Racism is both awful and unfortunately all too common. There are some people in society who think it isn’t particularly common anymore and that it is a relic of the past, but those tend to be the people who aren’t on the receiving end.
This past week’s incident where a 13 year old female Collingwood fan called Sydney Swans’ Indigenous star Adam Goodes an ‘ape’ (during Indigenous Round no less) was an unfortunate reminder of this. The fact Collingwood president and media personality Eddie McGuire went and made it worse on radio only makes it harder for Collingwood’s message to reach their fans to improve their conduct.
To be clear, the blame in this unfortunate incident does not lie with a 13 year old. I think overall the media has done a pretty good job of not making her the villain in all of this, although if you do internet or twitter searches on it, some folks are.
It is entirely possible that the girl used the word ‘ape’ without even understanding the racial undertones of it. If she had called him another name that didn’t have a history as a racist word, none of this would be an issue as name calling from the stands is standard sporting protocol. But even if she didn’t know what the word actually meant, she clearly had picked it up from somewhere. You don’t just happen to choose such a specific name to call someone at that age if you haven’t heard it used elsewhere. So whether or not she meant it in a racist way, I think it is a fair assumption that the original user of the word that she heard it from did use it in that context.
Collingwood famously has a history with racist abuse coming from the stands. 20 years ago St Kilda star Nicky Winmar was a victim of such abuse and in a wonderful act of defiance and pride he lifted his shirt and pointed to his skin colour on his body. Since those dark days, Collingwood has tried very hard to distance itself from racial abuse, as well as taking a hard stand against any fan caught doing so. They are at the forefront of the discussion of eradicating racism from football and society in general.
Unfortunately, either their fans seem to have a higher propensity to resort to this behaviour, or perhaps they are just the ones getting caught doing so. I’m sure it happens at other games and I myself have heard racist terms used by fans at numerous sporting events.
People like to make jokes about the intelligence of Collingwood fans, but that’s mostly because they are the team we all love to hate. However, incidents like this one do nothing to squash that stereotype.
The girl in question from this incident however is a product of the society she came from. That starts at home with her parents and includes her extended family, her school and her neighbourhood. Whilst it is possible she didn’t know what she was saying, the fact of the matter is, she SHOULD have known what she was saying because education on such matters should be taught to kids from a young age.
This is not a subject to wait until a child is in the last few years of high school to discuss. Kids need to grow up with it imprinted into their brain that people are all created equal and they need to understand that certain words mean certain things. I’m not saying they need to learn the specifics of some of the awful things that have been done in the past by racists at such a tender age, but they should certainly be learning about equality as well as what is offensive.
Most importantly, this education shouldn’t have to be coming from a bloody football team. It is admirable and important for sporting bodies to take a stand on these issues and influence the conversation in society. However, it is not the job of sporting bodies to actually be the ones teaching people not to be assholes. It starts at home and at school and the fact I even feel the need to write that makes me sad.
To make matters worse, after the way Collingwood did a good job directly after the incident, Eddie McGuire then went and undid a lot of that good work on his radio show by suggesting Adam Goodes come to the opening of the King Kong musical in Melbourne (it was actually hard to even follow what he was suggesting). I don’t believe Eddie McGuire is a racist person. He has done plenty of good work in that field, so I’m not saying he is racist. However, the thinking process it takes to get from King Kong musical to Adam Goodes has an inherent racism to it.
It may have been “the opposite of what he was trying to say” as he claimed, but even still, somehow his brain went from King Kong to Adam Goodes and making a joke about it. Even if he was claiming that back in the day when racism was more tolerated they would use situations like this to capitalise, it’s still a thought predicated on race.
Whilst it was good that he called a press conference and apologised and admitted his mistake, he got a bit defensive when he was asked questions. Only once the fallout to that wasn’t ideal did he become more contrite and now might offer his resignation pending the AFL investigation into the matter.
The main problem with Eddie’s gaffe is that Collingwood are trying to educate fans and discipline those who don’t comply, but their credibility on the matter is now compromised because even their boss has fallen into it. You will now see uneducated fans thinking that if Eddie can do it, they can too, even if he did apologise.
This is why it shouldn’t even be falling on Collingwood to educate their fans at all. Yes they should throw out the bad ones, but the issue of education should be done well before someone enters a football stadium.
Some think this entire story has been blown out of proportion and that everyone is getting too touchy, but those people miss the big picture. This isn’t about individual incidents of racism in a public forum. This is about the society in which we live and the fact that this is still happening every day.
As a member of a minority that has been the subject of so much horror for such a long time, I always have my ears pricked up when I hear things that are racist. I am fortunate to only have experienced direct racism a couple of times in my life, however because I am white, the fact I am part of a minority is not so externally obviously. That fact has probably enabled me to avoid being a target more often.
Racism at the footy is not the story and nor should it be. A 13 year old girl making a racist comment isn’t the story either. What people need to focus on is trying to be part of a society where we eradicate this thinking entirely, much like we did with polio and smallpox. But remember, the only vaccination for racism is education.