The racial vilification of Adam Goodes: My experience on social media

On Friday night, towards the end of the opening game of AFL’s Indigenous Round, Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes was racially vilified by a Collingwood supporter.It seems unthinkable—a celebration of the contributions made by Indigenous Australians to Aussie rules football, tarnished by racism.The incident occurred in the last quarter, as momentum took Goodes across the boundary after a contest with Darren Jolly in the Swans’ backline. The moments that followed showed why Goodes is such a revered character both on and off the field.Reflexively, mere seconds later, Goodes alerted a nearby security guard to what had happened and identified the offender—a 13-year-old girl. Goodes removed himself from the field shortly afterwards, such was the pain he felt over the incident.Racism at the footy was back on the front page, 20 years after Nicky Winmar’s historic stand against racist supporters at Victoria Park.Goodes rallied to join his teammates in singing the team song after the Swans’ resounding 47-point win—surely their most impressive performance so far this season.I went to bed that night anticipating what the reaction might be in the media. Would the story make the front pages of newspapers and websites? How would the young girl be represented?What I should have been pondering was how people would react on social media.Exactly what the girl said to Goodes did not become clear until the next day, during a joint press conference with AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou. Goodes revealed that he had been called an “ape”.The way I see it, regardless of the girl’s intentions, the word ‘ape’ implies that Adam Goodes and, by extension, Australia’s Indigenous population are less evolved than white Australians. It is important to note that all humans, as we exist today, may well be descended from apes. We are not apes any more.Goodes was measured, thoughtful and honest as he described how hurt he was by what had occurred. The press conference made for inspiring viewing, as Goodes urged people not to blame the girl for what had happened. He instead pointed to what appears to be a gaping hole in the education system with regards to how racism is covered in our schools.Predictably, while much of the focus has remained on the Goodes story in recent days, there have also been more general discussions about racism in Australia.My interest in the area, and subsequent tweets about it, made for some enlightening interactions with other Twitter users. Most agreed that Adam Goodes had been unfairly victimised based on his race. Some just couldn’t see the problem with what happened:“@HarvsK Just realised he was only called an ape? Since when was that racist we are all ‘apes’ #getoverit”And this pearl of wisdom from another user:             “@HarvsK kit, i’m sorry but humans ARE animals. we’re not divine beings”What these tweets made clear was the harsh truth that ignorance and racism often go hand in hand. They show a complete ignorance of Australia’s history of white privilege and notions of colloquial meaning and connotation.Initially, these tweets infuriated me. I was angry about them, disgusted even. But now, having had time to consider the “why”, I feel a deep sense of sorrow. It’s unlikely these users will ever change their opinions or feel any regret about their words.“@HarvsK Racism will never stop so best grow some thicker skin and get over it”Mmm. Good one.The “get over it” attitude towards racism seems to be a common one among casual racists. For me, it is part of what fuels racism and ignores the hurt it has caused over countless years—not just in Australia, but around the world. The words are unhelpful, insensitive, cruel and best left unsaid.By way of conclusion, I’d like to suggest, as many others have done, that we drastically re-think how we educate our young people on matters of race and racism.It’s not just old people who are racists because they ‘can’t help it, that’s how they were brought up’. What Friday night shows is that there’s no generation gap when it comes to racism.This article originally featured in Candid & Rogue, a blog by Kit Harvey, and has been republished here with permission from the author.Image: Kit Harvey

May 29th 2013
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