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Good racism is a bad idea

By Syd Hickman - posted Friday, 31 July 2015


I am a Sydney AFL fan and have been cheering Adam Goodes for many years. The booing problem is very sad but the media analysis has been worse. It has produced more of the righteous nonsense that helped cause the problem.

The AFL has a great record in opposing racism, ensuring all teams have aboriginal players and promoting positive images at major events. The booing is not simple racism and while Goodes has never been popular with opposing sides, as Cyril Rioli is for example, the booing is clearly related to recent events.

For a start, booing people has a long tradition in Australian sport. Umpires cop it every week. Politicians have almost stopped going to sporting events because they get booed so enthusiastically whenever they show their heads. Telling people they can not boo whoever they choose at the footy is to tell them to they are not worthy to have any public voice at all. It should not be a surprise that they react strongly to that idea.

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And part of the point is that Goodes, by becoming Australian of the Year with a self-appointed task of telling everyone to stop being racist, has become a politician.

Clearly all those would-be intellectuals with newspaper columns to carry their daily or weekly rants fail to understand how it feels to have no public voice.

Then there is the matter of interacting with spectators. Sports people have always known it is dangerous to react to provocation from the crowd. Goodes broke that rule in dobbing in the girl who abused him at the Collingwood game.

Performing an aggressive war dance towards a group of an opposing team's spectators took this breach to a more dangerous plane. It should not be a surprise that if you engage in racially charged aggressive acts toward people they will quite probably react with the only aggressive but legal response they are permitted to make.

But the bigger issue involves the wider race debate. In this time of great self righteousness a lot of ordinary Australians are getting tired of being told how racist they are, and how nasty they are about refugees, and how sexist, how homophobic, and any other ists or ics that that commentators can dream up.

Another part of the problem is the gap between how people see themselves and how others see them. Goodes projects himself as a proud aboriginal man battling the evil force of racism.

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He is probably seen, by people who are actually battling to survive each week, as a rich, successful football and media star who has had a great life and would never have to work again if chose. Victimhood is barely credible.

The underlying problem is the desire for 'good' racism. The 'Recognise' campaign, of which Goodes is an active part, aims to eliminate bad racism from the Australian constitution while making it inherently racist by singling out one group of people for special mention on the basis of race.

And then there is the process. The sight of large numbers of so-called aboriginal leaders [who are their followers?] attending meetings with the Prime Minister, only to agree on more conferences to discuss a couple of paragraphs that will have no effect on the lives of any aboriginal people, apart from those attending the conferences, does not engender good will.

One of these 'leaders' appeared on TV to say the constitution viewed Australia as starting in 1788. That is truly amazing ignorance for someone who had just participated in a meeting to change the constitution. The constitution actually views the Australian nation as starting in 1901, because it did. Before that there was a collection of colonies on a land mass known as Australia since Governor Macquarie first started using the term, and before that there were hundreds or thousands of separate aboriginal tribal or clan areas.

'Recognise' is a pale repetition of the 'Sorry' campaign. That was a great success and clearly an important step by the Rudd government. But the importance of such events is supposed to be in the improvements to white understanding of the history of aboriginal oppression and so greater tolerance, and in making aboriginal people feel more positive and inclined to make the most of their opportunities.

Some evidence of real achievement from the Sorry campaign might justify the 'Recognise' campaign but I am not aware of any and the activists seem much happier talking about racism that solutions to the real financial and social problems of aboriginal people.

Goodes himself has been more active than most in dealing with real problems. His work with a fellow former football star in improving the lives and prospects of aboriginal kids has apparently been very successful.

Goodes and the cause of aboriginal advancement would fare much better if we all heard much more about that work and much less about invented war dances and criticism of ordinary Australians for their lack of sympathy for wealthy, successful people who have decided to focus on the aboriginal side of their multicultural heritage.

The worst possible idea is for all indigenous players to start doing war dances. That would negate all the great work done by the AFL over recent decades. Positive messages work while aggressive, negative acts do not.

Aboriginal people should not become tools for self-righteous white people whose main aim is to prove how morally superior they are to the rest of us.

Goodes has a tremendous record of achievement in various fields. He represents the best elements of different cultures. Poor decisions in a good cause have marred his legacy. Hopefully he will play out the year and focus on his positive agenda.

I hope people will not boo Goodes if he plays, but also he should not provoke opposing spectators, and neither should any other player. And maybe people can learn that trying to impose good racism while saying all racism is evil is not a good idea.

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About the Author

Syd Hickman has worked as a school teacher, soldier, Commonwealth and State public servant, on the staff of a Premier, as chief of Staff to a Federal Minister and leader of the Opposition, and has survived for more than a decade in the small business world.

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