It’s not just about booing Goodes – the racism is institutionalised

The reason for the booing of Aboriginal football legend Adam Goodes is clear: racism. Standing by him – saying that it’s racist to boo him, and backing his actions – is a basic and necessary gesture of solidarity.

Commentators who want Goodes to just shut up and play are clearly itching to use the words “uppity black”. According to them, Goodes is “provocative” or “political” or “divisive”.

What they really mean is he’s a black who doesn’t know his place. He won’t be a nice quiet Aborigine who’s just grateful to be a footballer. Their attitudes are reminiscent of former Collingwood president Allan McAlister. When confronted by St Kilda player Nicky Winmar standing up to racism in 1993, McAlister said he had no problem with Aboriginal people “as long as they conduct themselves like white people”.

As journalist Amy McQuire put it in an article for New Matilda, Goodes “steps outside of the narrow confines of what is expected of him as an Aboriginal athlete. That is, to keep his advocacy restricted to his team’s chances at winning a premiership, and not use his impressive public platform to stick up for his people”.

Goodes’s real crime in the minds of his detractors can probably be narrowed down to the lines that he wrote after seeing John Pilger’s 2014 film Utopia: “Imagine watching a film that tells the truth about the terrible injustices committed over 225 years against your people, a film that reveals how Europeans, and the governments that have run our country, have raped, killed and stolen from your people for their own benefit.

“Now imagine how it feels when the people who benefited most from those rapes, those killings and that theft – the people in whose name the oppression was done – turn away in disgust when someone seeks to expose it.”

Racism clearly is not a thing of the past. But while the current media furore does not acknowledge it, booing is not the main manifestation of racism in this country. The main thing is the institutionalised racism built into Australian capitalism, which reinforces every day the inferior status of Aboriginal people.

A racist system

In the eyes of the Australian state, Aboriginal lives are worthless. Last month, in a case that went largely unremarked, a 23-year-old non-Indigenous man was given six months’ home detention for a hit and run that killed an 8-year-old Aboriginal boy in Darwin. When the boy’s mother expressed her anger at the accused’s family, the magistrate’s response was telling: “You’ll be arrested if you don’t shut up. This is a court of law, not a pub where people can yell at each other”. That’s the attitude of those in authority.

Add to such instances the continued removal from their families of thousands of Aboriginal children by the state under the pretence of “child protection”. Add poverty and entrenched hopelessness driving suicide rates of nearly one in three deaths of Indigenous people aged 15 to 35.

Add the military occupation of Aboriginal communities by the Northern Territory intervention. Add the proposed forced closure of Aboriginal homelands – ethnic cleansing justified by the insult that living on country is a luxury “lifestyle choice”. Add the daily harassment and discrimination. Add the whitewashing of history. Add the gap in life expectancy. Add the ongoing genocide.

That’s the reason racism can get traction. And it’s why those who run the show would rather blame it on “idiots”. Far better to think it is only footy fans’ bad attitudes rather than a consequence of a system based on exploitation, profit and the dispossession of Aboriginal people. The people at the top play divide and rule, then say that they are upset about the ongoing divisions.

There has been an outpouring of popular support for Goodes on and off the field, and for calling racism what it is. There’s a polarisation, and that’s a good thing – much better than sweeping racism under the carpet.

Yet there’s a lot wrong with some of the responses that oppose the booing. The 31 July Age editorial, entitled “Booing Adam Goodes: Australians must unite against racism”, epitomised the problem.

“The attacks on Goodes in recent times have reached such a level that they are reflecting poorly on our entire nation. We all have a duty to help end this travesty – and prevent repeats – by having the courage and decency to call out such behaviour as a racist disgrace”, it said. “It certainly has no place in a nation that would pride itself on being diverse, multicultural and, above all, fair.”

This whitewashes Australia’s institutionalised anti-Aboriginal racism, not to mention the anti-Muslim and anti-refugees racism that is a daily feature of mainstream politics and media.

Yes, the booing is wrong. But it is not in contradiction to some “fair” Australia. It is a logical outgrowth of a racist system.