A conversation about race, Aussie style: In 2013, a 13-year-old spectator called an Aboriginal footballer “an ape”. The footballer identified her and security removed her from the stadium. At the time, a chorus of voices (media “shock jocks” and right-wing commentators) said the AFL player, Adam Goodes, should apologise for humiliating the “little girl” who could not have understood what she was saying.
On realising she was young, Goodes graciously asked people to support her, and the media, to go easy. “It’s not a witch-hunt, I don’t want people to go after this young girl. We’ve just got to help educate society better so it doesn’t happen again. It’s not her fault, she’s 13, she’s still so innocent, I don’t put any blame on her.”
Then, in 2014, when Goodes became Australian of the Year on Australia Day (which many Aboriginal people call invasion day), he used the opportunity to speak out about Aboriginal rights and concerns.
Even though the award was for his advocacy against racism, still, Goodes was criticised for doing just that. The issues re-surfaced in June this year, when his powerful Aboriginal “war dance” on the field to celebrate a goal was slated as inflammatory, aggressive and race-loaded.
One of Australia’s few prominent left- wing media commentators, Waheed Aly, nailed it at the time. Australia, he said, was very tolerant “until its minorities demonstrate that they don’t know their place… The minute someone in a minority position acts as though they’re not a mere supplicant, then we lose our minds... the vanilla velour, the cover does not cope”.
In the next few games, Goodes was booed every time he touched the football. Another spectator told him to “get back to the zoo” and, when he was ejected, said it was “just banter”. Among the nasties who jumped on the bandwagon was the mother of the (then) 13-year-old, telling Goodes the booing would stop only when he apologised to her daughter for humiliating her in 2013.
Radio commentator Alan Jones said Goodes should “stop playing the victim” and columnist Andrew Bolt said the booing would best be stopped if Goodes would say: “Look, I did overreact. We mustn’t forget… we’re all human beings, we’re all together in this. And singling out a girl for public humiliation like that I thought was wrong.” This is the same Andrew Bolt who in 2009 wrote about fair-skinned part-Aborigines playing the victim and “sniffing at the trough” for specially targeted prizes and jobs. The booing got so bad that Goodes withdrew from the game amid reports that he was “in a dark place.”
Stan Grant, a very successful Aboriginal television presenter, wrote that even though, like Goodes, he’d been immensely successful, Australia still made Aboriginal people feel “estranged in the land of our ancestors, on the fringes of one of the richest and demonstrably most peaceful, secure and cohesive nations on earth... Our position at the bottom of every socio-economic indicator tragically belies the Australian economic miracle… Ours is a troubled patriotism. Our allegiance to Australia, our pride in this country undercut by the dark realities of our existence…
“From childhood… to be Aboriginal was to be ashamed. Ashamed of our poverty… ashamed of the bastardised wreckage of a culture that we clung to. This wasn’t the Dreamtime. This was mangy dogs and broken glass.”
Now, after an “outpouring of love”, including support from politicians, businessmen and schoolchildren and from fans at a game he missed, web petitions, newspaper wraparounds, rallies, petitions, twitters and panel discussions – you name it – Goodes is back with a few high-fives, some hugs, and says simply, “It’s good to be back on deck.”
The two-week paroxysm is over, and Australia has already slid back into its complacency, patting itself on the back with an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald about “feeling proud of him for fighting back, and even prouder of this country for standing with him.”
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