Interest declared: I’m a life-long, third generation Swans supporter. But you don’t have to be a one-eyed Sydney fan to be sickened by the outpouring of racist vitriol in response to Adam Goodes’ “war cry” dance in the match against Carlton on 29 May.
Whenever you hear or read the words “I’m not a racist, but …” you know that racism will follow. And those words have had a good work-out over the past week.
The Friday night game was the first in the AFL’s annual Indigenous round. Goodes’ dance was intended as a celebration of his heritage. Lewis Jetta, another Indigenous Swans player, had intended to do something similar, but unfortunately missed his shots on goal.
“It was all about representing our people and our passion and dance is a big way we do that”, Goodes explained. It was beautiful and exhilarating to watch. (When he finally retires, Goodsey should consider trying out for the Bangarra Dance Company.)
The incident came a week after Goodes was loudly booed by Hawthorn supporters every time he went near the ball. Over the past couple of years, this has become a regular occurrence. The reason is not hard to find: two years ago, again in the Friday night game that kicked off Indigenous round, Goodes was racially abused by a Collingwood supporter, and he called it out.
The perpetrator turned out to be a 13-year old girl, though Goodes couldn’t possibly have known that. That didn’t stop sections of the media and racists everywhere denouncing him for “picking on” a kid.
A few days later, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire suggested on radio that Goodes could be used to publicise the musical King Kong. His “apology” was hedged with pathetic excuses: he was tired, it was inadvertent and so on. Goodes made it clear that he didn’t accept any of that.
So it’s bloody rich that McGuire should now join in the chorus of condemnation over Goodes’ dance, lining up with Andrew Bolt and a slew of ex-footballers turned media commentators, including Leigh Matthews and Gary Lyon. Even former teammate Barry Hall – whose fist to Brent Staker’s jaw was all too real, unlike Goodes’ imaginary spear – has chimed in.
With varying degrees of hostility (Bolt obviously being the worst), they’ve all criticised Goodes for “going over the top”, for being “aggressive”, “provocative”, “divisive” and “offensive”. Though to their credit, many journalists have written and spoken eloquently in Goodes’ defence.
In 1993, Nicky Winmar pulled up his jumper and pointed to his black skin in response to racist taunting from Collingwood fans. In 1995, Michael Long refused to silently accept racist abuse from an opposition player, as Indigenous players had done for decades.
Both are now seen as courageous and iconic acts that changed the landscape of AFL football and gave the growing band of Indigenous players the confidence to challenge racism.
But at the time, there were plenty in the media, football officialdom and elsewhere who were more likely to criticise Winmar and Long than the racists.
Listening to McGuire pontificating, I was reminded of his predecessor as Collingwood president, Allan McAllister. In the course of the discussion following the Winmar incident, McAllister attempted to defend the indefensible, saying that as long as Indigenous players conducted themselves well, “like white people”, they would be welcome. McAllister had to resign, but it seems that many white people still think they have the right to tell people of colour how they should behave.
And that’s what it’s all about really. Indigenous players are tolerated provided they know their place and don’t get too uppity. As journalist Ruby Hamad put it, “At all times, we are expected to remain polite, calm, and non-aggressive. Anything otherwise is seen as a failure of our character, a sign that it is our own moral failings that are responsible for our disadvantages”.
Adam Goodes gets booed because, in a country founded on the dispossession of Indigenous people, he stands up for himself, his people and his culture. Let’s not pretend otherwise.