UPDATE: I am really upset about the way Adam Goodes has been treated by AFL fans who have been booing him ever since he pointed at a 13-year-old girl who called him an “ape,” at a match in 2013. He did it to educate her because she did not know that what she was saying was racist. The sins of our culture were visited upon her. I mentioned this in a post I had written last year congratulating Adam on being named Australian of the Year. As a Swans supporter, I always cheer “Australian of the Year” when he scores a goal. Recently due to the criticism, I started to cheer: “Australian of the Century” because I think he is … so far! I will be at the game against Adelaide on Saturday, and I hope he plays so I can scream that chant again. Adam Goodes is my hero and always will be. I’ve read the post on Adam published on January 30, 2014, and I stand by every word I said. The original title was: “Why Adam Goodes will be a magnificent Australian of the Year”. I have changed the title above:
I know a lot about racism. It’s not that I’m an expert, it’s just that I grew up in a white neighbourhood bordering on a black neighbourhood in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, and I was taught lessons in racism.
Not classroom teaching racism, but growing up racism, being told by a father that black people smelled funny, that they all looked alike (Asians included in this one, but you didn’t get to see many in my neighborhood), and that they were different from us. (My father, by the way, was a great bloke, but he had been taught all this when he was growing up. My family and many of my mates also had a similar education in the Philly School of Racial Misunderstanding.)
It didn’t help when we had race riots as teenagers, with whites on one side of the playground and blacks on the other, meeting in the middle with sticks and stones, and in one case, an arrow shot into the air and wounding a fellow rioter. Or when there were fights between whites in my Catholic high school and blacks in the nearby public high school after classes had ended. I remember bringing a switchblade and wearing a chain around my waist one day. Fortunately, the Christian Brothers at my school got wind of the confrontation, and stopped us from walking down to the planned fight venue.
It wasn’t until I got to university and met quite a few African Americans, who proved all the stereotypes wrong. They were gentlemen and ladies, more intelligent than I was – and they smelled nice, too! By the time I became a teacher in the famous black neighborhood of Harlem in New York in the late sixties and met an African American colleague at the junior high school who might have been on the other side of the playground in Philly, I had come full circle on racism. And I have learned that you can’t stop being racist, until you admit you are one.
That’s why it was so wonderful for the great AFL footy player, Adam Goodes, to be named Australian of the Year. Every day, the Sydney Swans forward (Note to overseas readers: a combination of goal kicker, pass receiver and running back) can lead by example and remind Australians what it means to be racist, and how to fight against it. Australia is not a racist country, but there are many Australians with racist attitudes, who don’t realise it, as happened to me more than 50 years ago. Aside from what I mentioned above, you can read more about my transformation in this blog post published in February last year: “It’s time to recognise Aborigines, vote on gun control and acknowledge racism.” http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-bq
The reason I am writing about it again was the reaction I got on my Twitter account @krauset when I congratulated Adam Goodes for his gong last Saturday night. My friend and former colleague at Sky News, and distinguished Fairfax columnist, Tracey Spicer, had tweeted: “Oh dear. The racists are coming out of their caves to comment on the #aoty (Australian of the Year) already. That certainly doesn’t make me proud to be Australian.” And I had noticed there were tweets criticising Adam Goodes for pointing out a 13-year-old girl when she called him an “ape” at a Collingwood match in May last year, and he asked for her to be removed. Later on, he talked to the girl and she apologised. This is what I wrote at the time in another post http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-dA : “Adam Goodes showed his class by making an issue of the incident, without criticising the teenager. He wants her to be protected, and he explained to her why it was so hurtful to him. When he was her age, he was being called an ape by his classmates. But he … said nothing at the time.” So I tweeted Tracey: “… don’t worry. Just ignore them. They may rant, but they won’t win. Adam Goodes stands tall, with dignity, above them.”
A short time later, a young bloke from Western Australia, who denied being a racist, tweeted this reply: “what he do (sic) for white Australia? Nothing! F..k (he didn’t use dots) him and f..k you. You eastcoasters don’t know how there (sic) are towards us whites in WA!” If I felt it would help, I would have replied: “What Adam Goodes will do for white and black and multi-coloured Australia is to try to educate people about racism, and how he suffered as a teenager.” When Goodes received the Australian of the Year Award at the ceremony in Canberra (http://bit.ly/1f1TPRD photo above by Rohan Thompson), he said: “My hope is that we as a nation can break down the silos between races, break down those stereotypes of minority populations … The ultimate reward is when all Australians see each other as equals, and treat each other as equals.”
Goodes also spoke passionately about educating Australians: “I think any time people are recognised for standing up for what they believe in and the way that they do it is a step forward, because if we don’t stand up for what we believe in and we let people get away with not educating them for things that they have said they’re going to think that behaviour is acceptable.”
AN INSPIRATIONAL ROLE MODEL
I think Adam Goodes will be a magnificent Australian of the Year. He’s a two-time Brownlow medallist (the annual award given to the best AFL player), an inspirational member of the Sydney Swans, making a major contribution to their two premierships in the past eight years; an ambassador for the movement to end violence against women, White Ribbon; and co-founder with his cousin and former teammate, Michael O’Loughlin, of the GO Foundation, aimed at developing indigenous role models.
In a message on the Sydney Swans website, club chairman Andrew Pridham talked about Goodes’ importance as a role model, in what would be an appropriate reply to the young bloke from WA: “Adam is an inspiration and role model, not just to the Indigenous community but to all Australians. Everyone associated with our club including our loyal members and fans are incredibly proud of Adam and congratulate him on this greatly deserved honour.” http://bit.ly/LXH9Td
And the sports journalists agree. The Chief Sports Writer of the Sydney Morning Herald, Andrew Webster, pointed out that it’s what Goodes has done since the Collingwood incident that makes him an inspiring choice for Australian of the Year http://bit.ly/1hOXvbn : “Adam Gilchrist, former cricketer and Australia Day Council chairman, said last week: ‘People might debate if we made the right choice, but they can never say we made the wrong choice.’ Goodes will further a debate this country has been having since Australia Day 1788, with so much more to go, and surely that makes him the right one.”
This week in New South Wales marks the start of the school year. Back in my days of teaching English at Cabramatta High School in Western Sydney, I used to write the word “empathy” on the blackboard for the first lesson of the year. I asked the students what the word meant, and they usually linked it with sympathy. I explained that it was an essential element of good fiction. To empathise means you are able to put yourself into other people’s shoes, to feel what the characters feel and understand what makes them tick. The great novelists are those who can see the world as others see it: http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-s If I were teaching English this year, I would do my empathy thing, and mention the Miles Franklin Award Winner, Kim Scott, and his 2010 novel, That Deadman Dance, about the first contact between Aborigines and Europeans in Western Australia in the early 1800s. Once you get into the character of the Noongar hero, Bobby Wabalanginy, who performs the Dead Man Dance, and the white man, Dr Cross, who likes and helps Aborigines, you will learn a lot about black and white relations in those early days.
It would make a neat segue to the naming of Adam Goodes as Australian of the Year, and what it means to race relations today. It would give teachers the opportunity to talk about racism, the history of Australia and sporting heroes. It might even give them a legitimate reason to take the class on an excursion to a footy match at the SCG.
The title for the first essay of the term: “Is Adam Goodes the right choice for Australian of the Year? Discuss.”