The booing reverberated across Domain Stadium in Perth. A haunting soundtrack each and every time Adam Goodes touched the football. This wasn’t the kind of booing that emanates from a small section of a cheer squad. It was contagious, spreading across hundreds of rows. Asanga explores what we can all take away from this story.
The scene was repeated dozens of times in stadiums across Australia. It lies at the heart of the recently released documentary The Final Quarter, which uses archival footage to chart Adnyamathanha and Narungga man Adam Goodes’ final seasons in the Australian Football League (AFL) prior to his retirement.
From being called an “ape” by a 13-year old girl, to the crisis that emerged after he performed a traditional Aboriginal war cry to celebrate a goal during the 2015 Indigenous round, this is a film that is about so much more than Goodes. And so much more than a champion footballer. It’s about waking up to the need to have a conversation about deep rooted racism that still exists in this country. Here are three things we can all learn from it.
1. Racism still runs deep in Australia however ‘tolerant’ or ‘multicultural’ we may appear to be
Waleed Aly, academic and co-host of The Project, cut straight to the chase in explaining the underlying causes for the persistent boos against Goodes:
We are a nation that is happy to celebrate diversity when it doesn’t come at the cost of our own place in society or interrogating our own wrongdoing. When we are exposed to cultural traditions and experiences that we may not understand, our default reaction is to recoil and push back out of discomfort rather than embrace uncomfortable intersections. The film features sports journalist, Caroline Wilson, describing it as “people want to have the Indigenous round in this neat little box that doesn’t threaten them or intimidate them; make them think or challenge them.”
The symbolism of Indigenous rounds, reconciliation events and empty acknowledgments of country is just that – symbolism – if our actions don’t reflect them. We need to move beyond symbols, to see them as launching pads to educate ourselves and start conversations. They should be reminders of how much work still needs to be done.
2. We need to take a stand against racism as soon as it happens
For over six months, the AFL, media commentators and clubs remained silent as Goodes faced racial abuse, game after game. AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, apologised for what had taken place six months after the fact. But he failed to call the ‘booing’ racism when asked by a journalist. The silence of a country that refused to stand up for Goodes speaks volumes about our willingness to call out racism. Casual racism is more than just jaunts and jeers. It degrades a person’s sense of worth until they can’t endure it anymore. In the case of Goodes, it meant retirement from the game in 2015.
The impact of racism affects minority groups and Indigenous Australians across the country. Stan Grant, Wiradjuri man, advocate and journalist, put it in perspective: “We don’t hear just a boo, we hear the howls of humiliation that we often grew up with as Indigenous people….the visceral experience of racism – not just the abstract concept but the mark it leaves on your body and the mark it leaves on your soul.”
It’s unacceptable to call out racism only when it’s socially convenient to do so. We need to call it out when it happens or we aren’t doing anything to protect its victims.
3. It starts with listening – to all voices
Moving forward to a future conversation on racism in Australia, it is easy to sideline the racist, sensationalist comments of commentators such as Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Sam Newman. “There shouldn’t be anyone who is silenced in this debate” as Stan Grants puts it. They “serve a purpose in asking an abrasive question that many people are asking anyway…but if you ask the question, listen to the answer.” When having a conversation about racism we cannot ignore the fact that racist commentary exists, and we need to acknowledge its presence without amplification but by dismantling its arguments.
Ultimately, this is a conversation that we all need to have as Australians, no matter who we are. It’s about acknowledging that racism has deep structural roots in this country. That we all need to take responsibility for the dispossession and vilification of Indigenous people on this land. That this is bigger than single institutions. This comes down to each and every one of us confronting our prejudices and being prepared to call out racism when we see it. In the classroom. On the sporting field. In the office. It’s about taking a stand when it happens, not when it’s appropriate to do so. It’s about taking the time to learn the history of the First Nations people of this land. It’s time to wake up Australia, it’s time to call racism in this country for what is and stand up against it.
To learn more about how you can have a conversation about racism, the Australian Human Rights Commission has released a ‘Let’s talk race: A guide on how to conduct difficult conversations about racism‘ to coincide with the release of The Final Quarter. Check it out!