Goodes & bad

I just read an interesting article earlier about the nascent fascist movement in Australia in the 1930’s (reference the Reclaim Australia movement today). It was a time pre-dating the war, and all the terrible events the Nazi’s perpetrated, and so Fascism still had a veneer of respectability.

It was a fascinating article on many different levels, and is fodder for many different debates and conversations going forward. One of the simpler take-aways was that there is little we think of as new that has not happened before; and that there is always something happening.

I feel weighed down occasionally in contemplation of all the things happening these days. More than at any other time of my life – I believe – most are ugly and unpleasant things. For someone sensitive to political and cultural currents, and engaged with society these things plague me. I don’t want to know, want to bury my head in the sand and wish it wasn’t so. How often have I lamented the need to make comment? I’d much rather write about other things, but find myself reluctantly drawn into these issues because I cannot let them go.

Something similar to that occurred again last night. The news of the day is the deplorable treatment of Adam Goodes by AFL crowds the whole year through. He’s not played an away game without being booed whenever he gets near the ball. The reasons for that are complex and varied and widely disputed. What shouldn’t be disputed is that it’s disgraceful behaviour.

I watched all year as this has happened with a mix of embarrassment and disappointment. I want to believe better of people, especially so when they’re my countrymen, followers of the game that I love also. To boo anyone is a low act in my book, and pretty childish, but made infinitely more controversial when the victim of it is of another race. Goodes is indigenous.

And so I visited the football forum I regularly read and found a thread dedicated to the topic. Like most of the public debate the commentary was by and large defensively hostile. Most refuted they were racists, but defended their right to boo whoever they liked. Most claimed to just plain dislike Goodes. It was not racist, it was a response to him as a person.

There were few who stood in the way of the argument. The ratio would have been about 10:1 (though most of the ‘good’ posters seemed to have steered clear of the topic). Some of those who stood against it were ridiculed or condescended to. A patronising note was taken towards the token bleeding hearts on the forum. It was disheartening to read.

At first I wasn’t going to add anything. I’m weary of the fight, and besides I believed that nothing I could say would make any difference. People are set in their ways. Their views are either so entrenched as to be intractable, or they have become so defensive about the issue as to not countenance a contrary view. Once the heat is on it’s rare for anyone to see sense, especially when they’re male.

In the end I contributed something because I felt as if I couldn’t walk away from it. It seemed the cowardly thing to say nothing. It may be futile, but when no-one stands against these things where are we left?

This is what I wrote:

Any way you cut it what’s been happening with Goodes is pretty ugly. At worst it’s racist, at best merely mindless.

I don’t doubt that that there’s a fair portion of the crowd booing Goodes because he’s an uppity aboriginal, though they’ll justify it otherwise. The rest – which think are most of the booers – do it for a variety of reasons, none of them much chop, and most of them pretty puerile. Could be it’s just to join in the fun, which is one of the dangers in this. Or it’s because Goodes dives, or because he’ll snipe, or maybe just because he’s a good player.

I’m not a booer, don’t believe in it, but that’s just me. I understand it though, and if it happens spontaneously in the course of the game then fair enough. This is a lot uglier than that. There’s nothing spontaneous about this. This is victimisation. This is bullying. Week after week Goodes gets booed simply for turning up to play. To treat someone like that is unreasonable, unfair and un-Australian. It’s also pretty stupid.

No-one likes being called a racist, and perhaps most who are booing are not racist in the traditional sense – but if you stand beside a racist and boo when he does then you are lending your support to his racist cause. You’ve become part of the mob. 

For the record I don’t think the motivation for the booking is purely racial, though there is a big racial element, directly and indirectly. Defenders of the booing come up with many reasons to justify it, as I touched on in my comment – that Goodes stages for free kicks (true), that he has been a sniper (occasionally), that he’s an umpires favourite, and so on. Even assuming these accusations are true then they’re true of dozens of other footballers over the years, none of whom have been subjected to the same vitriol.

There’s a crowd element joining in out of a ‘me too’ mentality. That’s mindless and stupid, and I worry when you see potentially impressionable young minds joining in because they don’t know any better.

Many boo because they’ve been told not to. It’s a very Australian thing to do the thing we’ve been forbidden to do. We don’t like to be told, and so our response in contravention is more directed to the instruction, than at the victim. I share this trait too. It’s one reason why this could get worse before it gets better.

Deep down I think the core reason is based on race, whether you like it or not. Goodes is articulate and engaged. He has deeply felt opinions and has become a spokesman for his people. Much of this began when he became Australian of the Year, and spoke out against the conditions in which many of the indigenous people still live. Nothing he said was wrong, but his comments were seen by much of mainstream Australia as being critical of them and their way of life, and awfully ungrateful. Much as I don’t like to say it, he became the koori who didn’t know his place. In the words of Allan McAllister, he forgot to act like a white man.

No-one will admit to this. No-one would because it’s an uncomfortable truth, and many couldn’t anyway because their thinking is not as developed as that. They respond out of instinct and reflex, a cultural sense of entitlement they’re oblivious of.

This is one reason so many refuse the racist tag, because they don’t feel it or think it. What they experience is something innate and unconsidered. It just is. It’s a natural order of things that is only upset when someone fails to play their role – like Goodes. And then there’s an instinctive reaction which can’t be explained, but can’t be denied either.

These are my opinions, based on observation. There are some pure racists in this story, and some who are not playing race at all. Then there’s the majority in the middle, outraged to be considered racist and strenuously denying it. They’re not overt racists, nor even covertly most of them – but they have been conditioned by racial pre-dispositions.

Regardless of whether this is racist or not, this sort of behaviour can’t be condoned. Mobs are thoughtless, dumb and cruel, as history tells us, as this is too. I’d have thought it was un-Australian too once. Used to be we stood up for the under-dog, believed in the fair go. No longer, but then we can thank the prevailing philosophies of the day for that. That’s the bigger picture – we’ve become crueller because we have a government now that has enshrined cruelty, and which encourages prejudice. Until that changes nothing will get better.

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