Adam Goodes

It’s increasingly hard to deny that Australia has a problem with racism; not only the fact of it but even the use of a word, ‘racist.’

When someone uses it to call out others, they are howled down, and told to stop ‘being divisive.’

We struggle to have a conversation about this topic, let alone address the pressing issues that lie at the heart of it.

If you haven’t seen ‘The Australian Dream’, the movie about Adam Goodes, the indigenous AFL footballer, I recommend it. (It’s on ABC Iview.)

It’s not easy to watch. I remain troubled by what it reveals of Adam Goodes’ journey.

Growing up, Adam Goodes knew little about his background as an indigenous person. When given an opportunity to study it, he became aware of deep anger inside.

In 2013, when a Collingwood supporter called him an ‘ape,’ he demanded that she be removed from the ground. Angry and heartbroken, he pointed out later that this was but one face of ‘casual racism.’

He drew a line in the sand. He also exercised compassion for the young girl, pointing out that she needed support. We rarely witness these two different responses side by side.

I don’t believe he wanted to single her out as an individual; instead, to point out how deeply racist views and comments are woven into ordinary life. (I’m sure it was a painful experience for the young girl, too.)

He paid dearly for his stand – criticised by commentators, subjected to verbal abuse on social media, and regularly booed during AFL games.

He retired from AFL in 2015, fed up and dispirited.

In Australia, we have a problem with angry, assertive people from minority groups, especially those who point out things we are determined not to acknowledge.

Karl Quinn, who reviewed the movie in the SMH, put it this way; some people who watch it will insist that ‘any Aboriginal person who feels anything but gratitude for being allowed to participate in white society is somehow in the wrong.’

I suspect that racism is deeply ingrained in us. I think it is in all humans, but there is something particular going on in Australia.

Stan Grant put it more eloquently, noting that Australia has provided refuge for thousands who have fled history, but has not dealt with its own history of dispossession.

Humans are tribal. Our identity frequently rests on the assumption that members of other tribes are deficient, especially when it is our tribe that has caused them great suffering. (Bizarrely, their suffering proves the ‘rightness’ of our prejudice.)

Until enough people do the hard and painful work of acknowledging this, the problem of racism in Australia will remain unresolved.