The phrase ‘ashamed to be an Australian’ has become quite the cliche in this day and age, and I am going to avoid such melodramatics in what follows. However I must say that the issue of crowds booing Adam Goodes is forcing me to seriously reflect on what it is to be Australian, and whether or not we have truly eviscerated the demons of a very dark and uncomfortable history.
[This was written in mid-2015, I have posted it because I think it is relevant to the Australia Day-theme post that follows].
Australia has a racist history. It is not a fact that many like to admit, but an understanding of the founding of this nation, it’s constitution, and the actions of it’s first parliament make such a truth too difficult to ignore. Our Constitution still recognises that States have the right to exclude whole races from voting, and this power was used to deny franchise to Indigenous Australians right up until 1965, when Queensland became the last State to extend voting rights. Going beyond Indigenous Australians, our entire process of Federation was strongly motivated by concerns of controlling immigration from ‘coloured’ countries and territories. One of the first Acts of the new Commonwealth Parliament was the implementation of what became known as the ‘White Australia Policy’; at it’s core a policy that the merit of colour and race took precedence over a potential immigrant’s ability in determining whether they a fit and proper person to live in this country of ours. Indeed, the statement of Edmund Barton, Australia’s first Prime Minister, poignantly casts aside any pretension that notions of racial superiority were not strongly present in Australia’s founders. Barton made this comment in Parliament, in support of the Act authorising the White Australia Policy – “The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman.”
It can be shockingly unnerving to accept that your country has a racist history, but it is difficult to ignore a comment of such gravity and, viewed without context, one that has more in common with the racial purification sentiments of early Nazi Germany than it does with an emerging 20th Century democracy.
But the Australia of the 21st Century is not the country it was at the beginning of the 20th. The social Darwinism that motivated early Indigenous policies of assimilation and inherent inferiority has been consigned to the dustbin of history, and by and large we recognise that our early treatment of our indigenous brethren is an atrocity of international significance, as well as a cause for national reflection. Or at least that is what I thought.
I watched Sunday’s game against the West Coast Eagles, and even before Jetta’s ‘war dance’, I was genuinely outraged by the crowds treatment of Adam Goodes. I had heard that opposition crowds had been booing him, but nothing prepared me for the sheer magnitude of hate and antagonism towards a man whose only apparent ‘crime’ is not accepting so-called innocent racism. I have heard the arguments before that he is booed because he is ‘dirty’, that he simulates for free kicks, or that people just generally don’t like the cut of his jib. But let’s call that what it is.
Certain pockets of fans of certain clubs may have booed him in the past, but the notion that this AFL-wide disgrace is anything but racism belies that fact that this magnitude has only emerged since the racism scandals. As intolerable as bullying is, I would be more prepared to accept this phenomenon is it weren’t for the sheer coincidence that it really only began in earnest because Adam Goodes wouldn’t accept being referred to as an ape, nor would he accept being compared to King Kong. Denial that such terms are racist is an ignorance of history; it ignores the pseudo-science of social- Darwinism that condemned coloured races to inferiority and the indignity of having more in common with apes than humans; that your inferiority made your extinction an inevitability, as the superior white man took what was rightfully his. It says you are a footnote, an evolutionary dead-end destined to join the Neanderthals in the perpetuity of extinction, or at best kept alive for the curiousity of your handlers. When you say that ‘ape’ isn’t racist, that is the idea that you are accepting; that is the blood soaked, chain whipped, displaced and disenfranchised history that you say counts for nothing. Think about that next time you find yourself prefacing a racist statement by saying ‘I’m not racist but”.
As a country we need to take a stand. Adam Goodes is being publically humiliated for nothing more than the fact that he stood up against racism, instead of meekly accepting it and not ‘stepping out of line’. In the United States they had a term for such outspoken people of colour – an ‘uppity nigg–‘. To the people booing Adam Goodes- deep down, that is what you are saying; that this would never have happened had you just accepted and played along with racial vilification. That is the image you are projecting to the world today. Let’s put the ghosts of Edmund Barton away, this sort of behaviour has no place in the 21 Century.