs. Most Australians are very proud of our multicultural society and our ability to give everyone a fair go. So, let’s give everyone our support.