Kiwis mostly aren’t at all familiar with Aussie Rules players, even the big guns. But a 35 year-old, who plays for the Sydney Swans and who has won the code’s major awards, has come in for so much criticism that he has made the news well beyond Swans territory – and beyond Australia too. He has a British dad and an indigenous Australian mum. So he’s seen as an Aboriginal. And, as Victor Rodger writes, that seems to be part of the problem.
Adam Goodes. This time last week I’d never heard of him.
Now I’ll never forget him.
Since arriving in Sydney last week I’ve become obsessed with the beleaguered AFL superstar: a proudly indigenous man who’s suffered two years of incessant on-field booing and snarky media digs since calling out a white 13 year-old girl during a match FOR CALLING HIM AN APE and then – the icing on the cake – doing an indigenous war dance to celebrate a goal.
During AFL’s indigenous week.
The Australian media has been full of (almost exclusively white) commentators holding court on whether or not the booing constitutes racism. Some of the commentary has been wilfully ignorant; some of it has been appalling racism. One thing is very clear: the ugly issues of race and racism in Australia are finally on the table and won’t be going away anytime soon. It’s a potential game changer for race relations in Australia – it’s just a shame it’s had to come at such a personal cost to Goodes, who begged off last week’s match citing stress.
The resolute non-integration of indigenous Australians into everyday Australian life has always been a handbrake for me when it comes to enjoying the party that (white) Australia seems to offer.
That’s not to say race relations in New Zealand are perfect. The casually racist rhetoric from the likes of Messrs Hosking and Henry prove how far the clock has turned back in terms of what people can publicly get away with in our media. And the recent story about on-field racism in Christchurch (towards a Fijian rugby player) harbours ugly echoes of the Goodes story.
But you can’t deny the Māori/Pākehā conversation that exists here in New Zealand. You may not give a shit about it, you may actively hate it, but one thing you can’t do is ignore it.
That, of course, hasn’t been the case in Australia where Aborigines were classified as FLORA AND FAUNA until 1967 – as not even human … where they are often collectively deposited into the Too Hard or Don’t Care basket … and where, unless you are Deborah Mailman or Aaron Pedersen, you don’t get much of a look in on network television.
But now we have Goodes, the Australian of the year in 2014, a well-respected athlete who has paid an outrageous price for having the audacity to take a stand against racism and also represent his culture during a footy match.
Some white Australian commentators would have us believe the Goodes situation is nothing more than a reaction against political correctness, that he has somehow brought this all upon himself and that he’s being something of a sook.
But what we really talk about when we talk about Adam Goodes is that large sections of white Australia – who refuse to engage with the indigenous population in any real or meaningful way – don’t like it when an Aboriginal man asserts himself and calls a spade a spade, and a racist epithet a racist epithet.
Race and racism: messy issues both. I learned that first-hand as a mixed race Samoan-Palagi growing up in Christchurch. One night I’ll never forget: a white teacher defending a couple of white students who wore Ku Klux Klan outfits to a “Creatures of the Night” private school ball in the early 90s.
But that’s small fry compared to the stories from across the ditch, and nothing compared to what Adam Goodes has had to endure.
The Adam Goodes situation has made me cry, both literally and metaphorically.
Here is a man, an articulate and well-respected man, who had paid a price for simply speaking his truth and dancing his dance – and doing so in the face of all those dinosaurs who are determined to maintain things as they are.
His response has already inspired many Australians to speak their truth about their desire for change – and it’s led to the trending #istandwithadam.
In the end, I, as a New Zealand Samoan, not only stand with Adam, I cry with Adam and I salute Adam. We all must. (And is a collective cross-code response from Māori/Pacific rugby players here and in Australia too much to ask?).
All I know is that, from now on, whenever I hear the phrase “Ozzie battler” the face I think of will be the face of Adam Goodes.
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