This blog is a repost from 1 August 2015.
Adam Goodes has been bullied and vilified because he has reminded us of our dark history and the discrimination that continues against him and many others in Australia today. We don’t like being reminded of the dispossession, killing, poisoning and discrimination against our own indigenous people. We want to forget that 30,000 indigenous people were killed in the Frontier Wars by police and white settlers. Yet we have scarcely a memorial to the 30,000 who died defending their land. The Australian War Memorial turns its back on the Frontier Wars yet with the Australian Government is spending $700 million on the centenary of WW1.
Why can’t indigenous people behave with respect and go quietly? Why don’t they appreciate what has been done for them? Why can’t they ‘behave well like white persons’ as the CEO of Collingwood Football club said some years ago?
Adam Goodes is proud of his history and so he should be. But that confronts many people. Their power and prejudice is being challenged.
He said “If you say nothing or do nothing, nothing changes”. That statement makes Adam Goodes different and the focus of attacks. So many of us don’t want to change and acknowledge our own history. Adam Goodes has clearly shown that he will not “cop shit”.
He is criticised for what is seen as a war dance, although not carrying any weapons. But we almost all enjoy and respect the Haka and what it means for all New Zealanders, Maoris and non-Maoris. In the struggle between indigenous and non-indigenous people it was Captains Cook and Phillip who introduced guns. Our own society is becoming increasingly militarised and at numerous public occasions, including Anzac, weapons are always on display.
Adam Goodes is confronting us all and it is good that he does so, even though he is paying a heavy price. In a 2008 essay, he spoke of “being the object of racism so many times that you lose count”. .
We are all nervous to some degree about the foreigner, the outsider and the person who is different, whether it be on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or even gender. It is foolish to deny that there is racism in Australia – and indeed in each one of us. It is part of our DNA. But a part of us is also generous, open and tolerant. Theologian call it the struggle between good and evil.
Differences can be unsettling but we can come to value them as they challenge us to think again about the way we are thinking and acting. Adam Goodes is challenging us to be more generous and accepting of difference in the human family.
In the struggle between the darker and better angels of our nature as Abraham Lincoln called it, leadership is essential. Community and political leadership is critical to keep our prejudices under control and to encourage our better spirits of tolerance and generosity. The statement by over 150 community groups in the last couple of days focuses on just this issue. It calls on us all “to stop empowering the worst elements of human nature”. It features in the SMH poster for this weekend. We do respond to good ethical and moral leadership. And we have seen that in the last week from leaders such as Mike Baird and Jay Weatherill. That leadership has come from state capitals but not from Canberra.
We badly need more leadership from our sporting leaders and fortunately we are seeing encouraging signs of it to push aside the comments of people like Shane Warne and Eddie McGuire. It is an old tactic to blame the victim.
Many years ago, our footballers were working Monday to Friday in ‘other jobs’ with football on Saturday. Now many of them are well-paid professionals, like celebrities. They could stop the booing if they decided to stop work and stop playing like good unionists until the booing stops. That would show the solidarity we need from sports people today. The booers must be confronted and not allowed to hide in the crowd.
I think that former Sydney Swans player Michael O’Loughlin, explained it all very well in the last week. ‘We won’t sit in silence, we will continue to fight for our mob. We will continue to be proud of who we are, what we stand for and what we are fighting for. We live in a great country and we want it to thrive and get better and better. In doing so you have to recognise what has happened in the past to indigenous people and what they continue to go through. For us to move forward as a great country those are the things we need to keep fighting for.’ I don’t think it could have been said better.
Out of this current orgy of bullying, racism and prejudice we will hopefully become more honest with ourselves and build a more co-operative and tolerant society. The days look black at the moment but we may find in the years ahead that Adam Goodes has done this country another service, even at great cost to himself.